Friday, 31 July 2009

NC employers and employees should fight to keep secret-ballot rights


NC contractors and their employees need to get in touch with their representatives in Congress to vote against the so-called Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that could dramatically change the way we do business. (H.R. 1409/S. 560)

Recent polls show strong majorities of the public want to keep the current protections in place. Numerous editorial pages in the North Carolina news media and across the country also have expressed support for keeping the private ballot.

Organized labor’s top priority in Congress is passage of the “Employee Free Choice Act.” The measure would dramatically change US labor law. Today, employees are entitled to a private-ballot election when deciding whether they want union representation in their workplace. Elections are overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, which has numerous procedures in place to ensure fair, fraud-free elections. Because of NLRB safeguards, employees can cast their vote confidentially, without peer pressure or coercion from unions or employers.

If Congress passes the Employee Free Choice Act, employees effectively lose their right to private-ballot elections. The bill would establish a so-called “card-check” union organizing system, in which a majority of employees simply sign a card in favor of union representation. Another provision of the bill—providing for mandatory arbitration in first contract negotiations--is even more troubling.

Educate our lawmakers now on the following points:

• A card-check process increases the risk of coercion;

• Private ballots are a basic American right;

• An employee’s decision to join a union should be made in private.

Take time to write a personal letter to your representatives in Congress. Help defeat card check legislation and protect secret-ballots in the workplace and NC jobs.

To learn more go to www.TheTruthAboutEFCA.com.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

NC Turnpike board starts spending for toll road


Minutes after depositing $1.01 billion in borrowed money Wednesday, the NC Turnpike Authority began spending it to begin construction of the state's first modern toll road, the Triangle Expressway, reports the News & Observer.

"That money is burning a hole in our account," David W. Joyner, the agency's executive director, said at a turnpike board meeting. "According to my math, we're losing about $73,000 a day in interest, right this minute."

So Joyner called three construction executives to his side at the board table. He signed contracts pledging their companies $584 million to start work on the six-lane, 18.8-mile "TriEx" in western Wake and southern Durham counties.

"After we sign this, we want y'all to get out of here," Joyner said. "Go forth and build us a toll road."

Sure enough, the three men -- two executives from Atlanta-based Archer Western Contractors, and one corporate executive with Wilson-based S.T. Wooten Corp. marched out of the meeting room. The wheels wereset in motion on the biggest road contracts in state history.

The TriEx project will support an estimated 13,800 construction-related jobs over the next 42 months, a turnpike authority spokeswoman said. And the agency will pay landowners an estimated $230 million -- most of it in the next six months -- to buy the remaining 525 acres needed for right of way.

Jonathan K. Bivens, an S.T. Wooten vice president, said that surveyors will be on the ground today and that machines will be moving earth by mid-August to build the northern section of TriEx through Research Triangle Park. That section will be known separately as the Triangle Parkway.

Wooten also starts work this month on another good-size Triangle job, a $49 million contract to widen six miles of I-40 in West Raleigh. The TriEx and I-40 projects will employ some laborers, equipment operators, engineers and subcontractors who have gone months without work.

The Triangle Parkway will extend the N.C. 147 Durham Freeway south from Interstate 40 for 3.4 miles to the 540 Outer Loop. A 2.8-mile piece of the 540 Loop, originally built with tax dollars in 2007, will become part of the toll road.

Wooten will be paid $137.5 million to build Triangle Parkway and to add an electronic toll plaza to 540. The combined 6.2-mile toll section is to be open for business by January 2012.

Granite Construction Co., based in Watsonville, Calif., and Archer Western joined forces as Raleigh Durham Roadbuilders to win the $446.5 million contract for the Western Wake Freeway section of TriEx. It will extend the 540 loop 12.6 miles south from its end at N.C. 55 near RTP to the N.C. 55 Bypass at Holly Springs. Traffic is scheduled to roll on that part of the road by January 2013.

The combined Triangle Expressway will be the nation's first toll road built without cash collection booths. Tolls will be collected electronically. Bills will be mailed to car owners identified by video images of their license plates. Drivers who open accounts and put transponders in their cars will qualify for lower toll rates.

