WASHINGTON - "An incredible amount has been done, but an incredible amount still needs to be done," said Derrell Cohoon, CEO of the Louisiana chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). He briefly discussed the national economic impact that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have had with Ken Simonson, chief economist for the AGC, during a recent podcast.

Cohoon reported that 73 percent of the debris in Louisiana has been removed. This percentage, he said, is equivalent to the removal of more than 35 million cubic yards of debris. As wreckage is being removed and property owners are returning, demolition is beginning to ramp up. According to Cohoon, there are more than 200,000 damaged housing units. Contracts are currently in place with multiple services, and damaged homes are beginning to come down.

The levee system that was broken during the storms has been a nemesis to workers and residents trying to rebuild communities, although 200 miles of repairs are already complete. "We're repaired," said Cohoon. "We're not enhanced." This fact has made some residents wary of returning to their former homes permanently, and many of the outlying cities of the hardest hit areas have experienced an extreme population shift.

Once Katrina and Rita had passed, there were many speculations that generated skepticism and fear among residents and those watching the evening news. Most expected that demand surges would create shortages, however, according to Simonson this has yet to be witnessed. Construction plastics did go up because of interrupted natural gas supply, and oil prices affected diesel and asphalt prices temporarily due to port closure and blocked shipping passages.

One of the biggest challenges the area faces, however, is "getting the material to the Katrina/Rita zone," said Simonson. According to Cohoon, there are no contractor shortages. Pre-Katrina licenses totaled 13,000. That number has grown to 19,000 licensed contractors in just under a year. There is a craft worker shortage though, and that is slowing things down. Another hampering factor the Gulf region faces is the ever-increasing prices.

The greatest issue is "getting the work done," noted Cohoon. "It was that way before Katrina and it is worse now."

To listen to the podcast, go to www.agc.org/podcast.

Publication date: 09/11/2006