A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

The Texas Construction Industry Needs Comprehensive Immigration Reform

The reason contractors in the Houston area need comprehensive immigration reform immediately is straightforward: to have legal access to immigrant workers so that they can help build all the projects that are planned or are already under construction in this market, which is coming on like gangbusters.  The market is projected to keep booming for at least the next three to five years.

There is no doubt in my mind that the greater Houston area is in the midst of an unprecedented building boom.  In my 31 years of closely monitoring this construction marketplace, I have never seen the conditions that exist now.  And it’s projected to continue going forward.  All major market sectors – residential, heavy industrial, highway and civil, and commercial – are on fire and so is every segment within those sectors.

In residential, both single-family and multi-family units are being built at record levels.  In heavy industrial, it is both power and chemical plants – driven by natural gas as both a power and feedstock source – that are being built here in Texas and next door in Louisiana.  In highway and civil construction, the Texas Department of Transportation as well as cities and counties all have projects underway, and more projects are on the drawing board.  And in commercial, it is the medical segment, the K-12 school segment, the colleges and universities segment, the warehouse segment, and general purpose office space segments that continue to all see building at near record levels.

To my knowledge, the overall construction marketplace has never been this robust.  Period.

Many projects are quite understaffed already and we are just beginning to feel the pinch.  Those mega-projects, including liquefied natural gas and power plants, are just about to break ground.  They will pull many workers from the other types of projects because those jobs are longer and the pay rates are appreciably higher.

At a recent ENR Energy Construction Summit, a vice-president of a major construction company said “the construction workforce will need to increase by 65 percent by the end of 2016 just to build the projects that have already been awarded.”

We are an industry that’s always relied on the immigrant workforce, but in the past we have had legal access.  These folks have been great additions to America.  Many have gone on to build large organizations whether they came from Italy, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Ireland, or elsewhere.  And, there’s one more huge reason we need the legal immigrant so badly: the booming energy industry is competing for employees with the very same skills.  There is fierce competition for people who are quick on their feet, are good with their hands and are capable of hard, physical work.

President Obama’s executive action only addresses about 20 percent of these workforce issues.  Congress needs to act now on immigration reform now so that we can keep building Texas and America.

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