DJC Op-Ed: Trip to Washington, D.C. Offers Opportunity to Build Connections

Mike Salsgiver

By: Mike Salsgiver
Executive Director, AGC Oregon-Columbia Chapter

This article was published by the DJC on October 15 in Buildings Bridges and Roads, and can be viewed here (subscription required).

Each fall, AGC’s board officers and I travel to Washington, D.C., for the annual National and Chapter Leadership Conference, which is hosted by AGC of America. For years, the event has been held at the historic Willard Hotel, just two blocks from the White House. Among its many claims to fame, the Willard was the hotel at which Abraham Lincoln stayed the night before his first inauguration as president in 1861.

The first two days of the visit to Washington are spent attending the conference. Association leaders provide an overview of the operations, goals and activities at the national level. The conference also offers excellent educational breakout sessions, many opportunities for networking, and exposure to national-level speakers.

The trip in the fall is highlighted by visits with each of the Oregon and Washington members of the congressional delegation. This year, the Oregon-Columbia chapter team was able to meet with Sen. Jeff Merkley and Reps. Kurt Schrader, Suzanne Bonamici and Greg Walden. We also had excellent conversations with the very talented and informed staff representing Sen. Ron Wyden and Reps. Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer.

In a week that was punctuated by political drama surrounding an announcement that the House of Representatives was proceeding with an impeachment inquiry, as well as the disruption caused by a citywide protest about climate change, the focus of the AGC team was on two primary topics: the need for federal investment in national infrastructure, and the need to train and place the workforce that will build that infrastructure.

One of the challenges facing the industry (indeed, the entire country) is reinvestment in our national infrastructure. Often, that word is thought to mean just transportation, and it’s true the need to build more roads and highways, make our bridges safer, and maintain and modernize the system is certainly great.

However, public infrastructure also has a variety of other meanings. Public buildings, communications systems, water and sewer systems, schools and public ports are in desperate need of a long-term, sustainable and predictable stream of funding.

One of the topics of discussion was urging the congressional delegation to work quickly to enact legislation to avoid a $7.6 billion rescission in funding for the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law in 2015. Such a reduction would have a very negative effect on each state’s ability to fund transportation system improvements.

The FAST Act was the first longer-term transportation funding act passed in over a decade. It provided $305 billion in funding from federal fiscal years 2016 through 2020 for the nation’s transportation system. However, part of the FAST Act included provisions to reduce the cost of the bill by allowing $7.6 billion to be rescinded in 2020 unless Congress chose not to do so.

Each member of Congress was well-briefed on the rescission challenge, and each was committed to work to overturn the rescission before it takes effect in July 2020. AGC will continue to actively work to support legislation to overturn the rescission. It is possible such legislation could pass before the end of 2019.

The other focus of discussion with the delegation was on workforce development. The construction economy – particularly the industry’s vertical side – continues to perform at near-record or above-record volume levels. This achievement is more remarkable in that there are approximately one-third fewer commercial construction companies doing the work.

One of the major challenges facing the industry is the lack of sufficient skilled and trained workers. It is estimated that in Oregon alone, 5,000-10,000 additional construction workers could be put to work immediately to build the projects that are currently on the books.

In response to this challenge, AGC is beginning a study that will evaluate Oregon and Southwest Washington’s construction workforce training systems. The purpose of the study is to understand what programs exist, how they work together, and determine where they do not, and develop recommendations for improvement, better coordination and optimization of the system overall.

The study is under way and expected to finish by spring 2020. AGC’s leaders briefed the congressional delegation on this work. Every member was interested in being kept apprised of the outcome of the study upon completion.

The other highlight of the trip in September was the first AGC Government Relations Summit. This meeting was attended by over 60 AGC chapter executives and lead lobbyists. The purpose of the day was to compare information on issues and challenges being faced by AGC chapters across the country, and to begin the process of developing best practices to deal with these issues.

As the construction industry faces ongoing policy and political challenges across the nation, we are also heading into what will likely be a very contentious election year in 2020. The trip to Washington is always a good opportunity to better understand these challenges, compare notes, and gather energy for the work ahead of us next year.

Mike Salsgiver is the executive director of Associated General Contractors’ Oregon-Columbia chapter. Contact him at 503-685-8305 or mikes@agc-oregon.org.

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