Financial District: Long Tunnel, No Light
“It is impossible to overstate just how difficult current conditions are or how dire the outlook for next year is.”
— Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors chief economist
The stimulus package was broadly credited by the press conference panel and TCC as saving thousands of construction-related jobs, but it was not enough to prevent widespread lay-offs among road and transit construction business. Stimulus dollars will be vital next year, said the surveyed firms, but they will not stop 44 percent of contractors anticipating having to lay off additional permanent employees due to overall economic conditions. Nearly 70 percent of the firms have received stimulus-funded contracts work so far this year but 63 percent also reported they still had to lay off permanent employees.
“It is impossible to overstate just how difficult current conditions are or how dire the outlook for next year is,” said Simonson. “One-time investments in transportation infrastructure like the stimulus help, but they’re simply no substitute for having a long-term investment strategy in our roads, bridges and transit systems.”
“The industry,” said DeFeo, “is not getting any oxygen right now.”
Mike Acott, president of the National Asphalt Pavement Association, a coalition member said, “The key to sustainable new job creation in the transportation construction industry is congressional passage soon of the overdue, long-term federal highway and transit program funding bill with new resources for the tapped out Highway Trust Fund.”
The TCC points out many state transportation programs have declined over the past several years, victims of program cuts precipitated by the recession’s impact on state revenues. As a result, most transportation contractors have been operating under capacity.
In the case of Dean Word Construction, 50 percent or more of its construction fleet is “parked in our yard with nothing to do,” said Word. “We’ve also got some long term employees who are highly skilled who’ve got nothing to do.” If equipment is needed, he said, “we’ll go lease short term and then turn it right back in.”
The requirement that stimulus-funded projects be “shovel ready,” presented as a major plus in the ARRA legislation, may in fact have contributed to the problems contractors are now facing. The requirement discouraged larger scale and longer-duration projects that sustain long-term personnel and equipment needs from getting funding, according to the TCC.
“Contractors in many states still do not see sustainable, state-funded, market growth on the horizon until the overall economy rebounds significantly,” said Black. “When they hear that the one source of stable funding for the market over the past four years is in doubt—the core federal highway and transit program—it’s not surprising many are tightening operations.”