By Kalinowski, Tim on February 8, 2020.
President Richard Thiessen of the Lethbridge Construction Association says the local construction industry expects to remain relatively flat for the next few years; stressing it is important to use that lull to position itself better for future growth.
“There is work being done (in Lethbridge), but that percentage of work that keeps the tap running full from the public has definitely stopped,” he reported to city council’s Community Issues Committee during Monday’s public meeting. “Without Cavendish, 2018 sucked. The private money is still being spent in the city, but a lot of our contractors are working outside the city and are staying busier there.”
Thiessen said lower interest rates were helping to keep some private money flowing through the local construction industry; even if it is not as much as his members would like.
Thiessen suggested council could also help advocate for more provincial education and apprenticeship dollars during this lull period to bring up the next generation of general contractors.
“Education is a big part of it because there is a large group that will be retiring from the construction industry in the next 10 years nation-wide,” he said. “That’s something we need to talk about because we will come out of this lull.”
Thiessen also asked if council could help advocate for changes the province’s current P3 (public-private partnership) funding model for public infrastructure spending.
“We as a local association are not great fans of P3s,” he stated.
“The minimum the government of Alberta has said is those P3s right now have to be $100 million. So they will block large bundles of schools together. Right now there are not any scheduled for southern Alberta, but in northern Alberta they are putting five schools together. It just locks out any of the smaller general contractors that can handle maybe one or maybe two, and it is lost to the local market.”
“I am not a protectionist,” Thiessen added. “I believe in the capitalist system. But that’s an overload of advantage for the larger firms.”
Thiessen said his organization was also interested in laying the groundwork for more public-private partnerships in City-initiated infrastructure projects.
“If you need a new hockey rink, and you’re willing to lease it, I can find investors that are willing to build it,” Thiessen stated as an example of what he means. “It’s not always going for public funding. It’s happening in the Town of Coaldale right now. They are getting a new town hall, but they are getting private industry to build it and then they are going to lease their condo back. Let’s get imaginative in how we spend money.”
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