Both the weather and the industry outlook are decidedly more sunny here than three years ago when the Associated General Contractors of America last met in Las Vegas, aligning its annual conference with the massive CON EXPO equipment exhibition going on across town.
The second day of the AGC gathering was marked by temperatures in the 70s and multiple sessions focused on alternative funding and new delivery methods for projects, including public-private partnerships and the risks inherent in putting those in place.
“We’re a little afraid of these P3s,” says one Midwest contractor who asked not to be quoted by name. “But they seem like the only way we may be able to get some of these big, critical projects done. Our voters don’t have much of a stomach for bigger taxes at the moment.”
AGC’s sessions on P3s have packed the rooms, drawing attendees who are hoping to pass on the partnering advantages (and cautionary tales) to colleagues in their states eager to nudge large infrastructure projects into new funding arenas.
In fact, the early focus here has been mostly on the pros and cons of infrastructure construction, with more sessions about public-funding woes and risk and workforce initiatives than about green building or the built environment.
And while looming workforce shortages and improved industry PR have been on minds of many, few attendees seem willing to talk about the real causes behind the shortages, including a lack of national immigration reform.
“That is the elephant in the room when we talk about worker shortages,” says Sam Hunter, president of T.A. Loving Co., Goldsboro, N.C., and a former AGC of America president. “We are doing a pretty good job of getting out the industry message about opportunities and training, but we are not paying enough attention to that other qualified workforce out there.” Hunter says that meaningful immigration reform could help the industry’s workforce shortage immediately. “They are good workers and they want to work,” he said. “We need to figure this out, and soon.”
Day two of the convention was also characterized by concerns about increasing regulations and more government scrutiny of fraud and compliance.
“More and more, owners are exercising their audit options in fraud contracts, much more so than five years ago,” says Wayne Kalayjian, senior manager of advisory services for Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP, Los Angeles. He was part of an AGC panel on fraud issues and industry compliance. “That may be because of a heightened awareness of fraud after the recession in our society, but contractors should be aware that everything they do is now under more scrutiny than ever before.”
Most attendees remain upbeat about their backlogs and immediate business prospects but cautious about long-range planning because of political and economic uncertainties.
“You can’t be sure that Congress isn’t going to do something else stupid, even in an