By BECKY GILLETTE
Associated General Contractors of Mississippi has a new executive director well known in state circles due to his work for Mississippi Main Street for 17 years, including 10 years as executive director.
Bob Wilson, who took over as executive director of AGC of Mississippi in January, said there are some things in common between the two positions.
“There are a lot of similarities because it is an association, and there are things you do that are similar like working with elected officials,” Wilson said.
“Some contractors have a big part of their business rehabbing historic structures so there is interest in things like historic preservations credits.
“While we are certainly looking at that, our members are involved in larger construction projects, as well.
“One facet of our membership is utility contractors who do work like building power plants. Those are a lot bigger projects than I used to deal with.”
One of the things AGC is focusing on this year involves the impact of technology. AGC has plan rooms both in the Jackson and Gulf Coast offices. Members can come in, look at plans, and bid on jobs.
“That is going online even though there are some people who like the hard copy plans,” Wilson said.
“Right now we have nine or 10 big tables with plans at each facility. We are looking at several different companies to give us an added online feature. That is a big deal, not just here, but across the country. Members now won’t have to go to a physical office to bid on a job. If they do need hardcopy plans, we can send them plans overnight.”
Workforce availability continues to be a big issue for AGC.
“Anytime you are looking for different types of skilled labor, it can be a hard issue for some of our members,” Wilson said.
“I’m on the board of another group, the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation. Its mission is to make kids as low as the eighth grade aware of opportunities in the construction industry, especially for those young people who don’t have the resources or inclination to go to college. There is a lot of opportunity in construction with jobs ranging from welders to electricians to long haul drivers.”
Wilson said youths need to hear the message that there are opportunities to make good salaries in the construction field. College is not for everyone, and the expense is sometimes too high to justify loans.
In addition to going around the state giving presentations to high schools, vo-tech schools, and community colleges, MCEF plans a skills show in Jackson March 1 and 2 that will be attended by an estimated 1,600 students from across the state. The show will include different types of craft competitions where students are judged and four winners will go to the national competition in Orlando, Fla.,
“A lot of these kids have never been on a plane before, so it is a big deal for them to travel and to be competing nationally,” Wilson said.
A big advantage provided by AGC is its self-insured worker’s compensation group. Wilson recently met with that group, which helps keep costs reasonable by banding together for group purchasing.
A big part of Wilson’s job is lobbying.
“With our self-insured worker’s compensation fund, insurance issues are something we want to continue to watch,” Wilson said.
“One bill this year we supported is a wellness tax credit for employers who provide wellness benefits. We are hoping to get it passed this year, although it might be a tough issue because it is one of those years where everyone is really looking at the budget. Some agencies are taking cuts. But this wellness tax credit would help our members to provide wellness programs which reduce the need for healthcare. It not only helps the employees, but the company and the industry.”
Another big effort of AGC is safety training.
“We do a lot of workshops and seminars both in our offices and on jobsites helping our members make sure they are following all the safety procedures,” Wilson said.
“When hired, employees can come through our office for safety training. We also offer several online courses. That is something that is really big for us. We have training specialists who can go to these job sites, assess their procedures, and give recommendations on how they can increase their safety aspects. We want to make sure that the training opportunities are not only good for members, but generate revenue for us.”
Wilson expects that when they downsize the space needed for reviewing plans, they can increase the size of their training facilities.
AGC is also looking at best practices from other states. Wilson and his counterparts in other states meet periodically around the country.
“We want to see what is working elsewhere in the U.S. and introduce those practices here in Mississippi,” Wilson said.
Some of the largest construction projects in the state have been winding down such as the expansion of the Chevron Pascagoula Refinery that employed 3,000 construction workers at its peak.
But Wilson said the construction outlook on the Coast still looks favorable with more casinos planned, plus an aquarium in the Gulfport harbor.
Wilson also said with manufacturing coming back around the Tupelo area, there are a lot of opportunities for plants to expand or retool.
“There is also a lot of activity in the Jackson area, a lot of healthcare related industry because of the tax credits on the healthcare corridor,” Wilson said.
“We should also see some increased activity if the historic rehab tax credit limits are expanded. Increasing the sunset on that legislation should pass this year, so those projects will be revived and go on not just in Jackson, but all over the state.”
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