Contractors Associations call for support of infrastructure projects
By Don Smith
W.Va. Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.VA. — With jobs in construction, mining and logging in the Charleston area at the lowest levels since 1990, representatives of the Contractors Association of West Virginia and Associated General Contractors of America joined with Cabinet Secretary Thomas Smith, head of the W.Va. Department of Transportation, Wednesday to call for support of state spending on road, bridge and infrastructure projects.
Speaking from the Governor’s Conference Room at the Capitol, Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, joined with Secretary Smith and Mike Clowser, executive director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia, in a press conference to discuss jobs and the state budget.
April reports on employment show approximately 6,200 people working in construction, mining and logging in the Charleston metro area. That number was down from 7,400 a year earlier, Simonson explained to those assembled for a press conference called by the contractors associations.
“The current year’s number is the lowest April total recorded in the area since the federal government first began tracking the data in 1990,” Simonson said, adding that West Virginia and the Charleston metro area in particular are losing construction jobs at a faster rate than most of the country according to an analysis released by the Associated General Contractors of America.
“What makes these job losses even more frustrating is the fact many of them could have been avoided,” said Simonsson. “Yet too many construction firms that work on vital infrastructure projects are seeing less work today than just a few years ago.”
Urging political support for Gov. Jim Justice’s infrastructure investment plan, Simonson and Smith said the Governor’s proposed infrastructure programs will invest $2.8 billion to help rebuild West Virginia’s aging roads and bridges.
The state infrastructure proposal means thousands of good jobs in West Virginia, Simonson said, noting that the jobs would be available very quickly.
Secretary Smith said West Virginia can’t afford to remain at these low levels for construction employment, adding that needed repairs now will save the state money in forced major renovations later. “We need to make wise choices,” Smith said.
The construction economist added that the Associated General Contractors of America and its statewide chapter, the Contractors Association of West Virginia, were working to ensure that new infrastructure proposals are enacted in Charleston.
“Without increased funding and new ways to pay for future repairs, West Virginia’s infrastructure will continue to crumble and the industry’s jobs will continue to disappear,” Simonson said.
According to the presentation, additional costs from the lack of infrastructure work include auto repairs – averaging $1,200 a year per driver in West Virginia – and the loss of skilled laborers who are now moving to other states in search of work.”Private-sector demand will suffer if employers are forced to spend more to cope with congested roads, aging bridges and inefficient water systems,” Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer, said in a release prepared for the AGCA data report. “Congress needs to find a reliable and long-term way to pay for future upgrades before aging infrastructure undermines future growth prospects.”
Simonson said public spending nationally on other public works has declined by 8.5 percent during the past 12 months. In particular, public spending on highway and street construction has slipped by 2.4 percent, outlays for other transportation facilities such as airports have dropped 12 percent, sewage and waste disposal investments tumbled by 22 percent and water supply funding fell by 14 percent.