In the last couple of weeks, the state of Georgia has initiated a couple of initiatives that hold some measure of future promise for the construction industry.
First, last week Gov. Nathan Deal (R) announced the formation of Go Build Georgia, a promotional campaign aimed at promoting the choice of careers in the skilled trades. As we reported, the governor’s announcement -- while coming at a time when the construction industry's unemployment rate is high -- nevertheless contends the state is suffering from a shortage of skilled labor, with an estimated 16,500 related jobs projected to "become available" in the state.
The Georgia initiative is partly the result of efforts by the Alabama Workforce Development Initiative, a Birmingham-based 501(c)3 organization that helped create the "Go Build" brand in 2010. Since then, the Construction Users Roundtable (CURT) has officially endorsed the program.
And the Georgia announcement received a further promotional boost when Mike Rowe, host of the Dirty Jobs cable television program, signed on to tout the program via advertising. Rowe, who has worked with the original "Go Build" organization in Alabama, was even quoted in the governor's press release, where he quipped: "When we launched [Go Build] Alabama, I said I wanted to go down the alphabet and challenge every state in the nation to send the message that America needs young people willing to master a trade and help us build our future. I applaud Georgia for sending that message to people across the Peach State, even if they’re not next in line alphabetically."
But promoting careers in the skilled trades is no joke. In fact, you could argue that it's actually pretty huge. After all, as you may have noticed, these jobs have received seemingly short shrift from society lately. Every other kid seems more interested in video games and their virtual worlds than nitty-gritty reality these days.
This fact hasn't escaped Mike Rowe. In fact, he appeared before the U.S. Senate last year to discuss this topic, and threw down this bit of testimony: "Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and really valuable on-the-job training opportunities as vocational consolation prizes best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still we talk about creating millions of shovel-ready jobs for a society that doesn’t really encourage people to pick up a shovel." (For an extended excerpt of Rowe's comments before the U.S. Senate, click here.)
So, attempting to change society's attitudes -- or at least those of enough young people to make a difference -- is a big deal that deserves some attention.
The other state initiative is almost as big, and even a bit retro. The state has kicked off a campaign to convince voters to approve a 1 percent sales tax increase to fund more than $6 billion in construction.
The decision to ask voters to approve the increase was approved by the Georgia state legislature -- which is still overwhelmingly Republican, in case you were wondering -- and enacted by the previous governor.
How logical -- and how seemingly crazy at the same time. Logical because state officials have identified $6 billion in needed projects, based on regional input, and have decided to go ahead and ask voters if they'd like to go ahead and actually build these projects. Seemingly crazy because, well, it seems like it's been years before any state dared such a thing!
And, to be sure, this exercise in democracy is attracting its share of critics, mostly of the tea party persuasion. As the Augusta Chronicle reported Jan. 21, Georgia tea party activists are hopping mad that state legislators would encourage such an initiative, and have not-so-subtly implied that any politician supporting what they are calling the largest tax increase in state history will be targeted for removal from office.
The Chronicle quoted Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams (R), who responded to the tea-party backlash this way: "If I had just raised taxes without asking the people to vote, that’d be one issue. That’s not what we did. We gave the people of Georgia the opportunity to determine for themselves if they think that need is valid, based on a project list. If they like that project list, they should support it."
Again, another pretty big deal. We'll have to wait until July to find out what the voters say about it, but the concept of asking voters to approve a plan aimed at addressing a valid list of needed infrastructure improvements is certainly a laudable effort that deserves attention.
So - What do you think about these initiatives? Let us hear your thoughts!