Construction companies complain stimulus isn't helpingby Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio
The federal stimulus money is coming through in a big way for road building, but, with a few exceptions, it's not been much of a help for other parts of the construction industry. The stimulus has helped boost sales of replacement windows and other projects designed to improve energy efficiency. But companies involved in putting up new buildings say the federal spending has done little for their business.
St. Paul, Minn. — In Mankato, the site of a new cancer center under construction for Immanuel St. Joseph's Hospital is alive with activity.
The main contractor is the Robert W. Carlstrom Company. Company officials are happy to have this project, it's one of the few they have going right now.
"It has been a very rough year. It's been nerve-wracking," said company president Scott Umhoefer. "We've got a lot of employees to worry about and yea, it's scary for all of us."
Umhoefer said there haven't been enough projects like the hospital job to keep the company at full employment.
"We generally have between 60 and 80 workers that work in the field," Umhoefer said. "Right now we've got a crew of about 20 or 25 working for us."
Uhhoefer said the way things look right now the company's employment will stay at its current level for most of the year.
He said it would be nice if more federal economic stimulus money were targeted at large buildings, like the medical, educational and commercial structures his company specializes in.
"The people that are not seeing it are the people like ourselves, the contractors that bid buildings," he said. "I don't think anything has been done as far as stimulus money for buildings and that type of thing."
Umhoefer said most of the federal money has gone to road-building, about half a billion dollars so far. That does little for his company, but should help Minnesota's overall economy.
State officials predict road construction will create as many as 13,000 new jobs this summer. State labor researcher Steve Hine said the outlook is not as good for jobs building homes and commercial buildings.
"It's still a little early to tell what the summer construction season may bring there, but I think [there is] less reason for optimism than there is in the highway construction area," HIne said.
Hine said thousands of jobs have been lost in building construction in recent years. Since 2005, the number of positions in Minnesota for plumbers, electricians and other skills has slipped by a third.
With fewer new homes and commercial buildings going up, construction companies are struggling to survive. Brian Mathiowetz runs the Mathiowetz Construction Company in southern Minnesota. He said contractors are slashing their bids to try and land work.
"The whole construction market is down and there's a lot of contractors that are really bidding below cost," Mathiowetz said. Mathiowetz said most construction companies are just trying to survive 2009, hoping for better times after that. Mathiowetz said the federal stimulus package has done little for his company, even though its main work is earthmoving.
Mathiowetz said most of the stimulus-funded road construction projects are concrete or asphalt overlays of existing pavements. He said there's little dirt work needed in that type of road building.
"Being in the earth-moving business we're not seeing a direct benefit of the stimulus package, but we hope that we can feed off of some of our brothers and sisters who are grabbing a hold of chunks of that and maybe they'll need some help and we can help them out," he said.
That will depend on how much the stimulus lifts the overall economy. But even if it's a strong boost, many construction companies expect it will be next year before they feel the lift.
- Morning Edition, 06/02/2009, 6:25 a.m.