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AGC of America Call for Cautious Optimism

2013 was a good year for most contractors in the United States, as nearly 60% of metros added construction jobs between January 2013 and January 2014. These estimates are just part of a recently released analysis of federal employment data compiled by the Associated General Contractors of America Association (AGC). Despite the estimates, many in the industry are still wary of a potential decline in 2014.

Ken Simonson, the chief economist of the organization, was encouraged by the increase in construction jobs, “despite the severe winter conditions in much of the country this January.” But, he cautioned the public to understand that, “the industry’s recovery has a long way to go with only a smattering of metro areas exceeding their previous peak January level of employment.”

Some of the greatest losses were felt in Gary, IN, an old Midwest steel town that sits just south of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan. Walking through the streets, you would never guess that the city once housed close to 200,000 people, and was one of the greatest steel manufacturers in the United States for over 60 years. Now, Gary lies abandoned (6,500 of the 7,000 city-owned properties are abandoned). The steel factory only employs around 5,000 people, and the population is not getting any younger. Criminals and drug users now seek out the formerly occupied homes and businesses as places of refuge, because the city cannot monitor all of its properties, which has led to a proposition by the city to cut off city services to 40% of the city’s land and relocate residents to more viable parts of Gary.

With the city looking to down-size in 2013, approximately 4,400 construction jobs (or 25% of all construction jobs in Gary) were lost. The outlook may be bleak, but there may be some degree of hope for the struggling steel town. Located only an hour and a half from Chicago, and with a multitude of waterfront properties on Lake Michigan, Gary has some assets that could make it a compelling investment a few years down the road. The only way to take advantage of those assets comes from greater access to public transportation, in this case a railway that will represent a significant investment for the city of Gary that could pay dividends in the future.

Karen Freeman-Wilson, the city mayor, is planning on asking the City Council to appropriate 20% of the city’s county economic development income tax toward the expansion of the South Shore railway. The extension of the line will bring in construction jobs, decrease the commute time from Gary to downtown Chicago, and could potentially increase both Gary’s population and property value within the city.

Roadways, railways, and other public transportation projects have been the backbone of economic growth since the 1930s, and it has been construction workers and contractors who have seen that work through. There are plenty of cities in the United States that have stories similar to Gary, stories that could be a lot happier if there were greater investment in public projects in the future. In order to reach that better future, we will need to build it first.

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AGC of America: The Highway Trust Fund’s Knight in Shining Armor

The AFAC isn’t the only organization hoping to sway Congress and increase funding for the Highway Trust Fund. The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) believes that 2014 marks a crucial year for the program, as it is projected to be unable to support any new public projects by next year. With no available funding, many contractors and building professionals will be out of work. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) commented on the situation at a meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

“Let me be clear: The pending highway trust fund shortfall must be addressed by an infusion of funds. Otherwise CBO estimates that obligations for new projects in 2015 would need to be reduced to zero. This would result in federal highway, highway safety and transit funding being cut by $50.8 billion in fiscal year 2015 with 1.8 million jobs lost.”

In order to combat job losses and diminishing funding, the AGC has come up with a new program called “Hardhats for Highways,” which aims to encourage transportation construction firms to contact their elected officials. The co-chair of the project, Stephen E. Sandherr stated at the Las Vegas CONEXPO/CONAGG construction trade show that, “Members of Congress need to understand how many people back home are counting on federal transportation investments.”

If you’re interested in making a difference here is a list, provided by the AGC, which details all of the necessary steps to promote change.

(1) Request a supply of decals

(2) Fill them out and list the number of people employed by your company

(3) Put the decal on your Company’s Hardhats

(4) Call your Senators, your local Rep’s office and set up appointments to meet with them

(5) Visit and copy and paste the Congressional letter onto your company’s letterhead

(6) Bring the stickered-Hardhat and your letter to the appointment

(7) Now it’s time to engage your representative; explain the impact on you and your co-workers

(8) Provide computer access to your employees during the day and urge them to take a moment and email messages to their elected officials

(9) Use to spread the word by:

  1. Taking a picture (with a jobs number caption) and sending it to the website so that the website job tracker stays up to date
  2. Utilizing information on the site by putting that data in your company newsletter.
  3. Having your employees visit the website and send an ehardhat message to their Senators.

(10) Keep on writing to your state and local representatives

Thank you for your help and support!