West Virginia contractors and builders say they have never been so busy and have never had so many challenges. They say the future will only bring more work and more concern.
Randy Yohe talked about the current and future state of construction with Mike Clowser, Executive Director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia. The organization represents 450 members, from bridge builders to bankers.
Yohe: Let’s talk about the state of contracting and construction, because it’s in flux. There are enormous amounts of government relief money out there. I know that’s affecting your contractors and workers in a variety of ways.
Clowser: The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was passed by Congress in November is the first U.S. investment in infrastructure in many years. About $6 billion is coming to West Virginia to improve our infrastructure of roads, water, sewer, broadband, abandoned mine lands, airports – and all of that money will be used to improve the quality of life in West Virginia. But most importantly, it is going to create thousands of good paying jobs in West Virginia’s construction industry.
Yohe: You need people for those jobs, don’t you?
Clowser: Our members over the last two or three years, especially since the pandemic started, have actively looked at recruiting and hiring and training their personnel. This has been one of the major issues with the Contractors Association of West Virginia, from the standpoint that we have been doing programs to try to recruit people into the construction industry. What we are trying to promote as an association is that construction is going to be a tremendous career. That ranges from project management to estimating to operating your equipment to steel erection. And our members are going to need accountants and they’re going to need people who work in the office.
Yohe: Does that put an emphasis on bolstering vocational education around the state?
Clowser: Most definitely. Our committee has been working with Chancellor Sarah Tucker to look into Community Technical Colleges and we’ve been working with the Department of Education to look at programs in the vo-tech schools. We’ve been working with the West Virginia National Guard and their programs at Camp Dawson. I think everyone is truly interested in training people and getting people not only jobs, but careers.
Yohe: To build things you need materials. The prices of materials aren’t quite the same as they were a couple of years ago, are they?
Clowser: We have had this issue for two years starting with the pandemic in early 2020. We’re now finding that the war in Ukraine is impacting products that are used in manufacturing. One such was the clay that is used in ceramic tile that is made by companies in Italy, for a whole host of applications here in the United States. We had last year, the Texas snow storm that shut down many of the resin plants in the state of Texas, which affects everything from plastic pipe for water and sewer systems to the paint that we use to stripe the center lines on our highways.
Yohe: Are we getting close to a supply chain solution?
Clowser: We have not seen that occur in prices yet. We still see prices that are continuing to escalate. Steel the last 24 months has gone up 126 percent. Lumber, if anybody has built a home lately, that’s gone up about 61 percent. Right now, we are not seeing any immediate relief in either price structure, or supply chain issues.
Yohe: Finally, what are the key issues that West Virginia consumers need to understand from the construction and contracting world.
Clowser: I think the best thing is that we’ve been able to work with our partners at the Department of Environmental Protection on sewer and the Bureau of Public Health on water and the Department of Highways on roads and bridges. Everybody realizes the environment that we are working in today. And they realize this is so unprecedented, that whatever we’ve done over the last 40 years, we’ve got to look outside and we’ve got to come up with new ideas to address this. We’ve got to keep a healthy construction industry in West Virginia because with all of the money that’s coming down through the infrastructure investment JOBS Act, we’re going to build billions of dollars to improve West Virginia’s infrastructure, and that’s going to create as we said, thousands of jobs. It’s going to improve the quality of life for all West Virginians. Those who don’t have water, those that don’t have sewer probably will get water and sewer under this program. And eventually, prices will level out, eventually, things will get back to normal.