Category Archives: construction

Government Shutdown Stalls Infrastructure Projects

The government shutdown is impacting transportation and road construction projects across the country, but exactly how much depends on the state, according to a story in The Washington Post.

Every state is feeling the impact, but not all are being hit the same. The percentage of federal funding states receive varies from one jurisdiction to the next and not every state is in the same funding situation. Depending on the climate, for instance, while some states would be taking bids for spring projects, others would be in mid-construction on projects.
The more this goes on without a resolution, the more of a problem it will be for contractors and the construction workforce, not to mention the nation’s infrastructure.
“If this continues to drag on it will have real impacts, not only on a state’s ability to build new projects but also on their ability to operate the system that they currently have,” said Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials told the Post. “Eventually it’s going to have an impact on operations and maintenance.”
Read the full story for more of a breakdown on the situation’s impact on the industry.

Women Still Outnumbered, But Making Bigger Strides in Construction Industry

Like so many other industries, construction continues its efforts for greater gender and racial representation in its workforce.

Construction has long been, and remains, a male-dominated industry. Nationally, women make up less than 10 percent of the workforce. But there has been a recent 15 percent growth of women in the industry, as more and more companies are recruiting women and promoting them to senior roles, according to a report on industry trends in Fora Financial.

Women in construction are even getting documentary film attention. A feature-length documentary is in post-production. Hard Hatted Women follows five female construction workers through their daily life on and off the job where they break down barriers in the blue collar world, according to the filmmakers, who hope to secure enough funding to get screenings on the film festival tour in 2019.

The project has received support from companies like Turner, Dragados USA, SMACNA and Structure Tone, according to a story in enr.com, which adds that if the push of recruiting attention alone isn’t enough to attract more women to the industry, maybe the industry’s growth and opportunity will be.

Farm Bill Could Impact Construction Industry

This afternoon, President Trump is set to sign the Farm Bill, which could impact the construction industry with the included Timber Innovation Act.

The Timber Innovation Act, which was not without its detractors, was proposed “to create opportunities to use wood products, including mass timber, in the construction of tall wood buildings,” according to those who introduced the language to the legislation.

According to the American Wood Council, the act aims to:

  • Establish performance driven research and development program for advancing tall wood building construction in the United States.
  • Create federal grants to support state, local, university and private sector education, outreach, research and development, including education and assistance for architects and builders, that will accelerate the use of wood in tall buildings;
  • Authorize technical assistance for USDA, in cooperation with state foresters and state extension directors (or equivalent state officials), to implement a program of education and technical assistance for mass timber applications; and
  • Incentivize the retrofitting of existing facilities located in areas with high unemployment rates, to spur job creation in rural areas.

Read more about how the act’s proponents hope it creates jobs, expands markets, reduces construction’s environmental footprint, and more.

The legislation made it through to the final bill despite opposition from many organizations, including the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, which cited issues with marketplace fairness (using taxpayer money to promote one type of business over another), as well as a lack of research in the safety and structural viability of tall wooden buildings.

The Mason Contractors Association of America and National Ready Mixed Concrete Association were among other groups that voiced their opposition.

AR and VR Ready to Make an Impact on Construction Industry

As we head into the 2019, a few technologies are primed to change the way we work.

The use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)—known together as mixed reality—is still in its relative infancy in construction, but the impact the technologies could have on the industry is far-reaching. AR is the changing of someone’s world around them whereas VR immerses people in a completely different world. Both have useful applications in construction.

According to Code Brew Labs, using the technology that allows architects, engineers, project managers, and construction workers to visualize projects in 3D, “see through walls” and virtually walk through buildings before they are built can not only lead to more sustainable building but also improve safety and training, detect critical design errors and optimize costs. Read the full story to learn more.

Okappy.com adds that AR and VR can also enhance collaboration and Construction Dive included mixed reality on its list of The 7 Most Striking Construction Technology Innovations of 2018.

Economy Brings More Construction Work, Industry Struggles to Find Workers

A strong economy is giving the construction industry so much work it’s having trouble finding enough workers. According to an article on CNBC.com, a boost in spending from consumers and businesses who have more cash on hand for expansions and improvements is exacerbating the industry’s growing inability to fill jobs.

 

In New York City, the coming of Amazon is pushing the industry even harder to fill the existing vacancies, says Bisnow.com. But the Amazon to Long Island City issue is not an isolated case created by the corporate giant.

The Associated General Contractors of America 2018 Workforce Survey revealed that 79 percent of New York firms reported having difficulty finding hourly workers. As part of its recommendations to reduce the labor shortage the AGC of NY suggested that educational reform is part of the process. That includes a proposal to expand federal work-study programs and apprenticeship opportunities, as well as better educate students about employment outcomes, according to a story in the Albany Times Union.