The turnpike authority sold $624 million in bonds and secured a $387 million federal loan to finance construction of the TriEx and to cover the cost of collecting tolls and maintaining the road. Toll collections and a state legislative appropriation of $25 million a year will repay the debt.

Workers can start quickly on the Triangle Parkway because most of the necessary land was set aside 50 years ago when RTP was created. The state has some of the land needed for the Western Wake Freeway, and construction is expected to start in November.

A groundbreaking ceremony is set for Aug. 12. Click Here to view the complete News & Observer story.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Stimulus tends to shortchange NC cities


Construction has begun on an extension of Booker Dairy Road that will connect U.S. 70 business to Buffalo Road north of Smithfield in Johnston County. The $15 million, 2.27 mile section of road is being built using federal stimulus money.

The News & Observer reports North Carolina's stimulus checkbook shows that rural counties have benefited more than urban counties on a per-person basis, with Wake and other populous counties getting less than an average share.

Federal funds allocated through June 30 under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act add up to $328 for every state resident. The per-person share falls to $284 in Wake County and $252 in Durham County.

One urban county doing very well so far is Cumberland County, home to Fayetteville and Fort Bragg. The Department of Defense has poured money into the Army base, pushing Cumberland's per-person total to $816.

Many of the stimulus dollars are distributed by existing state formulas that favor rural over urban counties, and money is going to programs that focus on certain parts of the state.

"The Department of the Interior is spending money in the mountains and in the coasts," said Dempsey Benton, who oversees stimulus spending in the state. "That's not going to help the Mecklenburgs and the Guilfords."

Benton heads the N.C. Office of Economic Recovery and Investment, which recently released a county-by-county breakdown of stimulus funding. North Carolina has been allocated $3.2 billion through June 30 and has spent $1.3 billion.

The state will receive at least $8.2 billion in all over three years, a figure that could grow by a few hundred million if North Carolina wins lucrative grants in several areas.

The stimulus, designed to jump-start the economy and improve the nation's infrastructure, includes money for construction projects such as roads and weatherizing buildings, and also assistance payments for food stamps and school systems.

As unemployment nationwide has hit 9.5 percent, a 26-year high, Republicans have criticized the stimulus as ineffective. One problem has been that money hasn't been spent as fast as the Obama administration hoped.

Benton said there has been a longer-than-expected lag time in federal agencies issuing rules as to how the money must be spent. But he said North Carolina is moving quickly to spend the money.

Most public works projects that will use stimulus funds have not begun construction. But stimulus safety-net spending gets into the economy quickly, Benton said. So far the state has received more than $580 million for extra food stamps, Social Security Insurance and unemployment payments.

"That money has come into the system and is recycling through the community," Benton said.

What's slated for Wake

The state's most populous counties, Wake and Mecklenburg, have been shortchanged in highway dollars because the money is distributed according to the state's equity formula, which Gene Conti, the state transportation secretary, said penalizes urban areas.

Wake has been allocated $49.8 million in stimulus money for roads and bridges. The biggest single share, $13.9 million, will widen a stretch of U.S. 401 north of Raleigh. Most of the local road funds will be spent on smaller projects to repave freeways and build miles of greenway trails.

By contrast, the state DOT office overseeing five counties in central North Carolina chose to spend all of its stimulus highway dollars -- $64 million -- in Fayetteville. That will help build part of the city's Interstate 295 loop.

"The major issue here is that the DOT just did not have a lot of big projects ready to go in the [other] urban areas," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said.

Raleigh will combine $7.6 million in stimulus funds with other grants to start work on a $22.5 million bus garage and operations center that is a key part of planned transit expansion over the next 25 years. For a county by county listing of stimulus projects under way or scheduled for the coming year click Here.

Click Here to read the entire News & Observer story.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

NC leaders discuss qualities worth following


Leaders come from all walks of life but share some common traits, including honesty, humility, passion and compassion.

That's one of the main messages in a new coffee-table book, “Secrets of Success: North Carolina Values-Based Leadership.” The book contains essays based on interviews with 35 prominent leaders including Hugh McColl Jr., Richard Petty, Franklin Graham, Alan Dickson, Jerry Richardson, Charlie Rose and former Gov. Jim Hunt.

The Charlotte Observer highlighted some of the essays collected by the General H. Hugh Shelton Leadership Center at N.C. State. The book will support programs and scholarships at the center, which opened in 2002.

