Bob Schafer just laid off another worker.
Schafer is a manager at Ranger Construction, a Florida-based company that builds roads in a state famously fueled by its own growth. For more than three decades, Ranger Construction helped connect all that development, but the economic recession has forced the company to cut more than one-third of its staff, which has dwindled to under a thousand.
Looking ahead, Schafer worries whether state funding cuts might eventually mean laying off even more workers. “It could shut the lights out,” Schafer says. At more than six feet tall, Schafer makes an imposing figure at construction sites. He appears as focused as he is bald — which is to say completely.
Schafer just came from checking his team’s progress with a four-mile highway widening project on Interstate 95 in Brevard County, a job that will keep about 30 of his employees on the payroll for the foreseeable future. Ranger Construction won the project, which is funded by the economic stimulus law, amid some tough bidding.
“A lot of these guys,” Schafer says, speaking of struggling home and commercial builders, “now they think they’re all road builders. So we went from projects with four or five bidders to maybe 15 or 20.”
The 2009 stimulus law helped Ranger Construction. But at the same time, Florida’s cash-strapped legislature is raiding state transportation funds to help pay for programs like education and health care. If you compare what Florida received under the stimulus law and what legislators in Tallahassee propose to take away again on top of last year, it’s nearly a wash, Schafer says.