Construction workers pour wet concrete on a street. With 20% of the planned infrastructure bill or $ 110 billion for the construction of roads and bridges, small construction companies are hoping for a long-term business boom.
As small businesses bounce back from work bottlenecks and business losses due to Covid-19, a bipartisan infrastructure bill offers hope of an impending boom as it goes through the Chambers of Congress.
On August 1, the US Senate finalized the text for the Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act, which spends 550 billion dollars in new spending on pandemic downturns.
The White House says the bill will create about 2 million jobs a year for American workers, and the projects will last over a decade. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said he plans for the Senate to finalize the bill in a few days.
The corporate world has confirmed President Biden’s infrastructure plan as overdue. Here’s how different factions within the small business community feel about it.
Federal money will go to small businesses
With the potential for mass physical infrastructure spending in the coming years, a number of small businesses plan to take advantage of upcoming projects and contracts.
However, for John Walton, owner of the John G. Walton Construction Company of Mobile, Alabama, the infrastructure bill will not only boom the economy, but also much-needed improvements to dilapidated structures across the country.
Walton’s company specializes in asphalt and highway construction and, like many other small businesses, is preparing to take advantage of federal projects once it makes its way through state governments.
Walton said federal projects are run across states. In Alabama, the Department of Transportation opens projects to local contractor offers once a month. Once the bill is signed and the federal money has been turned over to each state – the timing is uncertain, although there is usually a delay between the signing of a bill and the allocation of federal funds – local companies like Walton’s can bid on these projects.
With 20% of the bill, or $ 110 billion to build roads and bridges, Walton hopes for a long-term business boom.
“If the states have the money, they can plan these projects,” said Walton. “Sometimes it takes two or three years from design to actual construction, which really helps the contractors because they know what’s coming out of the line.”
These projects will also help small businesses recruit in the current tight labor market, said Brian Turmail, spokesman for the Association of General Contractors of America.
“Having a large, multi-year infrastructure project in place will provide our industry with invaluable recruiting benefits,” said Turmail. “Because it will signal to a new generation of workers that there will be great infrastructure jobs out there for a long time to come.”
Union jobs and infrastructure projects
One of President Joe Biden’s key pledges with the Infrastructure Bill, according to the White House, is to create jobs specifically for unionists.
While the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act does not provide for specific projects for union workers or for certain roles to be filled only by union workers, John Samuelson, president of the Transport Workers Union, said that infrastructure projects will inevitably lead to roles being filled with unions.
“If you look at it, it’s not that there’s a line that says all of these jobs are going to be unionized, but there are good, solid wage requirements throughout the bill,” said Yvette Pena-O’Sullivan, spokeswoman by LiUNA, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which represents union workers in the construction and energy industries in the United States and Canada.
Pena-O’Sullivan said any type of federal spending requires companies to pay their contractors and workers reasonable wages based on the location of the project. Location-based wages are determined by the Department of Labor under the Davis-Bacon Act.
“If you have a minimum wage and your requirements, union contractors can compete and get the job,” Pena-O’Sullivan said. “So you are not competing with contractors who are trying to cut wages and pay people as little as possible.”
In addition to wage demands, trade unionists in all industries benefit from the influx of jobs created by infrastructure projects.
“Regardless of what it says or not, it will help unionized workers in high union density areas – the Northeast, California, the Midwest,” said Samuelson.
The bill provides for US $ 39 billion for improvements in local public transport and another US $ 66 billion for modernizing and expanding passenger and freight transport. Samuelson said all union members would benefit from investing in the public transportation industry, from Miami to Houston, north in Pennsylvania and all over the south.
Beyond geography, Samuelson said the public transportation industry has one of the highest unionized workforces and other projects are happening in industries with high union concentration.
In 2020, there were 7.1 million union workers in the private sector and 7.2 million in the public sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of the 7.1 million unionized in the private sector, 20.6% work in utilities, 17% in transportation and storage, and 14.3% in telecommunications.
“Modernizing infrastructure creates jobs and many of them are unionized,” said Ed Mortimer, vice president of transportation and infrastructure for the US Chamber of Commerce. “These are well-paying jobs that help American families.”
Main Street America revitalization
In addition to roads, bridges, and public transportation, the Infrastructure Act provides an additional $ 65 billion for broadband, $ 73 billion for power infrastructure, and $ 21 billion for environmental remediation, giving small businesses in local communities a revitalization perspective.
“Our infrastructure is crumbling,” said Kriss Marion, owner of Circle M Market Farm, a local farm in Blanchardville, Wisconsin. “Our roads, bridges, some of our water treatment systems, our pipes. We have been suffering from a chronic lack of investment for so long.”
She said the Infrastructure Act gives hope to local communities that they can be driving forces in the economy, and especially in the case of her community, improvements to roads and bridges will make agriculture easier to move and people to travel to City lighten.
Broadband is even more of a challenge as 14% of Wisconsin households do not have access to the internet, Marion said. The prospect of a nationwide expansion of broadband infrastructure is key to the future of rural development.
“I think we will see a renaissance in rural tourism and the rural economy,” she said.
Improvements to broadband infrastructure can save small businesses as the economy shifts to online services and shopping, said Sarah Crozier, spokeswoman for the Main Street Alliance, a small business advocacy group.
“It will be important for small businesses to have access to broadband investments to be competitive across the country,” said Crozier. “So we don’t just rely on massive online monopolies.”
However, Crozier said there was one criticism to be leveled against the bill: in order to reach a bipartisan agreement on the package, many of the “human infrastructure” ideas advocated by the progressives were postponed to a later date and separate legislative efforts. and many remain concerned about the fate of this portion of infrastructure spending.
“These gaps need to be filled by the reconciliation package, especially around the other bridges and roads that allow people to work, such as childcare and health care,” said Crozier.
The leaders in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi want to pass the Infrastructure Bill along with a $ 3.5 trillion reconciliation package that includes childcare, paid vacation, and education Efforts to combat climate change will invest.