“We wanted to provide another layer of inspiration for young people,” said Mike Davis, director of the Shelton center. “We asked them to tell us about a moment when value-based leadership played a role in their lives.”

Here is a highlight from the essay by David H. Murdock, owner of Dole Food Co. and developer behind the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis:

When asked about the leadership that led to the creation of the North Carolina Research Campus here in Kannapolis, I often refer to a belief of mine – to do the impossible you must see the invisible. I love creativity.

Most things that I want to do are impossible or would seem to be. So I'm always busy looking for the invisibility – what might be, what can be, and then putting it all together. My definition of leadership, and this applies to the creation of the Research Campus, is that to lead you must be in front. You can't be a leader if you're walking behind other people. I always say, “I'm No. 1.” And I don't mean that in an egotistical way … if you are going to do something important and you're following, that's all you're doing, following someone who did something of value.

Click Here for other highlights reported in the Charlotte Observer article.

The book, from Ivy House Publishing Group in Raleigh, costs $49.99 and is available in local and online bookstores, or by contacting Ivy House at or 800-948-2786.

Monday, 27 July 2009

ABC Unveils New Construction Backlog Indicator


The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) released its inaugural Construction Backlog Indicator (CBI), a forward-looking measurement reflecting the amount of work to be performed by contractors in the months ahead.

The CBI in the nation's nonresidential construction industry rebounded in May to 6.3 months, up from 6.2 months in April, but still down by roughly 0.8 months since November 2008, when ABC began collecting data. During the past seven months, nonresidential backlog is down by an average of 24 days.

This new, national economic data set is the only reliable leading economic indicator offering this level of specificity focused on the U.S. commercial and institutional, industrial, and infrastructure construction industries. ABC will compile this data on an ongoing basis, releasing the latest CBI every other month to track industry trends.

The average construction backlog from November 2008 to May 2009 declined by nearly 1.3 months in the Northeast and by 1.2 months in the South. However, backlog is up by 0.4 months in the Middle States and is 0.2 months higher in the West.

Compared to April, the average backlog in May rose in each of the four regions that ABC monitors, with the exception of the South. At 7.5 months, the South now reports the longest average backlog. At 5.3 months, the Northeast reports the shortest average backlog.

"Based on Associated Builders and Contractors' CBI, the most severe retrenchment in business activity in recent months has been along the East Coast and in the South. This comes as little surprise because these areas are home to a significant share of the rapidly declining white-collar sectors, including financial and professional services," said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu. "In contrast, the Middle States, which depend more on commodities and energy supply, have been considerably more stable. Several large firms in the western U.S. have reported significant increases in their respective backlogs in recent months."

Average backlog in the infrastructure category jumped from 6.6 months in April to 8.6 months in May. Backlog declined in the commercial/institutional and heavy industrial categories. Between November 2008 and May 2009, each category lost at least one full month of backlog, falling 1.4 months for heavy industrial and one month for commercial/institutional.

"Over the past six months, the average backlog had markedly declined in each of the industry segments that ABC monitors. This jump in contractual activity in the infrastructure segment may be credited to the stimulus package, a potential sign that federal funds are beginning to flow," said Basu. "This implies that the infrastructure segment is poised to experience a significant increase in value of construction put in place over the next several months."

Construction backlog is the amount of work, measured in dollars, that companies are contracted to complete in the future. The formula ABC uses to convert reported backlogs measured in dollars into months of available work is: current month's level of backlogs (reported in dollars) ÷ fiscal year 2007 revenues (base year) × 12 = total months of forward-looking work under contract. To maximize the comparability of one month versus another, ABC has worked to achieve consistent reporting among survey sample participants. The effort has been supported by the longstanding relationship between ABC and its members, as well as carefully crafted communications with those responsible for responding to each monthly survey.

Click Here to read the entire Associated Builders and Contractors news release.

For more detailed regional, segment and company revenue specific data, download a PDF of the charts and graphs Here.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

OSHA to monitor safety programs on stimulus projects

The Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it will implement local emphasis programs (LEP) to oversee construction projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The LEPs will be designed to monitor safety issues such as fall protection, contractor liability and electrocution hazards. In addition, the program will address issues associated with the expedited scheduling and nontraditional work hours that are occurring because of the requirement that the stimulus money be spent quickly.

