Today’s Editorial February 16: A shortage of builders

Many people, particularly in the Opposition party, wondered if the Cayman Islands can really afford the massive $330 million capital spending plan announced by the Government in the Strategic Policy Statement last December.

Although that topic is ripe for debate among politicians and others, it might surprise residents of the Cayman Islands to know that another issue beyond financing might prevent the People’s Progressive Movement from reaching some its capital improvement goals: The shortage of available construction companies.

Look around today and you’ll see construction just about everywhere, especially office buildings, condominium developments and enormous luxury homes.

There’s the Town Centre at Camana Bay, with its offices, cinema, restaurants and more. There’s the continued development of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. There are office building and condominium developments under construction seemingly everywhere you turn.

But that’s just the beginning. There are major projects planned all over the island, including more office buildings, hotels and luxury condominiums.

Now along comes the Government wanting to build three or four schools, two office accommodation projects, a new court building, a police station or two, a civic centre, and a major airport expansion. And it hopes to commence construction on all of that over the next two years.

One question then becomes, who will construct all of these buildings?

Minister of Education Alden McLaughlin gave a target timetable for the building of the new schools in a recent Cabinet press briefing, but added the caveat ‘if we can find someone to build them.’

The problem is that there are only a handful of construction companies able to take on large projects here and all of those companies are busy as can be with work. They can pick and choose the projects they want to do; in other words, it’s a seller’s market for construction companies.

It is a fairly safe assumption that the Government’s recent decision to offer a $100,000 stipend to two unsuccessful bidders on the first office accommodation building had a lot to do with the current supply and demand situation with builders.

The problem isn’t one that is easily resolved. If the big construction companies are to take on more work, they need more staff, and the willingness to invest more money into the infrastructure of their company.

More staff means more foreign workers on work permits, more traffic and more social tensions.

Of course the biggest problem might just be who will occupy all of those office buildings, exclusive homes and luxury apartments once they are completed, and how will that influx of people fit in to the Government’s overall immigration policy?

One thing seems certain, however: Grand Cayman will continue to grow in every way possible into the foreseeable future.