ROCKFORD -- With 25 years in the homebuilding business, Scott Theroux had been around long enough to know that his job was in trouble in 2008.
"I could feel it coming. There was no work," said Theroux, a carpenter who was working for a custom builder.
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He was let go Nov. 11, 2008, and the next day his now-fiancée, Joyce Weiss, lost her job as a temporary worker at the Cadbury gum plant, which became a part of Mondelez International.
"We both looked for work for months and there was just nothing out there," Theroux said. "Finally, Joyce said `You're good with wood. Why don't you go downstairs and figure something out'."
Theroux took some old boards and built a bassinet, which he gave to a friend. Then he built some tables, chairs and cabinets and put them out on the curb with a "for sale" sign at the house they rent on Forest Hills Road.
Those sold. Pretty soon Theroux was getting word-of-mouth traffic. He finds wood from various factories, skins it to get to the good wood, and builds and repairs furniture; Joyce does the finishing work.
And that's how he's gotten by.
Now he's trying to figure out how to expand.
He's found contacts at furniture stores in several states, but he needs to figure out how to ship finished items. Plus, he would like to actually move into a building and out of his garage, but that takes capital, which is difficult to get with less-than-stellar credit.
But Theroux plans to keep chipping away at it because his old vocation, homebuilding, still is in a depression, at least locally.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that building permits jumped 25 percent from 2011 to 2012. But, according to statistics from the Home Builders Association of the Greater Rockford Area, builders in Boone and Winnebago counties took out just 85 single-family permits in 2012.
That is the fewest homes started since the group began keeping records in 1984; the low is 90, set in 2011.
"I haven't researched all the way back to the Great Depression, but I'd bet even then that they were building more than 85 homes a year," HBA chief Dennis Sweeney said.
In fact, single-family building permits have declined for eight straight years since a record 1,865 permits were taken out in 2004.
"The local economy is still hurting. Unemployment has not declined and foreclosures in this market took a bump up last year," Sweeney said. "Private-sector job growth is the key to new-home building. Woodward Inc. (which is building a $200 million manufacturing plant in Loves Park) can't complete its expansion soon enough for the building industry."