Under the program, OSHA will conduct random inspections of stimulus-funded construction projects based on a formula from the University of Tennessee, which is designed to process approved stimulus-funded projects.

In addition, OSHA is expected to hire 30 new inspection officers by 2010 in keeping with President Obama’s 2010 budget request for funding to hire 130 new inspectors.

For more information, visit the OSHA website by clicking here, or contact OSHA’s Directorate of Construction, 202-693-2100.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Safety program designed to reduce highway construction worker fatalities

A new national worker safety training program will help reduce the approximately 100 construction workers killed each year while performing highway maintenance or construction. The Highway Worker Safety Program is designed to teach construction crews on ways to make highway construction zones safer working environments.

“There isn’t an infrastructure project in this country that’s worth the life of a single construction worker,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America, which helped develop the new program. “This program is designed to make sure that vital road work doesn’t turn fatal.”

Sandherr noted that the program focuses on teaching ways to control traffic, operate heavy equipment and staff worksites in a way that reduces risk to construction workers. He added that craft workers, supervisors or anyone else involved in road construction can use the safety training program.

Construction companies may tailor the two-disc DVD set to meet individual training needs. Training materials include an instructor guide and participant manual.

The training program was co-developed by the Associated General Contractors of America and Zurich North America, an insurance-based financial services provider. The two organizations recently developed a similar injury prevention program for construction workers that resulted in a greater than 30 percent reduction in strains, sprains and lower back injuries.

Click here for more information about the Highway Worker Safety Program.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Defense contractors offer work to NC businesses


Aerospace defense contractors who land big military contracts are getting together with smaller North Carolina companies able to perform some of the work.

A conference at Wake Technical Community College today in Raleigh aims to beef up North Carolina's aerospace industry. Primary contractors will describe their defense and commercial aerospace projects to smaller companies who may be able to deliver needed products or services.

The conference was arranged by the North Carolina Aerospace Alliance Foundation, an effort financed by the state's Golden Leaf Fund to expand jobs supplying products for commercial and military aircraft industries. Defense Department spending in North Carolina grew by 22 percent last year to $3.6 billion.

For more details about the North Carolina Aerospace Alliance Foundation, contact Joe Gragg, Coordinator Aerospace Alliance, North Carolina Military Business Center, 919-259-5693. Email: graggj@ncmbc.us

Monday, 13 July 2009

Relationships underlying marketing


You achieve the magic construction marketing moment when you reach the level of communication that trust and respect are considered the core of your relationship -- not "selling something".

In fact, I would argue that with rare exceptions you aren't going to sell very much until you achieve this status.

However, you can't usually achieve this high relationship quality by conventional selling practices. I mean, do you really trust someone who telemarkets you, or really believe the advertisements you read?

But it is easy to lapse into the conventional, in fact, it is natural -- you think this is the way it is done, and so do it. You are "marketing" after all.

Yet, when you look at your business, you see that virtually every (profitable) sale you make actually occurs when the relationship founded on trust is so strong that your price doesn't matter. (Well, your price indeed matters, to an extent, because if you have a relationship based on trust, you would never abuse the trust by gouging someone or charging a price outside of the realistic value you are delivering.)

The irony is that our business is primarily selling the standard stuff -- advertising -- but we sell most of what we sell by connecting more closely with our clients and their own relationships.

You probably appreciate these principals if you have built your business in good times by "relying" on referrals. You do your work well, you build the relationships with your clients to such a level, that they tell their friends and colleagues about you, and your order book is full.

Unfortunately, when things slow down, you may be tempted to fall into conventional marketing traps -- or be sold a pile of crap by conventional marketing sales representatives.

How do you get around these marketing myths and achieve meaningful results. I'll go out on a limb and suggest three ideas to follow:

Build on your referrals. If you have great client relationships, connect (more closely) with them, in a systematic but human way. You'll achieve far greater results with this form of marketing than any other option.

Look at media publicity as the most cost-effective non-referral marketing opportunity available to you. Media publicity can include your own media; namely blogs, videos, and Internet forum participation. It can also be independent editorial coverage in publications, websites and radio/television stations. We make most of our money by providing advertising-supported editorial publicity; done right, this can be a great seed for independent editorial coverage, and is far more effective than conventional advertising.

