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FGCU Wants to Train Construction Managers

Published January 8, 2016

The following is a article from the News-Press:

Bland, Thyrie | December 2015

In April 2006, when the construction industry was booming in Lee County, the number of construction-related jobs reached a high of 36,432.

More than a year later, the global economy started to decline. The slow, devastating downturn — known as the Great Recession — resulted in the number of building jobs in Lee dropping 58.8 percent in March 2011 to a low of 14,980, said Christopher Westley, director of the Regional Economic Research Institute at Florida Gulf Coast University.

The construction industry saw big losses in employment in other Southwest Florida counties, too, Westley said.

But there are signs that the construction industry is now on the rebound in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties. That is one of the reasons why Florida Gulf Coast University believes it’s the right time for the school to start a construction management bachelor’s degree program.

FGCU wants more than $3.7 million from the Florida Legislature during its 2016 session to start a construction management program and two other bachelor degree programs. The others are business analytics and informatics and supply chain management.

Construction management is the largest of the three fields. In 2012, there were about 485,000 jobs in construction management nationwide. That number is expected to jump 16 percent or to 563,200 in 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, D.C.

March — the most recent month for which a construction employment report is available for Southwest Florida — shows:

►In Lee, there were 20,786 construction jobs. That’s a 38.7 percent increase when compared to the low reached in March 2011.

►The number of jobs in Collier stood at 12,871, which is a 53.6 percent increase when compared to the low level recorded in February 2011 of 8,378 jobs.

►In Charlotte, there were 3,220 jobs. That’s a 39.2 percent increase when compared to the low of 2,313 jobs in October 2011.

Westley said he thinks the university’s efforts to start a construction management program is the right move. He said as the industry continues its recovery, so will the demand for workers.

“This is going to result in upward pressure on construction wages as firms try to attract workers back to the region or back into the sectors,” he said. “And so the wages would do that, but we are nowhere near where we were during the boom, which is probably a good thing.”

Westley said Cape Coral was among the U.S. cities that were ground zero for the housing bust.

“The effects of a recession are not felt equally across the country,” he said. “Some parts of the country didn’t show evidence of a recession. For instance Washington, D.C., they didn’t even have a decline in housing prices. Other parts of the country, the ones that overbuilt during the boom, were more likely to have a more severe bust.”

Cape Coral was among the cities that overbuilt, Westley said.

“I think everyone here accepts that, and so a lot of the builders are very weary about trends that might suggest we might be beginning on a similar path now,” he said. “I don’t think the data shows that we are.”

Construction managers plan and supervise construction projects from the design phase until the projects are finished. Their median annual income in 2012 was $82,790, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“I want to be clear that we are not talking about being a foreman on a job site,” said Ron Toll, who is FGCU’s provost and vice president of academic affairs. “We are talking about the people who are essentially in the back offices running hundred million dollar plus construction projects. These are big commercial projects. These are hospital projects, huge education projects, all of those sorts of large projects.”

Toll said among the reasons the university wants to start the construction management program is because construction management companies say the state’s university system is not producing enough construction managers to meet their needs.

“These companies are effectively bringing in students from other states who have graduated from other universities, and that’s always a very expensive situation for them because you are talking about doing all the recruiting, doing all the relocation stuff,” Toll said.

Marco Petretta works as a project director for Gates Construction in Bonita Springs. His duties are the same as a construction manager.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1997 and a master’s degree in structural engineering in 1999. He received both degrees from the University of Toronto in Canada.

Petretta came to work at Gates in 2007. He said he love his job, even though it can sometimes mean working 10- or 11-hour days.

Among the projects Petretta is juggling is a 210,000-square-foot, 188-unit assistant living facility under construction in Bonita Springs. The $35 million project is scheduled to be completed in January 2017.

“Things are really ramping up down here,” he said. “They are like they were back in the mid-2000s, the early 2000s. And there is definitely a need for skilled construction managers and construction-related interested people no doubt, from estimators up to managers up to superintendents who police the sites on a day-to-day basis.”

Bob Koenig, vice president of Chris Tel Construction in Fort Myers, is among those who believe that Southwest Florida needs a construction management training program.

Koenig said if FGCU is successful in starting a program, his company would be interested in hiring interns and graduates of the program.

“The graduates at Florida Gulf Coast I tend to find they want to be here,” he said. “They want to work around the school they graduated from. They love it here, and they are ready to put down roots and grow here.

“That is a huge thing for a company. You take a young person, and you run them through an intern program and then you hire them out of school, you really are looking for them to succeed and stay here and grow the company with you. It’s a big deal.”

Eric Berglund, president of the Southwest Florida Economic Development Alliance, said FGCU’s effort to start a construction management program shows that the university is trying to be responsive to the workforce needs of Southwest Florida and make sure its graduates have degrees in fields that are showing signs of growth.

“I think a program – such as this one out of FGCU – the great thing it does is it shows that we grow our own talent internally, and we support the businesses that are here by making sure our kids have the opportunity to stay here and lead successful lives and not have to go somewhere else.”