Eden Prairie is home to the MN/ND chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, an industry trade group for merit-based general and specialty contractors. EPLN sat down for a talk with its President, Bob Heise about COVID-19 impact and other issues.
EPLN: Give us an overview of your membership and your mission.
BOB HEISE: Sure. Our mission is to advance open competition in commercial construction with contracts being awarded irrespective of labor affiliation.
For non-union contractors we provide lobbying support, training, recognition and best practices, and networking. We have 115 general contractors and over 200 specialty trade contractors in our chapter.
EPLN: And how have you and your membership done since the start of the pandemic?
BOB HEISE: Our members had an average backlog of nine months’ work. That was at the beginning of March. That’s an excellent backlog. Now it is down to 6.5 months of work in the pipeline, which is still quite strong.
EPLN: Does that surprise you, given how hard some sectors of the economy have been hit?
BOB HEISE: Well, we’ve had nothing but steady growth since the worst part of the 2008/09 recession. We aren’t sure what to expect going forward. The restaurant and hospitality industry have just been crushed and lots of our members build for those folks.
The need for new office space is really unknown with some level of working remotely perhaps becoming more permanent. And lots of new apartment buildings have already been completed. In short, commercial construction was doing extremely well, is still going okay, but faces some uncertainty ahead.
EPLN: How about employment in commercial construction? How has the pandemic affected hiring?
BOB HEISE: Our members have had some challenges competing with the pandemic-related benefits. At times, people were making more money by not working than by working. But that was short-term. The longer-term issue is attracting 16- to 24-year-olds into the building trades.
EPLN: How will you do that? The average age of the American construction worker is reportedly over 50.
BOB HEISE: We are part of a collaborative effort called Project Build MN. The website has lots of information and opportunity. Eden Prairie high schoolers should check it out, especially if they are not necessarily headed toward college.
There are job opportunities there. And Eden Prairie contractors of all types can post job openings there, too.
We also have a Speakers Bureau. We’d be happy to work with the appropriate people at the Eden Prairie schools to bring speakers in or to work with school staff involved in developing vocational skills and careers.
Commercial construction needs more younger people. It can be a rewarding career. And many people who learn a trade end up running their own successful businesses.