Builders diversify to survive

'Nearly every state is doing better than Rhode Island.'

For many Rhode Island homebuilders and tradesmen, the last five years have forced a choice between diversification and retirement. More

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CONSTRUCTION

Builders diversify to survive

'Nearly every state is doing better than Rhode Island.'

PBN PHOTO/NATALJA KENT
BRANCHING OUT: Thomas McNulty, president of E.A. McNulty Real Estate, at a new construction site in Cumberland. “If you were a new-home builder, you had to get into new aspects of the industry,” he said.
Posted 8/20/12

For many Rhode Island homebuilders and tradesmen, the last five years have forced a choice between diversification and retirement.

When the recession hit at the end of 2008, house construction in the Ocean State already had been sinking for two years. The foreclosure crisis pushed it to uncharted depths.

Now four years into a slow recovery, new-home starts are only slightly improved and developers, contractors and tradesmen still search far and wide for opportunities.

“If you were a new-home builder, you had to get into new aspects of the industry,” said Thomas McNulty, president of E.A. McNulty Real Estate, a development and construction company in Cumberland. “When the permits drop, you have to get into other things. I don’t see it returning to the way it was anytime soon.”

For many in the building trades, the lack of new subdivisions being laid out has forced a move to repair and remodeling work.

Others have shifted from residential to commercial construction, which also has been slower than it was in the boom years, but still shows some activity.

McNulty is doing more remodeling work than before and is still building homes on land purchased and laid out into developments before the market sank.

“We haven’t come out of the ground with anything new – just managing the things we already had in the pipeline,” McNulty said.

Like the rest of the economy, educational and medical institutions have provided work for some companies, and the federal stimulus package, now ended, delivered some infrastructure work for those willing to cross over into that market.

But for builders based in Rhode Island, where the collapse of the construction market has been worse than in neighboring states, especially Massachusetts, diversification has often meant traveling to work elsewhere.

“You have to drive out of state for work – I am traveling as far as Hartford and Boston,” said Robert Baldwin, owner of R.B. Homes and Trinity Excavating of Lincoln, about how business has changed since the recession. “Nearly every state is doing better than Rhode Island. The reality of it is beyond obscene.”

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