Remember that relationships don't need to correlate directly to any selling or "business development" but you want these relationships to focus within your ideal client community. In other words, focus on giving, sharing, and connecting without worrying about return, but hang out in the right neighbourhoods or with the right business associations.

Does this stuff work? Absolutely. And you don't have to sell a thing to find the clients you really want to serve if you get it right.

Posted by Mark Buckshon on the July 10 Construction Marketing Ideas blog. Buckshon publishes regional construction trade newspapers and websites in several Canadian and U.S. cities. For more information, phone 888-432-3555 ext 224 or email buckshon@cnrgp.com.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Benton briefs businesses on NC's plans for stimulus funds


NC Gov. Bev Perdue appointed Dempsey Benton as her stimulus czar to help fix up the state’s economy. His job is to administer the way North Carolina spends its $6.1 billion portion of the $787 billion federal stimulus program. Benton was in Charlotte recently for the final of six workshops designed to brief local business owners on what the funds will pay for and what they won’t.

As that session ended, Benton discussed the state’s efforts with the
Charlotte Business Journal:

Do business people need more training on how to attract stimulus money? Are these workshops enough?

Part of the goal of the workshops that we’ve done is to raise awareness. As we get some of these projects closer to being ready for funding, we’re trying to get more information out to a cross section of the state. One example is the energy program. We’ve had a number of our energy staff going out doing workshops across the state this month trying to get folks aware of specifics on the energy projects coming out.

We’ll also be launching a special awareness and training program for historically underutilized businesses and small businesses.

We will undertake to do another nine workshops that will be much more intense in terms of helping these businesses understand where the opportunities are and how to actually apply for funds. So this is the next phase of this effort.

Where is North Carolina in terms of the overall federal distribution?

In terms of what’s been allotted, we’re probably at the halfway point.

How’s it going so far? Is it allowing companies to create jobs or retain employees, which is the purposes of stimulus funds?

We’re already seeing it. Transportation projects are retaining jobs and creating jobs. The water and sewer projects — I’m already talking to towns that are awarding projects.

We’ve probably got a good $500 million-plus of contracts out on the street. So it’s starting to put people to work. There’s always a question of whether someone’s job is retained or a job is created.

But if these projects were not there, the people would not be at work in these categories. So we’re beginning to see people going to work in these areas.

Mayor Pat McCrory says Charlotte needs more stimulus money for roads. Charlotte isn’t getting its share, he says. Is that true?

A number of the urban areas have that concern about needing more money for roads. As for the transportation budget and its dependence on the gasoline tax, we’re not where we’ve been in terms of road construction because of that relationship.

In terms of the recovery dollars and the way they were allocated, they went through the same equity formula that’s been used in the past for the state dollars and the federal dollars. I’m not sure what else we could do.

The other thing that’s not mentioned here is the transit budget. In the transit area, Charlotte did quite well. Out of the $75 million, Charlotte is getting about $20 million for a major transit facility on North Davidson Street. That’s about 30% of the urban transit funds that were distributed across the state. The division got about $70 million for highways, but they did much better proportionately in the transit area.

The governor has said the state learns of new programs every day. How do you keep track of what’s available?

We’ve got several staff members in our office whose primary job is to monitor the various departments. The federal departments are doing a good job of releasing information. We’ve got a Washington office that monitors what the federal departments are announcing as well.

Click Here to view the Charlotte Business Journal article. For further information contact the Office of Economic Recovery and Investment, 20308 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-0308. Phone:(919) 733-1433 www.ncrecovery.gov.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

NC launches outreach program for small and HUB businesses


The NC Office of Economic Recovery and Investment (OERI) announced the implementation of a statewide awareness campaign targeted to historically underutilized businesses (HUBs), including minority and small businesses.

The four-month campaign will reach out to these groups through workshops and the use of a variety of communication vehicles to impart information and offer help with navigation of the various funding opportunities available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Further information is available at: www.ncrecovery.gov.

Homebuilders could delay local taxes

The News & Observer reports contractors having a hard time moving unsold homes they've built in North Carolina can delay paying property taxes on them for up to three years in legislation given final approval yesterday.

