Honolulu was the nation’s third-fastest-growing construction job market during the past 12 months as employment in the local industry hit an April high, according to new analysis from the Associated General Contractors of America.
However, the good times could stop if Congress delays passing key federal airport and port measures and continues to disagree on how to pay for future highway and transit programs, warned association officials, who joined local developers, contractors and construction workers at a news conference Wednesday at the Keauhou Place construction site at 555 South St.
“Thanks to new projects like the light rail and commercial projects like Keauhou tower that are being built in anticipation of the new line, this area is now one of the fastest-growing construction job markets in the country,” said Brian Turmail, the national spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America.
Turmail said construction demand added 5,000 new construction jobs between April 2015 and this April. The 20 percent year-over-year increase in construction jobs catapulted Honolulu to the third-fastest-growing construction market of the 358 metro areas that the association tracks.
“Actually, it’s the fastest-growing large metro. El Centro, Calif., and Monroe, Mich., grew faster, but they are very small so small increases make huge differences,” said Turmail, who made his comments over the din created by 135 construction workers and administrators who were working to complete the mixed-use, transit-oriented development.
“It’s always great to see so many construction workers on the job on a construction site, but it wasn’t that long (ago) that things were very different,” Turmail said.
Between April 2008 and April 2010, the Honolulu metro area lost 5,100 construction jobs — nearly 1 out of 5, he said.
The Great Recession was the main culprit during the last downturn. However, Turmail warned that local construction employment could decline again if Congress fails to fund planned projects.
The state Department of Transportation is making significant progress on $2.7 billion worth of airport modernization projects across the state, said DOT spokesman Tim Sakahara.
“All projects currently underway and with approved grant funding will not be impacted by budget discussions occurring in Washington,” he said. “HDOT remains focused on completing the projects as scheduled in order to enhance the customer experience.”
But a Senate-passed Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act that includes a $400 million increase to an airport improvement program needed to finance additional security and terminal improvements at Honolulu Airport is stalled in the House, Turmail said. He also worries that Congress is continuing to debate the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which would provide port investments that are crucial to Hawaii’s trade and tourism. Additionally, Turmail said that the Highway Trust Fund, which passed last year, doesn’t have the means to pay for current or future investments.
“We definitely need the funding,” said David Lau, who has worked in Hawaii construction for the past two decades and supports a family of four. “I remember what the last downturn was like. Some people lost their jobs, others had their hours cut from 40 to 32 hours. Everybody had to adjust their spending habits and that affected the entire economy. People tend to spend when times are good, but they squeeze when it’s not.”
Members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation say they support the infrastructure-related bills necessary to fuel construction and other growth.
“Securing funding for infrastructure projects is always challenging in Washington, but I have fought hard to make sure we get the federal funding we need for continued airport modernization, port expansion and road construction,” U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono said in an email. “Everywhere you go in Hawaii you see construction crews at work on big projects, and I will continue to work hard in Washington to end sequestration, increase infrastructure spending, and make sure the federal government is a good partner for our state and local governments.”
Reauthorizing the FAA act is critical to Hawaii’s economy and the millions of people who fly every day, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said in an email.
“Whether we are talking about surface transportation, aviation, maritime or any other form of transportation, the most responsible action for Congress is always to provide long-term authorizations rather than short-term extensions,” Schatz said. “The Senate has done its job, and it is now up to the House to do theirs and pass this bill.”
Schatz said he agrees with the Senate Democratic and Republican leaders who want the House to finalize a bill, which would avoid short-term extensions that undermine important programs administered by the FAA and the airports.
It’s critical that legislators take action on the FAA Reauthorization and WRDA, as current funding runs out on July 15, said U.S. Rep. Mark Takai in an email.
“Until a long-term funding solution is put forward, hundreds of thousands of American workers and important projects face great uncertainty,” Takai said.
Takai said Republican leaders in both chambers need to compromise so the measures can move forward.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said in an email that she agrees FAA Reauthorization and WRDA need to pass to begin addressing critical infrastructure needs.
“Given the tight fiscal constraints facing the nation today — due in large part to the trillions of dollars spent on counterproductive interventionist wars of regime-change — there is an urgent need for increased infrastructure investment,” Gabbard said. “Infrastructure is the foundation that connects our businesses, communities and people. It drives our economy and improves our quality of life. Yet today, our crumbling infrastructure systems are failing to keep pace with current and expanding needs, and investment in infrastructure is faltering.”