2011-09-22

Shovel Ready Jobs

OK, I was watching the Republican debate tonight and I've got to weigh in on this.

For the purpose of providing both disclosure and qualifications; I've been working within the Engineering / Construction industry for 22 years, and I am lucky enough to still remain employed by a small engineering firm.

In the last few years, I've seen Engineering firms collapse, reduce their staff by up to 90%, and get acquired by global-sized firms looking for local talent.  All the small boutique firms are gone.

What we have now, here in Florida at least, are a few mega-firms that have  gobbled up most of the mid-sized firms that were left, and about million (or so it seems) one-person firms that are comprised of former mid-to-large firm staffers that have been downsized nowhere to go except to start a one person firm in their garage.  These are engineers, CAD drafters, surveyors, landscape architects, and surveyors, your average middle-class professionals and many are friends and former colleagues.

Now when the few RFPs or RFQs come out, instead of 10 firms submitting qualification packages, 3 getting shortlisted for formal presentations (which cost a lot of money and manpower to put together) and 1 getting selected, we get 100 submitting, 10 getting shortlisted (all that much more money wasted on the presentations) and 1 selected.  This is not a sustainable model.

Shovel Ready?  Really?  If by "shovel ready", you mean that all the design and engineering work is already done and the project is ready for construction, then you're talking about an awful lot of hungry people cut out of the loop.

Shovel Ready?  Where are these stockpiles of pre-designed, engineered, and permitted plan sets supposed to be? Sitting on some shelf somewhere in the basement of the Mayor's house?  What happens when they run out of these magical plans?  There will be no backlog of work for the shovels if the pencil-ready jobs are not commissioned too.

How about job-and-value-creation-ready projects?

Look, a typical infrastructure project first employs private sector engineers, CAD drafters, surveyors, landscape architects, and surveyors as well as all their support staff.  Secondly it provides purpose and extracts value from public sector engineers and planners reviewing and approving projects and construction plans.  Third, it provides jobs for the contractors, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc. that put hand to earth.  Fifth, pubic infrastructure projects provide value to the public in terms of their improvement in our quality of life whether it be from improved stormwater drainage, decreased traffic congestion, cleaner water, cheaper energy, or even a rejuvenation of a blighted area. Lastly, these projects provide secondary economic value in the form of opportunities created through the higher property values or higher use potentials for properties in the proximity of these improvement.

Now I know I'm sounding a little Keynesian here, but that's a whole other story.  I don't think that it's either a wholesale Keynesian or Friedman/monetarist world we live in.  What I'm just tired of hearing is this misnomer "Shovel Ready".