The House bill approved 44-2 in the Senate now goes to Gov. Beverly Perdue to be signed into law.

The measure is designed to help the state's struggling housing industry by allowing builders with vacant houses to defer taxes on them. The taxes would have to be repaid with interest.

Legislative staff says the bill could delay $35 million in taxes during the first year of the program that begins in July 2010. It expires in 2013.

Click here to view the News & Observer article.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Architects see inquiries for new projects rise


Even though the decline in design services billings has stabilized, the
American Institute of Architects' Architecture Billings Index also indicates that any economic recovery has also flat-lined.

The AIA reported that the May ABI rating was 42.9, nearly identical to the 42.8 mark in April. This score indicates a continued overall decline in demand for design services as any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings.

However, one bright spot for the architecture industry is the new projects inquiry score of 55.2, the third straight month with a score in the mid-50s.

"The design and construction marketplace is extremely competitive right now," said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. "Prospective clients are casting a wider net, causing numerous firms to bid for the same project, which is why the high level of inquiries is not necessarily translating into additional billings for project work at many firms."

The May ABI breaks down by sector as follows: multi-family residential (45.5, up from 43.2 in April, 39.4 in March, 33.3 in February, and 29.5 in January); mixed practice (44.5, up from 44.2 in April and 44.0 in March); commercial/industrial (43.1, up from 41.7 in April, 35.0 in March, and 32.0 in February); and institutional (38.0, down from 43.2 in April).

Regionally, the ABI breaks down thusly: Northeast (48.3, up from 47.1 in April, 41.8 in March, 32.3 in February, and 29.8 in January), Midwest (41.5, up from 40.1 in April, 37.5 in March, and 35.0 in February), South (41.3, down from 45.0 in April), and West (39.4, up from 39.2 in April and 36.1 in March).

Click here to see the complete PSMJ Resources, Inc. blog.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Economy on the rebound


Guest Editorial by Jim Walton, President & CEO, Brand Acceleration, Inc.

I know it may be hard to accept, but this thing will end. In fact, it may well be over. If you continue to listen to the mainstream media and all of the gloom-and-doomers out there, you’d think the economy was on the verge of disaster.

Without a doubt, it’s hard to remain optimistic when your head is being filled with emotional poison. Well, turn it off. There is still good news out there and it’s coming faster every day. Is it all rosy and nice? No! It’s still difficult and will remain that way for a while. However, it’s important that you hang on and be a positive force for others to emulate.

Spending a lot of time with economic developers and construction industry people, I am always pleased at the number of positive stories I hear. New projects are entering the pipeline and pending projects are beginning to find funding. It is also very gratifying to notice how positive these people remain.

Are they just blind optimists? I don’t think so. These are people who know that they have to push forward, work hard and make things happen. Simply sitting on the sideline with the whiners will do nothing but send them to the unemployment line.

But as I said, there is good news out there. For example, here are a few stories you may not have heard on the evening news or read in the newspapers:

--U.S. consumer confidence rose in June to the highest level since February 2008, as expectations grew that the worst economic recession since the Great Depression may be ending. Since the November 2008 low of 55.3, the sentiment index has gained 15.5 points, up to 70.8, recouping about one-third of the loss posted since the peak in January 2007.

--U.S. consumer spending rose in June for the first time since February as incomes rose sharply, the Commerce Department recently announced, supporting the view that the economy was pulling out of recession.

--Consumer spending, which accounts for over 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, rose 0.3 percent in May after an upwardly revised flat reading in April. Mark Vitner, an economist with Wachovia in Charlotte said the data suggested the economy was on a better trajectory heading into the third quarter.

--An unexpected jump in U.S. durable goods orders in June backed hopes the economy was healing, a prospect cautiously supported by the Federal Reserve.

Things are beginning to look up. Good news is all around us and brighter days are not far off. Pledge to yourself to avoid negative news sources and to stay clear of people who only serve to bring you down. Keep selling, keep promoting and keep up the good fight.

I can see light at the end of the tunnel.

To view an online version of the text Click Here. Brand Acceleration is a full-service advertising, brand management and public relations firm operating from Indianapolis, Indiana and Charlotte, North Carolina. The agency’s focus is on economic development, architecture/engineering/construction, real estate and motorsports. For more information email Jim Walton at jim@brandaccel.com or call 317-536-6255.

