Improving Quality of Life in North and South Carolina
“Carolinas AGC is a full-service construction industry association that provides workforce development, job leads, safety/education and training programs, government relations, advocacy, meetings for networking and business development, and everything else people in the commercial and industrial construction industry need. Our motto is ‘the trusted voice of construction in the Carolinas,’” states Dave Simpson, president and chief executive officer of Carolinas Associated General Contractors (CAGC).
Carolinas Associated General Contractors (CAGC) is working hard to improve conditions for its members and the quality of life for everyone in North and South Carolina. CAGC is headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is one of the largest of the eighty-eight affiliated chapters of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).
Currently, CAGC has about 850 member companies involving over 20,000 employees. They include building contractors, highway heavy contractors, utilities contractors, specialty contractors, suppliers and service companies, says Simpson.
The work these members do benefits everyone. “Our folks build highways and bridges, shopping centers, libraries, hospitals, nursing homes, and water and sewer lines. What they do is improve people’s quality of life in a big way,” he adds.
For the industry it represents, CAGC recently helped secure some pro-construction legislation, released a sweeping 2017 – 2020 strategic plan and it also launched an ambitious initiative to entice young people into the construction sector.
“What our strategic plan focuses on is what our members told us they need, and that is access to job leads, networking to promote business opportunities, government relations, education and training and, very importantly, help [dealing with] the workforce shortage,” states Simpson.
The last point has been a particular challenge. While construction is booming in North and South Carolina, companies sometimes lack sufficient personnel to take advantage of new opportunities. As Simpson puts it, “the work’s there but the workers aren’t.”
To address this situation, CAGC rolled out the Build Your Career initiative in January 2017. “The idea is to get people in the construction industry to get out from behind their computers and go into middle schools and high-schools to promote construction as a career. It also involves legislative solutions and interaction with community colleges, guidance counselors, educators, et cetera. We’re talking about well-paying careers with lots of advancement. A lot of folks don’t realize you don’t have to go to a four year college or university to make upwards of $60,000. A welder can make $70,000 – $80,000 – $90,000, and there’s no need to get strapped with huge financial debt going to college or university.”
“[We’re looking for] talented young people who want a good career and enjoy seeing the fruits of their labor. There are tens of thousands of good construction jobs in the Carolinas right now. We’re trying to get the word out. In the past, the construction industry has at times gotten a bad rap, but that’s not the case. You can employ creativity, problem solving, clever thinking and high tech in the work that is being done,” explains Simpson.
CAGC is also trying to alleviate the workforce shortage by “going to certain niches, concentrating on getting people in the construction industry. Some of the people we’re looking at are promising students in the high schools and community colleges, as well as universities, some going after their GEDs, people retiring from the military, disadvantaged kids in urban areas, you name it. We’re looking at people who could do very well in the construction industry, if they just had an opportunity to shine,” he continues.
In terms of new technology in the construction sector, CAGC is keeping a close eye on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – better known as drones. Drones are capable of flying over construction sites or future building locales, recording video and data and making measurements and calculations.
“We recently had a social where there was a demonstration of drone technology: the proper use of them, safety concerns, what to watch out for. A number of our members are in the drone business. Drones are becoming a very popular way of helping build things and monitor progress during the construction phase,” notes Simpson.
CAGC has incorporated technology in other ways too; anyone who joins the organization automatically receives job leads through an online service called iSqFt.
Simpson describes iSqFt as “an unparalleled service for our members to find out about public and private work in both Carolinas. And we offer monthly webinars on all kinds of wide ranging issues, such as the new silica requirements from OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration). We’re going to have one now with everything going on about sexual harassment.”
CAGC also runs an initiative called the Carolinas AGC Foundation, which offers scholarships and workforce development. The foundation hosts regular meetings during which association officials “look at education and training needs, the workforce shortage or anything else they want to talk about.”
CAGC is active on the legislative front, both nationally and with state and local politics. Carolinas AGC strongly supports federal legislation that would increase infrastructure spending across the United States. An infrastructure bill has been a much-discussed topic of conversation in Washington D.C.
“We’re very involved with that at a grassroots level – getting our members to contact members of the North Carolina and South Carolina Congressional delegation,” states Simpson.
“We have five registered lobbyists in North Carolina and South Carolina. We have done some pretty excellent things for the construction industry. For example, the South Carolina legislature last year approved what will be an additional $800 million a year when this new transportation program is fully up and running in 2024. We helped get, in the spring of 2016, passage in North Carolina of a $2 billion bond referendum for university state agencies and other public construction work. We led efforts to get the legislation through,” he says.
Spending on public works and infrastructure are not CAGC’s only legislative priorities, however. “We work closely with the state legislatures. We’re involved in issues like keeping the business climate good, keeping the open shop atmosphere. We work on lots of safety issues. We’ve led successful efforts to get legislation through in North and South Carolina to provide for more work zone safety through increased fines for violations in work zones. We work really closely on workers’ compensation issues – how to make the workers’ comp relations in the Carolinas as reasonable as we can. Same thing with business licenses. If it is important to the construction industry, we try to be all over it,” Simpson says.
Carolinas AGC also “wants to keep the public bidding system in place, so that eligible companies have a crack at doing the work. We’re always looking for what provides more value to our members. We’re looking at lots of new programs. We’re looking at new lines of business for our members. We’re looking at improving the participation of minority women-owned businesses. We have a lot that we’re doing there. We’ve worked with United Minority Contractors of North Carolina and South Carolina to get more diversity. We also work with the Hispanic Contractors Association of the Carolinas. We’re working with the universities, and we’re working extensively with community colleges too.”
One valuable industry service CAGC offers comes in the form of awards. Each year, the Carolinas AGC gives out a series of Pinnacle Awards that recognize excellence in construction. “We give out awards to folks that are well-deserving. We don’t give them out to everybody,” notes Simpson.
The latest Pinnacle Awards were revealed at CAGC’s annual convention, held January 31 to February 4, 2018 at a resort in Boca Raton, Florida. CAGC gave out Pinnacle Awards for numerous construction projects, including bridge replacement work on United States Route 78 in South Carolina and South Carolina Highway 7 performed by Crowder Construction. There was also the development of a new quarry park in Winston-Salem, NC by the Bar Construction Company. Lastly, there was the construction of a new high school in Mocksville, NC, by New Atlantic Contracting.
Steve Corriher, the Central Piedmont College Division Director of Construction Technologies in Charlotte, North Carolina was honored with an individual ‘Build with the Best’ Pinnacle Award honoring “an individual who is not a contractor but has contributed to the betterment of the construction industry and the overall economic welfare of the Carolinas,” stated CAGC in a recent press release.
A new category called the Construction Excellence Awards honored construction projects at Clemson University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a country club in Greenville, South Carolina, among others.
The Pinnacle Awards are based around “quality, not quantity – when everyone in the business gets a prize,” stresses Simpson.
Five years from now, Simpson says CAGC will be “even bigger, better and more far-reaching. The Carolinas will continue to be place where people want to live, work and play in. The growth in the Carolinas will be phenomenal. The infrastructure needs will be extraordinary, whether it be building, highway, heavy or utility construction. We want to be there to help our members have the job leads they need to get the work. We want to help them to have the workforce they need. And we want our people to be safe. We want our environment to continue to be union–free, and we need adequate infrastructure funding. So in future, we’ll be looking at all kinds of issues – new issues or [existing issues] that continue to surface.”