An industrial construction boom that started two years ago in the Decatur area with more than $500 million in projects shows no sign of slowing, which is good news for the construction sector, officials said.
The Industrial Development Board of Decatur will consider four tax abatements today. The proposed projects involved would raise the value of industrial construction in the Decatur area to above $2 billion since Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA announced its plans in January 2018 to construct a $1.6 billion facility in Limestone County.
Nucor Steel Decatur, OCI Alabama, Yates Industries South and WHY Properties are planning upgrades or expansions with estimated combined construction costs of slightly more than $107.5 million.
Two of the projects will not generate new jobs, but “will create construction jobs” that could last though 2023, according to the tax abatement requests.
“A variety of well-paying construction jobs are available in our area right now, and it doesn’t look like the need for workers is going away anytime soon,” said Jeremy Nails, president of the Morgan County Economic Development Association.
The new projects come less than a year after Mazda Toyota broke ground and months after three suppliers for the plant announced construction plans totaling almost $386 million.
The largest of the four projects the IDB will consider today is an upgrade at Nucor that totals $102.335 million and is expected to start in August. The project, according to the company’s tax abatement application, is “not expected to directly create an additional new jobs” but “will create construction jobs.”
OCI, a plant that manufactures a dry bleach used in consumer products such as laundry detergent, will bring three new permanent jobs to the area with an estimated annual payroll of $123,000, while Yates Industries South and WHY Properties are seeking abatements for projects totaling $1.745 million.
Sister companies WHY Properties and Yates Industries are in the Decatur police jurisdiction. In addition to construction jobs, their project will generate 15 permanent jobs with an annual wage of $42,000, according to the companies.
Seth Green, 42, has worked at several industrial sites in the Decatur area. He said plant expansions are always good for construction workers “because we get good pay.”
“Sometimes it’s hard to find steady work building homes, but I have no problem finding work around plant sites,” Green said.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates as many as 2,600 construction jobs are available in Alabama, mostly in north Alabama, while the Alabama Association of General Contractors estimates more than 70% of construction companies are hiring.
According to the Associated General Contractors of America, construction jobs nationwide increased by 21,000 last month, 14,900 in the non-residential sector. In a written statement, association CEO Stephen E. Sandherr said, “Construction firms continue to go to great lengths to recruit and retain workers during one of the tightest labor markets many of them have ever experienced.
“Making matters worse, relatively few school districts offer the kind of career and technical education programs that signal to students that they should explore careers in high-paying fields like construction,” he added.
Decatur City Schools is an exception. Shelton Cobb, supervisor of career technical education, said the school district is feeling pressure to graduate students with certifications allowing them at least to fill entry-level construction positions.
“I’m constantly in contact with industrial leaders and construction managers about what they are looking for,” said Cobb, who is also a member of the North Alabama Work Force Development Alliance.
He said the Career Academies of Decatur has a building construction curriculum as well as welding and electrical dual enrollment agreements with Calhoun Community College that allow students to graduate with NCCER certification.
NCCER is the National Center for Construction Education and Research organization, which develops construction and maintenance standards.
“We see that construction jobs are going to be in this area for years to come,” Cobb said. “Everybody is not going to college, so we have to get students in a career path beginning in middle school to fill jobs in the Decatur community.”
Nails said industry leaders are pleased with what school systems in Morgan County are doing.
“All of our local school systems and community colleges are providing excellent career tech opportunities to train our students on the wide variety of trades needed to be successful in the construction industry,” he said.
Some Decatur businesses are also benefiting from the construction boom.
An employee at the Chevron gas station on Alabama 20 said business is up since Mazda Toyota broke ground.
Apple Lane Farms across the highway has seen an increase in foot traffic and is delivering lunches to the automotive plant site in the Greenbrier area of Limestone County.
“We’re making daily deliveries,” Apple Lane Farms owner Donnie Lane said.
In the past four years, Nails said, Morgan County companies have made capital investments totaling $936,734,962 and generated 1,332 new jobs. He said some of the projects, such as the $115 million investment General Electric announced in June 2018, are ongoing.