Monday, 6 July 2009

NC contractor wins contract for new barracks


A North Carolina contractor is the latest company to reap the rewards of a construction boom at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, as the base rushes to upgrade aging facilities and infrastructure to keep up with the Corps' rapid growth.

The Beaufort Gazette reports Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. of Raleigh, received a $15.6 million contract last week from Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southeast in Jacksonville, Fla. The company will build open-bay barracks at Parris Island. NAVFAC Southeast oversees construction projects at all Navy and Marine Corps installation in seven Southern states, including South Carolina.

Whiting-Turner will build and design the barracks, a battalion first aid station, parking, site improvements and utilities, said Sue Brink, spokeswoman for NAVFAC Southeast. The project is expected to be completed by December 2010, Brink said.

Lt. Cmdr. Ronald Jenkins, in charge of NAVFAC construction, said the barracks will help the depot handle the influx of recruits expected to arrive at Parris Island as the Corps attempts to grow its force to from 180,000 Marines to 202,000 Marines by 2011. All would-be Marines recruited east of the Mississippi River and all female recruits train at Parris Island.

The Navy already doled more than $78 million to Walton Construction of New Orleans to build a barracks complex for the 3rd Recruit Battallion, a unit now housed in some of the depot's oldest facilities. Work on that facility began earlier this year, and the first two barracks are expected to be completed by September 2010, according to Walton.

Parris Island also is the site of at least six other projects, including a $2.9 million renovation to Traditions, a restaurant in the former Officer's Club; the creation of a $680,000 campsite near Elliot's Beach; and $10 million in energy-efficency and infrastructure improvements funded by federal stimulus dollars.

Click here to view the complete article.

Friday, 3 July 2009

How to hang in there during the economic crunch


Don L. Short II, president, The Tempest Company

By any measure, there are some tough times in the construction industry. Having had the opportunity to deal with people around the country, I can tell you that we are all taking similar measures to weather the economic crunch.

There are companies going out of business or changing market segments. There are companies that have reduced the hours of hourly administrative and technical personnel and/or had reductions in their staff levels. Companies have shed internal departments and some have reduced the salaried staff levels. Some are reducing the work weeks of the salaried staff to further cut costs. My company is not immune to cost cutting, either.

All of these reductions are being done to cut costs, and hopefully without losing the knowledge and skills necessary to long term success. But what is the skill set necessary for the long-term success of a contracting organization?

I think it just may be in some philosophy set out years ago by the late Peter Kiewit.

He said, with a bit of paraphrasing, “Bid work at the right price, build work at the lowest possible cost and take care of your assets”. It is not a bad philosophy to follow. I think it helped him build one of the largest construction companies in the world.

It takes competent estimators and management to bid work at the right price. The knowledge of costs is important to the success of a contracting organization. The same holds true for knowing the market conditions or competition. Building work at the lowest possible cost requires having competent people on the job site. It involves dealing with firms for materials and subcontracts; you count on those firms to deliver. Taking care of your assets is just that. People are assets, and equipment, whether a scraper or a computer, is an asset. Your reputation on how you operate your business is an asset.

Firms that are taking steps to cut costs should heed the Peter Kiewit philosophy. They just may see themselves succeeding beyond expectations as they hang in there and recover from these difficult times.

Don L. Short II, president of The Tempest Company, never hesitates to tell you what he's really thinking about the construction business. Tempest Co. is based in Omaha, Neb., and provides estimating, scheduling, project controls, construction consulting and expert services, including arbitration services. Courtesy of ENR News Alert, a product of McGraw-Hill Construction.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Stimulus paves way for school construction


Local schools will benefit from zero- or low-interest bonds for construction, established as part of the federal stimulus package, the Rocky Mount Telegram reports.

Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools and Edgecombe County Public Schools both have been allotted funds from the 2009 Qualified School Construction Bonds program. The program offers funds for the specific use of new construction, school rehabilitation or repair and land acquisition in conjunction with those projects. The state was issued $275,772,000 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to disperse to schools.

Edgecombe Count schools were allocated $1,576,307.06. Nash-Rocky Mount schools were allocated $2,391,375.55.

