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Why Modular Construction in the Caribbean Makes Sense


Lately, the container structure industry has experienced an uptick in customers from the Caribbean Islands. After listening to the building challenges these customers face, we’ve realized that offsite modular construction has a lot to offer the Caribbean. While most people imagine white sand beaches and the gentle swaying of palm trees, island life comes with hurdles for construction. There’s a real need for faster, less labor-intensive ways to build that’s being compounded by recent hurricanes and labor shortages. Modular construction in the Caribbean can help.

The Cost of Modular is Competitive, Even with Shipping Costs

According to an analysis by BCQS International, average building costs for office spaces in popular Caribbean tourist destinations range from $225 - $345 USD per square foot. For comparison, a similar commercial office construction costs on average $160-170 per square foot in the United States mainland.

Cost Per Square Foot for Office Construction in the Caribbean Islands
St. Lucia
St. Maarten
Trinidad and Tobago
Turks and Caicos

Between the costs of labor in a tight market and importing construction materials by boat, island construction becomes very expensive. While the shipping costs of modules make off-site construction less economically competitive for regions with readily available labor and resources, islands are used to paying a premium for construction. In fact, off-site construction may cost less for island-based customers despite shipping costs, because the labor is handled on the mainland.

Construction Labor Shortages and Hurricanes

The Impact of Hurricanes

The Caribbean’s construction challenges have been exacerbated by hurricanes Maria, Harvey, and Florence. Puerto Rico alone requested $31 billion to rebuild homes and $18 billion to repair electric utilities in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Needless to say, there’s an enormous need for skilled construction labor to restore the island.

Not every island was hit as intensely as Puerto Rico, but there was still plenty of damage to go around. After the hurricanes of 2017, a contractor from the British Virgin Islands (BVI) reported working twelve-hour days to repair homes. The high demand for materials, like plywood and roofing, has slowed delivery times throughout the Caribbean. What once took a month to arrive, can now take three.

Recruiting from the Mainland is Pulling Away Puerto Ricans

The United States is suffering from nation-wide a construction labor shortage. A growing economy and a series of natural disasters has driven up demand for construction, while tightening immigration restrictions and the opioid epidemic have shrunk the pool skilled construction workers. To fill the gap, some companies are actively recruiting Puerto Ricans to work on the mainland.

The emigration of skilled labor from Puerto Rico has created a negative feedback loop. As rebuilding slows down, more Puerto Ricans become frustrated with their living situation and consider leaving. As more Puerto Ricans leave, the pool of skilled labor shrinks, bogging down the island’s restoration.

What Modular Construction Has to Offer the Caribbean in the Wake of Hurricanes

Speedy Support Structures for Aid

Modular shipping container office used in the Cayman islands.After a natural disaster, aid organizations need to get supplies and temporary support structures on the ground quickly. Turnkey modular structures for water treatment, generators, food storage, and office space enable emergency responders to quickly set up resource distribution points after a crisis.

Single unit container structures have the advantage of foundation free set-up. Aid organizations can place and use container-based offices and storage in the same day.

Fast Rebuilding with Minimal Onsite Labor

There are parts of hurricane recovery that are going to require onsite labor, namely infrastructure restoration for roads, power grids, and water systems. On the other hand, buildings for government and businesses can leverage mainland labor through modular construction. For example, permanent or interim schools can be built with containers, enabling residents to return to a more normal life as the island rebuilds.

Whether it’s being used for everyday development or as part of recovery efforts, modular construction can support building efforts in the Caribbean.  If you have any questions about using modular container construction for your project, give us a call at 877-704-0177. We’re always happy to help.

To learn more about container structures and crisis response, check out our other blogs:

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