Stefan Pryor was appointed Rhode Island’s first Secretary of Commerce by Gov. Gina M. Raimondo (D) and confirmed unanimously by the state Senate in 2015. In his role he manages state agencies and offices responsible for economic development, business regulation, housing and workforce development. Pryor and his team have created the first state-backed small business loan program and have launched SupplyRI, which links local suppliers to larger Rhode Island institutions. He served for about five years from 2006 to 2011 as deputy mayor and director of economic housing and development in the City of Newark, N.J.

This interview was edited and slightly condensed in places.

What level of construction job growth has your state witnessed in the past year?

According to Associated General Contractors of America data, between March 2020 and March 2021, Rhode Island saw a 1% increase in the state’s construction employment— ranking 9th overall for the country and 1st among New England states. As of March 2021, there were 20,400 construction workers employed in the Ocean State, partly due to the fact that Rhode Island’s construction industry never shut down during the pandemic.

Since February, Rhode Island has added 1,200 construction jobs, a 5.9% increase, according to the AGC.

Industry leaders worked hand-in-glove with state administration officials to ensure strong safeguards were in place, including signing an industry-wide “pledge” adhering to and exceeding state and health protocols.

A “Vaccine Awareness” week held April 19-23, 2021 raised awareness of the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines.

What strategies have you taken to generate construction job growth in your state?

We’ve undertaken several steps to foster a healthy economic environment, including, the implementation and expansion of the Rebuild Rhode Island Tax Credit, and intensive investments into our state’s roads, bridges and schools.

What obstacles has the Rhode Island construction industry faced during the ongoing pandemic and how have you helped the industry overcome those obstacles to cultivate job growth?

Like virtually all industries, there have been issues with the supply chain and fluctuation in prices of materials, but overall, the state is well poised to strongly rebuild going forward. The state has made significant investments in the industry … and is already seeing a robust economic recovery.

What types of construction jobs are most in demand and what is the average age of new hires?

Virtually all construction jobs are seeing demand in various sizes, and Rhode Island has not been immune to the industry’s worker shortage and issues of aging. However, to help address these issues, we’ve implemented a robust job training and apprenticeship program through the state’s Department of Labor and Training (DLT). DLT has multiple initiatives aimed to create a pipeline of talent for the construction industry where many workers are close to retirement. Building Futures, a local nonprofit, prepares apprentices with the skills they need to be successful in the construction industry through their pre-apprenticeship programs. The participants often have very little construction experience and come from diverse backgrounds.

DLT was also recently awarded a $4 million State Apprenticeship Expansion Equity and Innovation (SAEEI) Grant from USDOL to further and expand their work with Building Futures and allow DLT to modernize and expand Registered Apprenticeship Programs across several industries (including construction) and increase the diversity of programs and participants.

What do you predict for the construction job market in the next six months to year?

We expect continued demand for construction projects of all sizes and continued strong demand within the construction trades.