(Left to right) Denis Landry, president of Landry/French Construction; Matt Marks, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of Maine; Bob Hews, president of truck equipment supplier Hews Co.; and Ken Simonson, chief economist of the Associated General Contractors of America in Arlington, Virginia, talk to reporters at Hews' headquarters in South Portland about the need for more large projects to stimulate the industry and the waning ranks of workers in Portland and South Portland. The Bangor metropolitan area saw a rise in the number of construction workers in the past year. Credit: Lori Valigra

The Bangor and Lewiston-Auburn areas added construction jobs last year, while Portland and South Portland lost jobs at a faster rate than most other metropolitan areas in the nation, a construction industry group said Thursday.

The Bangor area gained 100 construction jobs to total 3,400 jobs this October compared with October 2017, according to the Associated General Contractors of America, which is based in Arlington, Virginia. That’s an increase of 3 percent.

The Lewiston-Auburn area also was up by 200 jobs to 2,900, or a 7 percent increase, according to Ken Simonson, chief economist with the AGC.

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“Bangor added 100 jobs with industrial construction, including Bangor Savings Bank’s new headquarters, Eastern Maine Medical Center’s expansion and work at some of the paper mills,” said Matt Marks, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of Maine, a local industry group based in Augusta.

By contrast, the Portland and South Portland area saw construction jobs decrease 4 percent or by 400 jobs to a total of 9,800.

The Greater Portland and Lewiston-Auburn metropolitan area numbers also include mining and logging jobs, according to the AGC of America.

Statewide, Maine gained 1,100 jobs in construction over the past year, a 4 percent rise to total 30,200 jobs in October 2018. Combined construction, mining and logging jobs also were up by 1,100, or 3 percent, to 32,600.

Simonson said only nine metropolitan areas of the 358 tracked nationally by the AGC lost jobs at a faster pace than Portland. He blamed a lack of investment in aging infrastructure, including roads and bridges in Maine, for the falloff.

“There is little doubt that thousands more construction workers would be earning high wages here in Portland and metro areas around the country if the public sector were investing more in the nation’s aging infrastructure,” he said.

[Good luck getting construction workers in Maine, or anywhere for that matter]

In Maine, the $200 million in bonds that voters approved during the recent election were welcomed by the construction industry, Marks said, because they included money to repair roads and bridges and for construction at the University of Maine and several community colleges.

“The bonds coming through is a critical thing because infrastructure in general affects all of us getting materials over the roads,” said Denis Landry, president of Landry/French Construction of Scarborough.

And while Marks welcomed the state support, he said the new money still falls short of the amount industry experts say it would take to properly maintain Maine’s roads and bridges by as much as $250 million every year. He and other construction industry executives said the federal government needs to step up and invest more in the nation’s infrastructure to stimulate the construction industry.

“The good news is we have a unique opportunity to enact new infrastructure funding when the new Congress convenes in January,” Simonson said. “That is because one of the few areas where Democrats and Republicans traditionally agree is on the economic benefits of investing in infrastructure.”

[Construction begins on Army National Guard building despite cost increases]

President Trump already has called for $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure investments over the next 10 years to rebuild aging roads, bridges, waterways and other public works. Simonson said the president will have to reach across the aisle to strike a deal early next year.

However, getting Congress to move quickly is important, because other agencies still need time to allocate funds.

“If we don’t see prompt action, it will be 2020 before anyone is hired to do infrastructure funding,” Simonson said.

If more construction projects emerge with new funding, finding help still will be challenging in some areas as older workers retire and younger replacements are in short supply, Marks said. He said what’s needed to fill the gap is consistent infrastructure investment and job training.

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