Southwest Florida's housing market is far from recovered. Builders in the Tampa region started 1,537 new houses in the third quarter of this year, the Tampa Bay Tribune reports — "a fraction of the 6,600 new housing starts in the third quarter of 2005." Even so, the paper says, builders there are getting re-acquainted with a problem that used to be familiar: a shortage of skilled labor ("Tampa-area home builders report labor shortage," by Michael Sasso).

Construction has jumped 31% in the third quarter, compared with last year. The result: "So many construction workers have fled the state, entered other industries or simply dropped out of sight that builders and subcontractors are scrambling to find talent."

Hovnanian executive George Schulmeyer told the paper that he sees the worst shortage in drywall installers — but that block masons, painters, and roofers can also be hard to get. "Some workers are making their way back into the industry or returning to Florida, but others are holding off until labor wages rise," the Tribune reports. "For now, there appears to be a standoff between workers, who've seen their wages plummet since the mid-2000s and want more, and builders, who are resisting paying their subcontractors more money."

Central Florida is seeing the same phenomenon, the Orlando Sentinel reported on October 30 ("Area's rising demand delays homebuilders, irks buyers," by Mary Shanklin). "Even though Orlando-area housing starts have increased a lot, developers have not yet adjusted by hiring full-time workers; instead, they're often looking about for skilled subcontractors," the paper reports. But subcontractors are unwilling to increase payrolls either, the paper said, while they're still not sure that the market will stay strong.

Construction payrolls have a long way to go, the Tribune reports: In the peak year of 2006, 691,900 employees worked in Florida's construction industry. In the collapse, that number dropped by half, to 317,400.