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Rapid Growth in Grand Rapids

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The Grand Rapids metro area added construction jobs during the past year at a faster rate than most other metro areas as employment in the local industry hit a four-year high, according to an analysis released by AGC of America on Dec. 2, 2014.  As local construction firms expand their payrolls, the national association and its local building chapter, AGC of Michigan, are taking steps to prepare the next generation of construction workers, amid growing reports of construction worker shortages.

"As demand for construction grows in Grand Rapids and many other parts of the country, more firms are having an increasingly difficult time finding enough qualified workers," said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America.  "To avoid going from a market where firms don’t have enough work to one where they don’t have enough workers, the nation needs to take steps to prepare the next generation of workers."

Simonson noted that the Grand Rapids metro area added 1,200 new construction jobs between October 2013 and October 2014, a 12 percent increase.  He added that, out of the 339 metro areas the association tracks, the area ranked 22nd for the fastest rate of construction job growth.  There are 17,400 people working in construction in the Grand Rapids area today, up from 13,400 four years ago.  

The construction economist said that Grand Rapids was not alone when it comes to adding construction jobs.  Nationwide, 228 out of 339 metro areas added new construction jobs between October 2013 and October 2014, including the Detroit, Flint and Holland areas.  But he cautioned that 64 metro areas lost construction jobs during the same time period. 
Simonson noted that a majority of areas are adding construction jobs at a time when many people are leaving the construction workforce. According to the latest federal figures, over 900,000 construction workers left the industry – for retirement, school or jobs in other sectors – in the past four years.  That is why the association released its new Workforce Development Plan, which outlines a series of steps federal, state and local officials should take to make it easier to establish construction training programs, he added.

The plan calls for reforms to the Perkins Career & Technical Education Act, which funds vocational education programs, to give states increased flexibility and autonomy.  The plan also calls for increased funding for career and technical education.  It calls on state and local officials to make it easier to establish charter schools and career academies that focus on construction skills.  

The plan urges state officials to enact legislation allowing high school students to enroll tuition-free in public community college career and technical programs.  And the plan calls on Congress and the administration to enact comprehensive, long-term immigration reform that allows for construction workers to enter the country, especially where worker shortages are so significant that they threaten construction schedules.

"Worker shortages have the potential to undermine broader economic growth by needlessly delaying and inflating the cost of construction and development," Simonson observed.  "The consequences of inaction for both the construction industry and the broader economy are simply too severe not to act."

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Associated General Contractors of America
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