Marlin Levison, Star Tribune
By the numbers25,000 jobs
Created from $975 million football stadium and $496 capital spending, Gov. Dayton predicts7,500 construction jobs
Created over three-year stadium building period, Vikings predict40,000 jobs
Lost in construction and trades since 2006
Stimulus a boon for builders
- Article by: JANET MOORE
- Star Tribune
- May 21, 2012 - 9:53 PM
The state's moribund construction industry may be the biggest winner to emerge from the contentious scrum of this year's legislative session, with a proposed new Vikings stadium and nearly 80 public works projects included in the state's annual capital spending measure.
And not a moment too soon. The unemployment rate has hovered at 20 percent among construction workers, higher among some specialty trades. The state has bled almost 40,000 jobs in the sector since 2006.
"It is a massive and desperately needed boost for the local construction economy," said John Wood, senior vice president at Golden Valley-based Mortenson Construction.
"It puts so many people back to work, and it puts good living wages in the pockets of a lot Minnesota citizens."
Gov. Mark Dayton's office estimates that the $975 million football stadium and the $496 million capital spending program will create some 25,000 jobs, a number that some economists criticize as fuzzy math. The stadium debate is still not over -- a final vote before the Minneapolis City Council is on Friday.
Ravaged by the collapse of the residential housing market in the Great Recession and the rise in residential and commercial foreclosures, the construction trade has seen its fortunes plummet since the industry's boom years of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
"It's been a very challenging time," said David Semerad, CEO of the Associated General Contractors' Minnesota chapter.
"These measures are certainly a step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go to recover."
Proponents say they're pleas-ed with the Legislature's plan, but some wonder whether it will be just a shot in the arm when wholesale defibrillation is needed. Others question whether government should be in the stimulus funding game at all.
"With the stadium, you're not going to see a huge uptick right away," said Dan McConnell, business manager of the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council, an umbrella group of for union construction crafts. "It will help but it's been a slow recovery for the construction industry. I'm excited to see people back at work."
The patchwork of building projects approved by lawmakers ranges from the renovation of the awe-inspiring Cass Gilbert-designed Capitol to the construction of a truck station in Cambridge -- and most all require putting shovel to ground or hammer to nail.
The Minnesota State Colleges & Universities system, for example, received $132 million from state coffers, about $26 million of which will help build a Bioscience and Health Careers Center at North Hennepin Community College. Waiting lists are long for popular science lecture and lab courses, many of which train prospective employees for the state's signature medical technology industry.
"North Hennepin Community College offers one of the only community college undergraduate research programs in the country," Elaina Bleifield, the college's dean of Math, Science, and Health Careers, said in a press release. "With additional space, these efforts can be expanded to better meet the needs of the research-based companies in our area such as Medtronic, Boston Scientific, Viromed, and other companies who need trained scientists able to think critically, such as Cargill and R&D systems."
One of the smallest projects in the capital spending measure is a new loading dock for the Perpich Center for the Arts Education in Golden Valley. The pricetag: $64,000.
"It's badly in need of repair; we have a lot of truck traffic here," said Sue Mackert, the center's executive director. "The dock bumpers are pulling away from the concrete."
The center received an additional $200,000 for road repair and storm drainage. "Every time it rains, our facilities guy is out there in waders," Mackert said, adding, "We know the state is dealing with serious financial issues; we tried to be judicious."
Some critics of publicly funded sports stadiums concede that some stimulus will result as the Dome is torn down and a $1 billion edifice replaces it.
"Any time there's a bonding bill and money is spent for a road or a school -- or even a football stadium -- jobs are created," said Ken Zapp, a part-time economics professor at Metropolitan State University.
Mark Anderson, president of Metropolitan Mechanical Contractors, an Eden Prairie firm that built the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at Target Field, hopes to work on a new Vikings stadium, too. "It's a long job, and it's probably twice the size of Target Field," he said.
He says his firm would probably hire 400 to 450 plumbers and sheet-metal workers for such a project.
That's music to Bob Hansen's ears. As business manager for the Minneapolis-based Plumbers Union, Local 15, he says the unemployment rate among his members is roughly 25 to 30 percent.
The jobless rate "has been the worst I've seen in my 37 years," he said.
But once the stadium is built, those jobs go away and the stadium "will create zero stimulus," according to Zapp.
He and other economists argue that people will spend their entertainment dollars locally, whether it's on a pro-sports team or on some other activity.
And, they claim, construction jobs would have been created whether it involves building a $1 billion football stadium or a series of projects that include, say, a truck station in Cambridge.
"Money is money," said Art Rolnick, senior fellow at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs. "If you spend it on one thing, you're not spending it on something else."
The Vikings predict that 7,500 construction jobs will be created over the three-year construction period -- a figure that Rep. King Banaian, R-St. Cloud, questioned when he first heard it. He tracked the figure to a consultant hired by the team who used figures culled from the Obama administration's federal stimulus plan three years ago.
Why use a national number for a regional project? Banaian asked. The Republican lawmaker, who teaches a course in sports economics at St. Cloud State University, says it makes no sense. He voted against the stadium bill.
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752
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