City Grill

Tom Thrasher

Tom Thrasher
Senior Vice President, Florida Business Unit

The Tampa construction market has become fiercely competitive as firms compete for talent to meet fervent demand driven by a booming population, says Tom Thrasher, senior vice president for Gilbane’s Florida business unit.

“Many AEC firms are opening new offices in the Tampa area or looking at mergers and acquisitions, which indicates population growth and the construction that supports the development alongside the city’s expansion with a robust and competitive landscape,” he says.

Post-COVID Tampa has seen an influx of domestic migration that has caused a surge in the housing market, which creates demand for schools, hospitals, infrastructure and more, with 850 people moving to Florida every day, Thrasher says. Tampa itself is expected to grow 14% between 2020-2030, and in 2021, 15% of Florida’s home purchases were in Tampa, a city of more than 387,000 in 2021, according to the U.S. Census, with a metro area of more than 3 million.

construction starts

In short, he says the construction business in Tampa “continues to be robust and growing.”

Tampa’s unprecedented growth in development and population is leading to big needs in K-12 and higher-education facilities, Thrasher says, but funding costs remain an issue.

“The market expands geographically and vertically as Tampa continues to brand itself as a significant destination in southwest Florida, including three major professional sports teams with dynamic entertainment and living near the stadiums,” Thrasher says.

For Gilbane, recent projects include the Museum of the American Arts & Crafts Movement in St. Petersburg, the Toronto Blue Jays Spring Training Facility and Player Development Complex in Dunedin and the Hillsborough Community College Allied Health Building.

Coming up, Thrasher is expecting a significant increase in the multifamily market, which has a growth forecast of 6% over the next five years, accounting for 48% of the overall Tampa market construction volume.

He says many new developers are looking at the Tampa/St. Petersburg area from out of the market, including from the Northeast and elsewhere in Florida.

Health care, too, is on the way up, with an expected 34% growth over the next five years as local hospitals that used to have “seasons” are now full year-round, Thrasher says, contributing to a need for patient towers and emergency department expansion to meet the community’s health needs.

Those busy sectors—multifamily residential, health care, K-12 and hospitality—are leaving firms with robust work pipelines but a shortage in skilled trade workers, he says.

“With a forecasted 46% growth projection in the next five years, K-12 and higher education institutions are looking to private donors and partnerships with local industries to support programs such as workforce training and the nursing shortage,” Thrasher says.

For example, Hillsborough Community College Allied Health just switched from its two-year nursing degree to a four-year program and looks to expand further, Thrasher says, as programs look to meet a nursing shortage that is expected to grow over the next 12 years.

Gilbane is tackling private funding issues with its public-private partnership (P3) group, specializing in implementing innovative real estate and financial solutions for institutions like the University of South Carolina Health Sciences Campus School of Medicine.

Sustainability has also become a hot-button issue, Thrasher says, as many corporations look to reduce carbon footprints and look to builders to help.

“The workforce is stretched by quantity and quality,” he says. “We’re seeing more people who aren’t in the construction industry move to Tampa, and with inflation and housing prices soaring, they can’t afford to move to Tampa or within a decent commute to town.”

It’s a problem Gilbane is tackling with a hands-on, eight-week program for up-and-coming trade partners to develop and broaden their industry skills and knowledge by working with Gilbane. It’s a program the firm has committed to generating $100 million in awards in the next five years for graduates.

“With the growing pains comes the challenges to support the community infrastructure as roads are completed as well as hospitals and schools,” Thrasher says. “As facilities are being built to relieve this pressure, we circle back to the issue of having enough skilled workers to build.”