The story continued: The report noted immigration reform as a key issue. With millions of undocumented, able-bodied immigrants who can’t legally work, the AGC says a visa program would alleviate the labor shortage and recommended expanding seasonal worker visas, as well as market-based visas to mitigate the current and future worker shortages.

Amazon’s HQ2 Could Mean Construction Boom in Long Island City

When Amazon announced it chose Long Island City as one of its two, new HQ2 locations, New York officials emphasized the new construction projects and infrastructure improvements that will come with Jeff Bezos’ multi-billion dollar company. According to the press release from NYC mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, the pending projects include:

  • Four million square feet of commercial space on Long Island City’s waterfront over the next 10 years, with expansion opportunities for up to eight million square feet over the next 15 years.
  • A 10,000 square-foot on site employment center
  • A new approximately 600-seat intermediate public school
  • A 3.5-acre waterfront esplanade and park

The construction is expected to create an average of 1300 direct construction jobs annually through 2033, according to city officials. Read the complete press release here.

According to Curbed New York, to fund local infrastructure—streets, sidewalks, open space, etc.—Amazon will utilize the city’s PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program, estimated to be $600 to $650 million over four decades. The details of how those funds will be allocated will be decided upon via community engagement, the ny.curbed.com article said.

Phelps Construction Group Named GC of the Year by NJ Subcontractors Association

Congratulations to CIS client Phelps Construction Group. The Boonton-based company was named General Contractor of the Year by the New Jersey Subcontractors Association.

“Could not be prouder of our team,” Phelps Construction Group president Douglas Phelps wrote on LinkedIn after celebrating the award at a dinner at The Brownstone in Paterson, NJ.

It has been a big year for the company, which has gotten the most attention for its Statue of Liberty Museum project. The 26,000-square-foot museum, which is scheduled to open in May, is being built with its first floor about the 500-year flood level and to be able to withstand hurricane-force winds. It will also house the original Statue of Liberty torch. Phelps Construction Group is moving from its current location in the Statue’s base to the new museum today November 15. The museum website plans to show the torch journey across Liberty Island on top of a remote-controlled transporter.

But the company has been busy beyond Liberty Island, too. It’s 74,000-square-foot NYSCO warehouse in Hawthorne, NY, won an Award of Merit from the Metal Building Contractors & Erectors Association.

They have been busy with the 132,000 square foot Subaru Distribution Center in Orangeburg, NY, a project that will also include part of the current 150,000-square-foot warehouse being converted into a training center. It aims to complete this project in the first quarter of 2019.

There was also Hanover Crossroads in Cedar Knolls, NJ, and the recently opened the 4,500-square-foot community home, The Smile of Hopatcong in Hopatcong, NJ. And now the company will be working on a new “marquee premium club” at the Prudential Center in Newark. “The Lofts” will be a 14,560-square-foot space with vaulted 30-foot ceilings.

TAP Grants Offer Bike and Pedestrian Projects Throughout NJ

New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) has received a record $23 million in federal funding in Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grants for local and regional bicycle and pedestrian projects.

The complete list of projects spans the entire state. The largest grant—nearly $8.5 million–went to the Delaware River Heritage Trail for a Route 130 Bypass from Fieldsboro to Florence in Burlington County.

There were 18 projects totaling $18.6 million in TAP grants, and 14 Safe Routes to School grants of $2.3 million. An additional $2.2 million was authorized for Safe Routes to School work administered by Transportation Management Associations (TMAs).

According to the state press release, the TAP program funds a variety of projects including:

  • The design and construction of on-road and off-road trail facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other non-motorized forms of transportation
  • Community improvement activities, such as streetscaping and corridor landscaping
  • Construction of scenic turnouts, overlooks and viewing areas

New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition is particularly happy with this TAP funding. According to a blog post by NJBWC executive director Cyndi Steiner, the organization’s advocacy efforts saved the state $12 million and the new routes will make pedestrians safer. Read more of what Steiner had to say and David Hutter’s story on NJBiz.com about the funding, projects and grant solicitations.

 

NY’s MWBE Program Is Problematic, But What Is the Solution?

The current Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) program in New York State isn’t working as it was intended. It has created obstacles and difficulties for both general contractors and MWBEs. Proponents and critics can often agree on that. There is debate, however, about which part of the program is most problematic and to whom.

Are the 30 percent MWBE goals a burden on general contractors who say they can’t find qualified MWBEs to meet the quota and end up forced to hire a company that ends up too small or inexperienced to properly do the work or must file a waiver and delay the process?

Or is it more onerous on women and minority owned businesses who can’t get certification to qualify, saying the process is too difficult and the state needs to provide assistance to businesses trying to apply?

In 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo increased the goal for using MWBE businesses on state contracts from 20 to 30 percent. That is the highest percentage in the nation. Under that current state law, MWBE goals only apply to state-funded contracts issued by state agencies and authorities. Cuomo pushed for expansion for 2019 that would have expanded the program to local contracts or any funded by the state. It also would have provided annual goals for specific minority groups. But those changes were not in the approved budget. As a matter of fact, the MWBE Article 15 program, scheduled to expire at the end of this year, was only extended for one year, instead of the previously expected five. That has some proponents of the program fearing it might be gone altogether soon.

