By Ben Wilhelm, President, Carolinas Region
I suspected that talk of a 50 foot tall wall spanning 1,000 miles and traversing the United States/Mexico border would fade post-election, but it appears to have political momentum. As a construction advocate, it is important to consider The Wall’s implications and opportunities for our industry.
According to a recent analysis published by MIT, The Wall will potentially cost between $27 billion and $40 billion to construct. Money suggested it will employ as many as 25,000 construction workers and require three years to complete. This is a boom for the construction industry, right? If The Wall is indeed going to happen, it is instructive to consider some other factors.
Substitute Border Options
Securing our borders is a laudable goal, but I struggle with the lack of long-term economic growth generated by the $25+ billion investment. If it is built with American labor, with American materials, The Wall arguably would not generate $1 of economic growth beyond its construction – it would be a flash in the pan government project with very little accretive value because it will not spawn new jobs. Therefore, perhaps we consider how it would generate value if we construct it out of solar panels (further building our capacity to generate renewable energy); or, invest research dollars to develop surveillance, invisible fencing, and aerospace technologies to accelerate new knowledge and advanced manufacturing, fueling emerging markets. When George W. Bush authorized the Secure Fence Act in 2006, technology to offer a comparable substitute was not feasible; now it is.
Competition with Infrastructure Package
As of September 2016, Fortune noted the National Homebuilders Association estimated 200,000 construction jobs are unfilled due to overwhelming demand for skilled and unskilled labor. If the economy continues to roll, and President Trump is successful in gaining congressional approval for a $1 trillion infrastructure package for airport, bridge, and road repair, it is untenable to think we can attract, develop, and deploy enough labor for all this work. If we tighten immigration policy and enforce the current laws on the books, how is it feasible to make these proposals a reality?
As an astute developer, President Trump knows better than most how to leverage a dollar to make two (ROI). It would be a constructive discussion to consider launching the infrastructure package before The Wall project. This translates into broad job growth nation-wide, benefitting all cities and states. It will enable all of the United States underemployed and unemployed to find work from coast to coast – it would be a catalyst for skills training and production of US sourced commodities. The infrastructure improvements will allow for improved economic growth with more reliable, efficient transit and transportation channels to promote US manufacturing and supply chain logistics.
If we are going to think big, I suspect we also need to think smart. A trillion dollar stimulus package is a big idea and probably deserves as much attention, or more, than The Wall project if our politicians are serious about putting American jobs and quality of life first.
The Messenger Newsletter | March 2017 | Shiel Sexton Carolinas