Turning Back the Clock

Therese Dunphy

January 1, 2010

By Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief

At the beginning of each New Year, it’s appropriate to reflect back and plan ahead. In the case of 2009, it may be uncomfortable to review some of the events that took place. The year began with a collectively held breath as overall economic concerns were balanced against President Obama’s pending American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). As the recession worsened, however, stimulus funds didn’t have the hoped-for impact on the aggregates industry — at least not during 2009.

When passed, the ARRA was hailed as a way to save or create jobs, but construction-related job losses continued throughout the year. According to the results of the 2009-10 Aggregates Manager Forecast Survey, 56 percent of respondents — 77 percent of whom describe themselves as owners, presidents, officers, or executives — said their workforce decreased in 2009. In comparison, just 10 percent of respondents said they increased their staff.

Although workforce reductions were widespread, some specialties suffered more than others. For example, 47 percent of respondents said they decreased staff among hourly laborers. Equipment operators were the next most likely to lose their positions, with 40 percent of respondents who said they cut personnel in that area. The importance of maintaining equipment held cuts among service and maintenance personnel down to 33 percent of respondents, while 29 percent said they cut their mine engineering and other professional staff.

In terms of workforce cuts by production volume, large operations were the mostly likely to experience cuts in staff. Nearly 76 percent of respondents at sites that produced more than 3 million tons per year said they reduced staff. At the other end of the spectrum, 48 percent of respondents at sites that produced less than 500,000 tons per year said they had layoffs in 2009.

Looking forward, the impact of ARRA funds should finally be felt in 2010 and, hopefully, prevent further job losses. Although more than three quarters of the stimulus dollars have been obligated, less than 20 percent had been disbursed near the close of 2009. At Aggregates Manager press time, the Senate also had approved a one-year $1.1 billion spending bill that includes a slight increase in highway funding. If enacted, proposed legislation would provide a better stop-gap measure than the slew of three-month extensions that plagued the last transportation bill, but falls short of providing the multi-year outlook needed by state transportation departments before they commit to large-scale projects.

With mid-term elections coming up this fall, it’s time to hold Congress’ feet to the fire and demand that our representatives spend time on issues beyond health care. A long-term, healthy investment in the quality and capacity of our infrastructure wouldn’t just be good for the aggregates industry and its workforce, it would be good for the nation.

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