In Nash-Rocky Mount schools, the money potentially could be used for two upcoming construction projects, Special Assistant for Auxiliary Services Mark Strickland said. He said that the people selling bonds will receive a tax credit in lieu of the interest money they’d typically receive. A zero-interest bond would be a “win-win” for the district, Strickland said.

“It would just mean that we wouldn’t have to pay any interest, we’d just have to pay back the principal,” Strickland said. “In the end, there could be significant cost savings.”

Edgecombe County schools Community Relations Director Diane LeFiles said the district has a long-range facilities plan that serves as a guide for decisions about construction and renovation projects. She said there are numerous projects to be completed, both large and small.

“We have been keeping a close eye on the potential of access to construction money that may become available from the federal stimulus package,” LeFiles said. “We are ready to take advantage of any opportunity to improve the learning environment for Edgecombe students.”

Districts have until July 31 to turn in a proposed spending plan to designate the funds — a process Strickland said was in progress for Nash-Rocky Mount schools.

The funds have to be issued by Dec. 31 and spent within three years of the issue date. Districts receiving funds also have reporting requirements to make sure funds are being used appropriately.

A down economy is a prime time for school construction because firms are looking for work, and workers are looking for jobs, said N.C. Department of Public Instruction School Support Director Ben Matthews. He said the cost of materials also goes down because companies have it backed up and want to use it.

“This is a great opportunity for schools to capitalize on an excellent funding source,” Matthews said. “Zero interest is a wonderful thing when you get a deal like that.”

Click Here to view the Rocky Mountain Telegram article.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Carolinas AGC Construction Barometer posts modest gain


For first quarter 2009, the Carolinas AGC Construction Barometer™ posted a modest 3.3% gain due to growing evidence of a slowing rate of economic deterioration in Carolinas commercial construction. The rate of downward change in first quarter was much less severe than the drop in activity experienced in latter 2008.

In particular, the Business & Economic Trends segment on the Barometer's quantitative side advanced 17.6%, posting its strongest gain in 2 years on modestly rising business activity and contractor expectations that the worst of the recession is likely behind us.

Contractors reported a small increase in highway and utility project activity; and private sector work-in-process is holding steady where developers can obtain financing to continue work.

The Carolinas' construction labor market also reflects a slowing rate of deterioration, with little change in the number of new positions anticipated by contractors, stable wage rates and a constant (albeit abnormally high) rate of construction unemployment. Quantitative trends in the financing arena also reflect a slow-down in the downward movement of business activity, with stable interest rates, a steady level of financing activity compared with last quarter and unchanged lender attitudes with respect to new loan approvals.

While these trends are somewhat encouraging, it is important to point out that financial market activity and contractor borrowing requests remained at unprecedented low levels in first quarter. The Barometer's quantitative indicators aren't falling nearly as fast as in 2008, but still at rock-bottom levels of business activity compared with the last ten years. It's clear that the recession is not yet over, with materials costs continuing to fall on weak demand, falling contractor orders for heavy equipment and other capital purchases, and flat federal spending on highway construction.

The Barometer's qualitative side mirrors the results shown across the quantitative indicators. Contractors' opinions of business conditions included a slight rise in volume in early 2009, but not sufficient enough to push up labor or materials costs. Construction materials costs are expected to remain stable throughout the rest of 2009 in all categories except petroleum-derivative building products, where contractors are concerned that prices may unexpectedly accelerate. Rising fuel costs continue to be a concern as well.

Panelists reported that modest improvement in the demand for new capital equipment is likely to emerge in the middle of 2010 as business conditions improve in the coming year. However, contractors plan to defer practically all major equipment expenditures for at least a year.

This weak demand for capital equipment is reflected in financial market activity where little change in funding occurred between the last few months of 2008 and early 2009. This marks a trend change as the drop-off in commercial construction financing observed last year didn't appear to continue into the early months of 2009. Consistent with expectations for an improving business climate in 2010, contractors expect financing activity to rise in mid-year 2010.

For a more detailed look at the Carolinas AGC Construction Barometer™ results for Quarter 1, 2009 visit www.cagc.org Construction Market Stats. To participate as a Construction Barometer panelist contact Lori Tharp at 704/372-1450 ext. 5227 or ltharp@carolinasagc.org.