...$158-million award to a joint venture of Gilbane Building Co., Providence, R.I., and Grunley Construction, Rockville, Md., will add up to 70 new jobs. A planned fourth phase could be expedited to start this year as well, says Gilbane. The firm has or will propose on almost $1 billion of stimulus-related work so far this year, says Mike Crase, a senior marketing executive.
Stimulating a new clean-energy economy filled with well-paying “green” jobs appears central to ARRA. In August, the administration announced a new $2.3-billion tax-credit program for manufacturers of advanced energy equipment. It allows them to reduce their taxes by 30% of the amount invested in establishing, expanding or retooling manufacturing facilities for equipment used to produce solar, wind and other renewable-energy sources.
The administration says the program will help encourage innovation and employment in clean-energy design and technology. But some are skeptical. Steve Robinson, a senior vice president at Sundt Corp., Tempe, Ariz., says the sector holds some potential, but “we are not seeing a lot being funded.” He adds, “If you are not an existing, well-capitalized company, you are not going to get funded.” says Mike Crase, a senior marketing executive.
Haskell’s Halverson says his firm has been selected to build two biomass energy projects in Florida, but work awaits the owners’ receipt of stimulus funding, which is not likely until 2010. “I do not truly believe the green jobs are going to be new jobs,” adds Bob Piper, vice president of workforce development at the Associated Builders and Contractors. “It is just reclassifying existing ones, such as HVAC and electrical work.”
Still, the administration is funneling at least $500 million of money to stimulate green-job training, mostly through U.S. Dept. of Labor grants in HVAC, electrical work and weatherization. Overall, DOL has allocated $3.9 billion of stimulus funding for Workforce Investment Board local programs, such as training dislocated or non-traditional workers.
Michael Callanan, executive director of the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association, says local affiliates are working with local and statewide partners to obtain clean-energy training grants to set up new certificate programs. His group also will apply for a national grant, and if successful, earmark it for populations particularly affected by the downturn.
To step up the pace of stimulus awards, AGC has been urging agencies to apply ARRA funds to their own workforce expansion, says association President Doug Pruitt, Sundt’s CEO. GSA created an ARRA program management office this spring to monitor its $5.5 billion of stimulus work; the office is staffed by its most experienced contracting personnel borrowed from other areas. They are being replaced by other permanent and temporary employees, new hires, rehired retirees and contractors.
To manage its 105 ARRA projects worth $470 million, the National Parks Service office in Denver has hired 30 employees, says Sam Whittington, NPS director. He says the economy generated many résumés from architects and other industry professionals.
ARRA also has added impetus to the military’s hiring strategy and $5.9 billion of new funding at a time when it faces the largest construction ramp up in history as part of its base realignment and closure. Capt. Ramé Hemstreet, deputy commander of operations at the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Washington, D.C., says hiring would continue to expedite stimulus work. “We have a big turnover coming in the next few years, so this is an opportunity to hire government employees…in the short term to bring on new talent that will, as folks retire, become our long-term workers,” he says.
While ARRA funding is helping firms keep workers on the job, some of its impact is being undercut by municipal budget woes, such as in state transportation departments, says Bill Buechner, ARTBA’s vice president of economics and research. He points to a survey of states in June by the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers that found half of the states cutting or planning to cut transportation programs this year or next due to dire finances. “Stimulus funds are allowing some states to simply maintain their 2008 activity level,” he says. The situation is ramping up industry cries for congressional attention to long-term highway and aviation spending legislation. “If that gets kicked 18 months down the path, you will see a reversal of employment,” says Pike’s Zimmermann. “No one wants to invest now until they see the light at the end of the tunnel.” He says states that pushed out highway work “will soon blow through all the stimulus money.”
While that debate swirls, those who gained employment because of the ARRA economic stimulus are just happy to have work. “I have been trying to get a job here for the last seven years,” says Rob Valdez, who now works at DOE’s Hanford site in facility demolition. The former concrete finisher for high-end homebuilders saw his market slow down markedly during the collapse of the housing market. “I like the steady paycheck and benefits here, and it is not as high stress,” he says.