4:44pm

Tue February 14, 2012
Jobs

New York struggling to boost construction job numbers

Ken Simonson is on a road trip to lobby for an increase in government investment in infrastructure projects.

Tuesday morning he stood in front of equipment at Milton Caterpillar in Syracuse and said “It’s great to see all this magnificent construction equipment, but it would be even better to see it in action.”

Simonson is the chief economists for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), a trade group. He highlighted Syracuse as one of four metro areas that have struggled more than most to regain jobs in constructions.

Over the hill

Syracuse, Buffalo, Ithaca and Binghamton are four of 11 cities nationwide that saw their construction employment peak 22 years ago, according to AGC of America [PDF]. All of upstate New York is seeing a decline right now, though Rochester and the Capital Region are only off a few percentage points from their last high in 2007.

Rich Anderson can testify to the momentum in the Capital Region. Lately he’s had to travel there to find contracts. He runs Vector Construction with his brother out of Cicero, but competition is tough in central New York.

“We’ve bid [on] five in the last two weeks here, but there are 12 bidders on every job just because of the lack of work,” he said standing alongside Simonson.

Vector specializes in bridge repairs. The company at one point employed 80 workers, though it’s down to about 50 right now.

Other Syracuse contractors are experiencing the same low numbers. The region has lost one-in-five construction jobs over the past two decades from its height of 14,900.

So Simonson’s group is calling on the federal government to pass long-term legislation to invest in infrastructure projects.

“What makes these job losses even more frustrating is the fact that many of them could have been avoided,” says Simonson. “Yet too many construction firms that work on vital infrastructure like highways and bridges are seeing less work today than just a few years ago.”

Anderson has his eye on one potential project in particular: the aging Interstate-81 viaduct running through downtown Syracuse. He’s eagerly awaiting a decision from the city about the future of road - in hopes that his company can try to get in on the work.

“You see they’re working on that every year, just patching it," says Anderson. "So it would be nice to get a decision on which way they’re going to move.”