The N.Y. State Senate is holding hearings “to examine the Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises program, and consider potential legislative solutions to create a more effective and efficient program to enhance New York’s business climate.”

People from both side of the issues have attended the hearings and testified to the difficulties with the program and proposed their ideas for a solution. Some suggest adjusting the goals by region, pointing out that demographic disparities from one area to another make a statewide mandate impractical.  Or as one person said at the hearing in Watertown, “Brooklyn and Watertown are not the same.”

Another issue creating problems, according to Crain’s New York Business, is that “unlike the largely white-owned incumbent construction firms, MWBEs are rarely unionized though they must pay prevailing wages on state-subsidized work.”

One area contractor says he doesn’t think MWBEs can find or know where to look for the jobs in many cases. He proposes general contractors find a way to help them know about projects out to bid, even if it costs them a little money to do it. Regular events designed to have GCs meet MWBEs rarely result in working relationships, he says.

The New York State Contract System (https://ny.newnycontracts.com/) website has a directory of certified businesses. It also has information to help businesses apply for certification, and on trainings and grant opportunities.

As the debate continues and 30 percent statewide goal remains—at least through the 2019 budget—the state senate will continue to listen to the industry’s issues with the program. The remaining hearings are:

September 26 at 2 p.m. Stage 14, Finger Lakes Community College, 3325 Marvin Sands Drive, Canandaigua. For more information, contact Kristin Frank at (518) 455-2366

October 16 at 11 a.m. Senate Hearing Room, 250 Broadway, 19th Floor, New York. For more information, contact Graham Wise at (518) 455-1765 or Anthony Capozzi (607) 773-8771.

Oral testimony is given by invitation only.

By Chris Colabella and Kara Yorio

P3’s Bring Opportunity and Uncertainty

When Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill expanding the opportunities for Private-Public Partnerships (PPP or P3) projects, many expressed great hope that this opportunity—with the private companies assuming the financial risk and long-term maintenance of the project—can be the answer to the state’s infrastructure crisis, as well as a boon for construction jobs.

“We’ve seen many municipalities in New Jersey struggle to repair roads and bridges, build new borough facilities and redevelop their communities,” said Jack Kocsis, CEO of Associated Construction Contractors of New Jersey. “This new law now gives them the means to cost-effectively finance much-needed construction projects.”

With the new legislation, a state or local government agency, as well as school districts, can contract with a private company for a project.

“It could be a local library, highway construction, transit-related, the whole raft of infrastructure,” Murphy said when he signed the bill at The College of New Jersey’s Campus Town development, a project built collaboratively with private-sector partners.

Previously New Jersey only allowed P3s with public colleges and universities.

“Democrats and Republicans alike recognize the tremendous benefits that can arise when public officials and private sector partners work together,” Murphy said. “By doing so, we give state, county, and local officials the much-needed flexibility they need to improve their communities while creating good-paying new jobs – in most cases good, union jobs – while leveraging private capital to invest in public infrastructure.”

At its best, a P3 is a win for all, saving municipalities money, getting vitally needed infrastructure upgrades or important community projects done sooner and creating jobs in the construction industry. But it doesn’t always go so smoothly. Not all projects are eligible for P3s and the contracts are complicated. The results have not always been as hoped either.

At least 30 other states had legislation for use of P3s in widespread projects, but many have run into trouble. In Texas, the private company that operated a toll road went bankrupt forcing the state to step in and assist in financing. In Chicago, a deal required taxpayers to reimburse the private company when parking meters didn’t produce expected revenues.

There have also been concerns about a lack of oversight with everything from potential environmental issues to transparency to ensure fair competition in bidding–would large companies, perhaps from out-of-state come in and do all the work, or could the high risk taken on by the private companies keep some from bidding at all?  Another big concern was labor protections. Most of these issues, however, were addressed during the legislative process and are reflected in the law.

“During the legislative hearings, UTCA (Utility and Transportation Contractors Association of New Jersey) was successful in obtaining important amendments to protect the interests of our industry. The Association has been working with our partners for several years on P3 legislation and thanks to that successful effort, New Jersey has an important new tool for financing infrastructure,” UTCA said in a statement following the bill signing in August.

Kocsis agreed that the key protections are in place.

“In addition, the new law contains strong, time-tested contractor and labor protections ACCNJ has promoted for decades,” he said. “Equally important, this P3 legislation will not replace traditional project delivery, but rather supplement existing procurement and project financing methods.”

It will take time, various projects-and likely some failures-to know how to use P3s most effectively and to the benefit of the public and all parties involved and to decide if the optimism was warranted and this type of partnership is, in fact, the best long-term answer.

By Chris Colabella & Kara Yorio