Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney promised to undo much of the regulatory and labor initiatives of the Obama administration, he said during a speech Thursday to the Associated Builders and Contractors' board of directors in Phoenix. Later that day, the association of construction industry executives threw its hat behind Romney's candidacy ahead of Super Tuesday's key primary votes in seven states, including Michigan and Arizona.
Romney's speech wrapped up two days of meetings at ABC's annual BizCon, held at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Arizona Biltmore Hotel. Now in its second year, the streamlined conference was intended to "help our members understand the environment politically and economically so they can make the best decisions strategically going forward," says Michael Bellaman, the Arlington, Va.-based association’s president and CEO.
Bellaman says ABC received almost unanimous approval of the new format from last year's 350 attendees—roughly the same number as this year— so the organizers made only minor changes to the schedule, slightly cutting the number of events to fit into just two days so CEOs and other construction industry attendees could spend less time away from their offices.
Attendees heard an upbeat message from Anirban Basu, ABC's chief economist, who said the addition of 116,000 jobs in the construction sector in January 2012 over the previous time period was "great." Basu pointed to North Dakota's booming oil and gas industry—which achieved for the state an annual employment growth rate of 5.7% in 2011—as a key success story, but he stressed the importance of reducing the national debt to keep the recovery alive.
Eric Regelin, 2012 ABC national chairman and president of Granix LLC, Ellicott City, Md., said the conference helped further the association's goals of reducing government regulations and leveling the playing field between ABC's merit-shop and union contractors.
Romney addressed similar themes during his 25-minute speech to the ABC board of directors. He pledged to open up the Keystone pipeline and reduce regulations on fracking and the mining and usage of coal. He accused President Obama of dragging his feet on free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea "because organized unions didn’t want it."
"If I become president of the United States, I will curb the practice we have in this country of giving union bosses an unfair advantage in contracting," Romney said. "One of the first things I’ll do—actually on Day One—is, I will end the government’s favoritism toward unions in contracting on federal projects and end project labor agreements, and I will fight to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act."
Regelin praised Romney's like-minded support of the merit-shop philosophy and belief in freedom of choice for workers to join or not join a union.
Former ABC chairman Michael Uremovich, president of Great Lakes Energy Consultants LLC, Manhattan, Ill., introduced the soft launch of a new drug- and alcohol-free workplace initiative, sponsored by a coalition of associations including ABC, the Associated General Contractors of America, the Construction Industry Round Table, the Construction Users' Round Table and the Women Construction Owners & Executives association. Uremovich says that through the initiative's website, www.drugfreeconstruction.org, the coalition hopes to advocate for stronger substance-abuse policies and provide firms with the resources to implement effective programs. "Safety is the most important thing to our industry, and we as leaders have to get involved in this initiative," Uremovich says.