By Katy Stech
The Post and Courier
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Jeffrey Pierce heard about Boeing's informational meeting for local construction workers and immediately called his out-of-work colleagues, eager to spread the good news.
Relief, he told them, could be on its way.
Pierce, a Charleston handyman, hasn't been able to secure steady work, despite the fact that he has done it all: land clearing, concrete pouring, roofing, framing, siding, plumbing, painting and cabinet installation.
Local construction companies have slashed their workforce in the absence of projects. Pierce has called around for jobs, but some firms only have a receptionist left, if that.
"They're just answering the phones looking for work themselves," he said.
It could take two years for Boeing to open its 787 Dreamliner assembly line in North Charleston, a project that will bring at least 3,800 high-paying manufacturing jobs to the region.
In the meantime, the expansion will provide a much- needed shot of business to the local construction industry.
That promise of work drew thousands of subcontractors and suppliers, including Pierce and his colleagues, to the Charleston Area Convention Center on Tuesday.
General contractors BE&K and Turner Construction, which are in charge of revamping Boeing's 400-acre campus and constructing a massive, 584,000-square-foot assembly building, held an informational session to explain their needs and meet with prospective subcontractors.
The expansion will generate the expected construction jobs, but it also could create opportunities for others -- for example, people working as security guards and aerial photographers.
Nearly every seat was filled in the convention center's largest ballroom, which was set up to accommodate 2,300 attendees. Latecomers had to stand.
"I think everybody's trying to get a piece of the pie," said Will Young, who rents out heavy machinery and equipment for Neff Rental in North Charleston. He said business has started to pick up, but that the interest loses its momentum every few days as the construction market struggles to steady.
Company officials haven't pinned down the number of workers they'll need, but the state Department of Commerce has estimated that the project will create at least 2,000 construction jobs.
That's the exact number of construction jobs the Charleston area has lost during the last year, a shrinkage of the industry's workforce by 10 percent, according to the latest employment data.
Speakers at the event emphasized safety, explained how to bid on work and laid out the needed qualifications for subcontractors and suppliers. They also introduced key players, including construction manager Kenny Anderson and purchasing manager Dan O'Connor.
"This was just a good opportunity to have folks understand the scope of the project," said Tim Parker, vice president of business development for BE&K's business development.
Boxes spread around a series of tables collected resumes and business cards. Some attendees said they worked at the two fuselage assembly plants built originally for Vought Aircraft and Global Aeronautica in 2006.
"They're hungry for work," said Dawn Cutler, who took business cards and resumes for site work contractor O.L. Thompson Construction Co. in North Charleston.
Personally, she said, it was rewarding to be able to give people a bit of hope.
"For the last year, I've been on the end of helping them survive," she said.
James Brown, a welder from Myrtle Beach, was laid off from Detyens Shipyards less than a month ago. He knows the general contractors won't need to fuse together pipes until late in the project, but he said he's trying to be proactive.
He said the event's crowd was overwhelming but expected.
"It's the biggest project ever to hit South Carolina, so everybody and their mother is trying to be a part of it," he said. "They'd be stupid not to."
Eager attendees arrived several hours before the first presentation, earlier than organizers who needed to set up tables and displays.
Outside, the convention center's parking lot overflowed with trucks and industrial-size vehicles that had logos for painters, plumbers and landscapers.
Pierce left especially hopeful after he saw one contractor representative put his resume in a special pile.
"I got a feeling I'll get some work out of this," he said.