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Panelists say recession created pent-up demand for projects

Engineering
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The panelists at the Charleston Regional Business Journal's Power Breakfast on Thursday said the Lowcountry seems to have recovered from the recession and is now seeing the effects of pent-up demand for capital projects. (Photo/Kim McManus)

Several years after the recession, construction is booming and cranes are looming over new developments throughout Charleston.

The demand for buildings in the multifamily, residential, commercial, higher education, health care and mixed-use segments remains high as the region’s population grows, according to several panelists at the Charleston Regional Business Journal’s Power Breakfast on Thursday in North Charleston.

“Charleston has been so blessed,” said Dinos Liollio, principal of Liollio Architecture.  “We have been greatly insulated — if not isolated to some extent — from the recession that the country as a whole has felt. ... I think what we’re seeing now is all of the pent-up demand that has been created over the last five to six years as a result of the down economy. We are seeing it in higher ed, particularly now that so many people can go forward with their capital campaigns.”

Janette Alexander, a design and construction project manager for Charleston County, said she believes Charleston is out of the recession, although she said the region did not reach the same depths of economic crisis as other cities.

“We were very, very busy pre-recession and it does feel like we’re back and beyond that,” said Alexander, also a member of Charleston’s Board of Architectural Review. “Beyond the dam bursting of pent-up work that needed to happen, it seems like there is a lot of optimism on where Charleston is going.”

Chappy McKay, development vice president and partner at Trident Construction in Charleston, said the Lowcountry is “somewhat in a sprint between cycles.”

Although he has seen a lot of need for new construction in the last two years, he said some segments are slowing down. A somewhat muffled economy is buoyed by the region’s manufacturing sector, tech industries and the region’s ability to attract new businesses and residents, McKay said.

Melissa Polutta, owner of Trash Gurl LLC, a waste management business, said Charleston’s ability to draw new industry, tourists and residents enabled many construction companies to get back on their feet post-recession.

Her company, which she co-founded with her husband, Jeff, in 2009, has expanded with new services and new projects, including work on Volvo Cars’ new automotive campus under construction in Berkeley County.

Phillip Ford, executive vice president of Charleston Home Builders Association, said permits are up and demand is strong for new housing and residential communities.

Ford said the region faces a major challenge regarding adequate infrastructure — such as more highway capacity and improved roads — to handle the growth.

Finding enough skilled workers to meet the region’s housing needs is another major hurdle for the homebuilding and construction industries.   

“Our concern is can we keep up with demand? There is a lack of trained labor. We can’t find anyone to frame houses or plumb houses,” Ford said. “So you can sell houses, but if you can’t build them, that’s a problem. Selling them is not a problem. Building them is, at the moment.”

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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