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November 29, 2018

Construction jobs are down, but infrastructure seen as way to turn that around

Courtesy / Maine Department of Transportation
Courtesy / Maine Department of Transportation
The Maine Department of Transportation's annual three-year work plan, which was released earlier this year and includes 2,262 projects totalling $2.3 billion, also has an added emphasis on highway safety this year — with a particular focus on Interstate 295, shown above in this file photo, where crash incidence is high. The Associated General Contractors of America today touted infrastructure investments as the best way to turn around the 4% drop in construction jobs reported by the Portland-South Portland metro area for the year.

The Portland-South Portland metro area lost construction jobs at a faster rate than all but nine other metro areas in the year that ended in October, but attention to infrastructure investment can turn that around, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.

The region lost 400 construction jobs for the year, a 4% drop, according to an analysis by the organization. There were 9,800 people employed in construction in the Portland metro area in October, down from 10,200 a year earlier. Out of the 358 metro areas the association tracks, nine lost construction jobs at a faster rate during the past year.

Keith Simonson, chief economist for the organization, said Portland is not alone. Nationwide, 43 out of 358 metro areas lost construction jobs for the year, while construction employment was stagnant in another 34 areas. Simons said that new infrastructure investments would help ensure continued employment growth for the 281 metro areas that added construction jobs for the year.

The association highlighted the issue at a news conference this morning at Hews Co. in South Portland.

Construction officials said that new federal and state infrastructure funding would help boost construction employment and drive new demand for development in the area, and it plans to focus on pushing for more of a focus on infrastructure upgrades in the coming year.

"What makes these job losses even more frustrating is the fact many of them could have been avoided," said Simonson. "There is little doubt that thousands more construction workers would be earning high wages here in Portland and metro areas around the country if the public sector were investing more in the nation's aging infrastructure."

The construction industry in Maine has in the past year, struggled to find workers to fill jobs, and told Mainebiz earlier this year while they're looking to hire, the labor force is tight.

While the industry numbers partially reflect that situation, industry also said the local market is softening, and some projects are getting put on hold as materials and labor costs go up.

Simonson said Thursday there is opportunity to enact new infrastructure funding when the new Congress convenes in January, because Democrats and Republicans traditionally agree is on the economic benefits of investing in infrastructure. He noted that the president will have "a great opportunity to fulfill a key campaign promise and demonstrate his negotiating skills by making infrastructure a priority early next year."

New infrastructure funding will put people back to work in high-paying construction jobs in the Portland area, as well as drive demand for new buildings and other development projects, Simonson said. It would also give a boost to manufacturing and service sector firms that supply construction employers, he added.

The association and its local chapter, the AGC of Maine, is working to ensure that new infrastructure proposals are enacted in Washington as quickly as possible, he said.

"Without increased funding and new ways to pay for future repairs, the infrastructure we all depend on will continue to deteriorate and serve as an even greater drag on overall economic growth," he said.

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