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on February 02, 2016 at 2:31 PM, updated February 02, 2016 at 3:35 PM
Construction jobs are on the rise in the Huntsville area despite a growing worker shortage across the nation.
The Associated General Contractors of America announced Tuesday the Huntsville metro was among the fastest-growing in the nation last year with the addition of 1,400 new jobs between December 2014 and December 2015.
That’s an 18 percent increase for the area, which employs 9,200 workers in the construction industry, up from 6,700 when local employment bottomed out in 2009.
“That means that construction employment in the Huntsville metro area grew at a faster rate than any of the 358 metro areas we track, except for one,” said AGC America spokesman Brian Turmail.
The Weirton-Steubenville, W.Va. and Ohio metro ranked No. 1 for construction employment after seeing a 60 percent jump in new jobs over the past 12 months. Grand Rapids-Wyoming, Mich. (16 percent), Saginaw, Mich. (16 percent) and Urban Honolulu, Hawaii (16 percent) rounded out the top five.
Nationwide, 190 metros added new jobs, including Birmingham-Hoover (11 percent), Decatur (3 percent) and Mobile (2 percent). Florence-Muscle Shoals (-14 percent), Anniston-Oxford-Jacksonville (-13 percent), Gadsden (-8 percent) and Tuscaloosa (-3 percent) were among areas that lost construction employment during the same period last year.
While the Huntsville area leads the nation in new construction job growth, Turmail said the increase comes at a time when many workers are leaving the industry for retirement, school or different careers.
“We’ve got to take steps to prepare and recruit a new generation of construction workers,” he said.
Dell McDonald, owner of Dell McDonald Construction in Huntsville and president of Alabama Associated General Contractors, said it’s challenging to find qualified employees as most experienced operators are currently in their 50s.
“It’s hard to bring an 18, 19 or 20 year old on and put them in a $350,000 piece of equipment and say, ‘Learn how to run it,'” he said. “It’s kind of tricky. You have to do that sometimes, but it’s a process.”
The AGC Alabama chapter is trying to address the workforce shortage through the statewide Go Build Alabama campaign. In 2015, the group wrote and passed the Alabama AGC Craft Training Act, which will raise $3 million to $5 million annually to provide skills training to workers across the state.
The program, administered through the Construction Division of the Finance Department, is funded by increasing building permit fees by $1 per $1,000 project.
McDonald said the industry broke away from unions about 35 years ago without replacing the mechanism to properly recruit and educate skilled workers. Until recently, he said training was mostly in the field or in some classroom settings.
“The need for skilled labor in the construction industry is rapidly reaching crisis levels in our state and nationally,” he said, adding 41 percent of Alabama contractors said they experienced difficulty filling positions in 2015.
The AGC of America has unveiled a new Workforce Development Plan with steps federal, state and local leaders can take to create more training programs for construction workers throughout the U.S.
A news conference announcing the new AGC of America analysis was held at the future Midtown Marketplace, a neighborhood shopping center under development at the corner of Browns Ferry Road and Wall Triana Highway in Madison. Crews are in the process of building the site, which will be home to a new 114,000-square-foot Kroger and 12,000 square feet of additional retail.