June 11, 2015, South Portland, Maine-Business leaders representing Maine’s construction industry gathered today at a new Senior Housing Facility in South Portland that is currently under construction. The focus was quite simple, industry jobs, infrastructure challenges and current funding proposals.

Members of the coalition included: Maine Better Transportation Association, Associated General Contractors of Maine, Maine Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, Maine Chapter of American Civil Engineering Companies, Maine Chapter of American Institute of Architects and Maine Chamber of Commerce and individual firms.

Jobs & Outlook
AGC Maine President Tim Ouellette provided a big picture of construction related jobs, “Right now we are starting the recovery process. After losing almost 10,000 jobs following peak construction, we have a new set of challenges. As a state, we are risking the chance of attracting new talented, skilled workers to enter our workforce if we do not keep consistency in the marketplace.”

Last month AGC America’s job report provide optimism for the industry when the United States Unemployment for Construction dropped to 6.7% hitting a ten year low. But in Maine we had a 200 job loss since from April 2014 to April 2015. Total employment in the construction industry topped 32,000 workers in 2006 and today we have 23,600.

“We are hearing from firms that are recruiting skilled workers that has now become challenging. A multitude of factors could impact that including the growth in nearby states and quite frankly losing so much talent during the recession. One thing is certain, we have a backlog of infrastructure needs, and we need more steady, consistent funding,” said Ouellette.

Senior Housing
In a recent report by APT Associates commissioned by the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, 9,000 senior affordable homes are needed today, and that number will grow to 15,000 in just a few years.

A bipartisan proposal Sponsored by Speaker Eves and Co-sponsored by Senator David Burns will start to solve the problem. LD 1205 authorizes the sale of $65 million in general obligation bonds, to be used in combination with $100 million in leveraged funds, for the construction of 1,000 affordable, highly energy efficient homes for Maine’s seniors in strategic locations across the state. The initiative is widely endorsed by industry with 150 business and organizations from around the state.

The press conference was held at a Senior Affordable Housing Project named Ridgeland Gardens where Landry/French Construction of Scarborough is currently working. The building is 41,000 square foot building with 44 one bedroom apartment units for Mainers 55+. Seventy-eight construction workers built the project, total of 23 subcontractors, three contracted engineers, and one architect were contracted.

“Supporting the Senior Affordable Housing Bond Initiative is a win/win for the State of Maine, its senior population, and the construction industry,” said Vice President Kevin French of Landry/French Construction. “Not only will it bring the construction sector back to full recovery from the recession, but it will also fill a dire need for affordable senior homes here in Maine.  Landry/French fully supports creating more affordable senior housing and bringing back the good paying construction jobs that were lost during the recession.”

The design community also echoed the same support. “The American Institute of Architects, Maine Chapter (AIA Maine) is proud to support LD 1205. We believe the policies set forth in this initiative will reinforce the remarkable power of design to build healthier, thriving communities and homes for Maine’s seniors. Implementation will create needed jobs and infrastructure, as well as set Maine apart as a leader in developing successful green practices for affordable senior housing.” Rob Tillotson, President of AIA Maine

While growth across the board in construction has been slow, sentiment in the industry is that the vertical builders and subcontractors are recovering at a slower pace. This bond will impact the entire state. “The Associated Builders and Contractors of Maine supports the Senior Housing Bond based on the direct and much needed job opportunities it will create within all 16 counties and  securing efficient senior housing for our aging population,” Hope Perkins, President/CEO

Transportation Infrastructure
Maine’s roads and bridges are vital to the growth of our state’s economy, and we have decades of needs that continue to build each year. MaineDOT recently announced a bridge report highlighting the need for a stronger program. That was echoed by a national transportation research group based in DC named TRIP. In 2012, 33 percent of Maine’s bridges (20 feet or longer) were rated as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Approximately 15 percent of Maine’s bridges were rated structurally deficient.

Of course, our roads are not much better. The state’s system of 22,874 miles of roads and 2,408 bridges, maintained by local, state and federal governments, carries 14.2 billion vehicle miles of travel annually.

“Maine is rated 8th in the nation for rural roads rated in poor condition.  We are rated 9th in the country for the poor condition of our rural bridges.  As a state, we need to do better than that,” said Stephen S. Sawyer, P.E., president of Maine Better Transportation Association.  “Bonding for projects, like bridges that can last up to 100 years makes good economic sense.”

State funding has become more complicated as the United States Congress has continued to “kick the can” on a long-term funding solution. With literally weeks to spare funding for the highway trust fund is solved with a temporary fix. While MaineDOT has developed long-term plans, some other states have pulled projects because of the federal funding fiasco.

“ACEC’s 50 member companies know that a well-maintained infrastructure is key to Maine’s economy and quality of life, now and in the future. Unfortunately, we are falling short in many areas. Our transportation investments are $120 million a year below that necessary to maintain our current system. Maine’s housing stock is the 8th oldest in the nation and thousands of Maine seniors cannot find safe, affordable homes, a problem that will grow worse as the state ages without action. ACEC strongly supports robust state investment in transportation and senior housing to address these problems,” Owens McCullough ACEC President.

Stream Crossings and Culverts
Sportsman, businesses, and local leaders remain committed to improving stream crossings. A Muskie School report titled, “An Assessment of the Economics of Natural and Built Infrastructure for Water Resources in Maine,” concluded that there is a $14 to $28 million need statewide to address the increased costs of upgrading Maine’s highest priority culverts. That means important access to fish habitat are impaired, and we know that during high stream flows road washouts are a major concern.

The Maine Chamber of Commerce, AGC Maine, numerous environmental organizations and municipal leaders have been working together over the last few years to improve the conditions of Maine’s streams. Surveys show that up to 90 percent of culvert crossings make movement difficult or impossible for fish at least part of the year, while nearly 40 percent are severe barriers.

A bipartisan bill sponsored by Representative McCabe LD 1069 with almost 70 cosponsors titled, “An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Upgrade Municipal Culverts at Stream Crossings” places a bond issue on the ballot for Maine voters, in the amount of $10 million to invest in upgrading and replacing road and stream crossings. The funds will be administered by the Department of Environmental Protection and be used for a competitive grant program that matches local funding for the upgrade of municipal culverts at stream crossings in order to improve fish and wildlife habitat and increase community safety.

This bond proposal recognizes that timely, rationally planned and cost-effective investments in improving stream crossings will help:

1.      Communities prepare for and handle heavy and flood events;

2.      Strengthen Maine’s long-term economic base and competitive advantage;

3.      Create and preserve jobs in the areas of construction, tourism, fisheries, environmental  engineering, etc.;

4.      Save money in the long-term by mitigating future infrastructure needs; and,

5.      Enhance habitat for migratory fish like brook trout and alewives.

Members of the industry are optimistic that leaders in Maine recognize the growing infrastructure problems and are working towards solutions. “This is a perfect time to kick-start our economy by investing in Maine’s aging infrastructure. We still have low-interest rates, a workforce that needs consistent growth, and skilled Maine workers who shine during tough challenges. When the building industry is working, Maine is moving,” said Ouellette.