Trade jobs outlook starting to improve after grim period

by Tim Kenyon

CEDAR RAPIDS – The job market for tradespeople is ratcheting up after an extended period of high unemployment.

“It’s getting better. A lot of guys are getting called back to work,” said Dave Hogan, business agent for Carpenters Local 308 in Cedar Rapids.

The situation had been bad since February 2009, Mr. Hogan said.
Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett raised awareness of the problem when he gathered local labor leaders for a press conference in early March. At the time, he announced measures to be implemented by the council to help local construction companies and workers.

“This (meeting) is on the cusp of some major rebuilding in the city. Our intent is to use local construction companies and labor,” he said in March. “We’re going to buy local, build local and hire local.”

Mr. Hogan estimated about a 25 percent to 30 percent improvement since then.

The organization had an average of about one-third of its 450 members not working for most of 2009, he said.

Laborers Local 143 Business Manager Mike Brecht also has noticed some positive employment changes.

“With the weather getting better, jobs have been picking up a little bit, but it’s not at full employment by any means,” said Mr. Brecht, who represents about 420 members in masonry and concrete work.

About 59 members are awaiting work, that’s down from 70 a couple of months ago, he said.

“It’s a gradual, slow improvement across-the-board, although new buildings are picking up a little bit and will continue,” he said.

Mr. Hogan anticipates momentum to increase greatly through the end of the year.

“Absolutely, I look for fantastic things to happen over the course of the next six months,” he said.  

Several projects are pending and even more that have started will help his members who do commercial work.

For instance, he said, three church projects that started last fall are just to the point now where they need carpenters to step in and work.

City and Linn County projects are going to be a big boost.

He credits much of the positive turn to coordination with local government leaders.

“What’s really helped is we’ve got a city council and the county board of supervisors that are strongly looking out for local labor and local workers in general,” Mr. Hogan said. “They’re focused on jobs that pay good wages and go to good, honest contractors.”

He also complimented the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and other trades groups for successfully lobbying to get much needed federal and state funds to help rebuild buildings and other structures damaged from the June 2008 fzlood.

“They understand the importance of getting local tradespeople back to work and what that means to taxes for the county and city and the economy in general,” Mr. Hogan said. “We all looked at the picture of what we had in the last one-and-a-half  to two years and realized if we didn’t do something soon we were in big trouble all the way around.”

Kerry Koonce, Iowa Workforce Development Communications director, anticipates statewide construction job figures for April to show an improvement over March.

The better weather in April will help by itself when numbers are tallied, Ms. Koonce said.

March figures released in mid-April showed overall unemployment for the Corridor at 7.4 percent, she said.