“Nobody represents the construction industry in the Carolinas like Carolinas AGC,” says Dave Simpson, President & CEO of the award-winning trade association. It takes just a small glimpse into the company’s plethora of work to know that Dave is speaking the truth. Carolinas AGC is a full-service trade association that has been in operation for 101 years, representing almost eight-hundred-member companies in the commercial and industrial construction industry. They are a chapter of the wider Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and the American Road and Transportation Building Association (ARTBA), both of whom they have a great working relationship with. Recognizing the prodigious work being done by their Carolinas chapter, the AGC of America have awarded CAGC the Chapter of the Year Award in 1999 and again in 2019 – and in 2021, of the 89 Chapters, CAGC won both the AGCA Public Relations and Workforce Development Awards for a $3.75 million COVID safety program and a Build Your Career workforce program.
Carolinas AGC exists to serve the construction industry and strengthen members’ businesses by providing business development opportunities, helping contractors manage their workforce through training and education, and advocating for a legal and regulatory environment that ensures contractors success. They have their feet firmly on the ground with four lobbyists in North and South Carolina who are full-time CAGC employees.
Both North and South Carolina entered the new decade with a bright outlook for the construction industry, with an abundance of building, highway-heavy, and utility work in the pipeline. The survival of the Carolinas construction industry during a time in which COVID posed the question – what industries are essential? – would not have been possible without the support of Carolinas AGC. Their commitment to industry success and the ongoing advocacy work that stems from such commitment allowed Carolinas AGC to convince South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper to recognize construction as an essential industry.
Last year Carolinas AGC had to quickly pivot from a live, hands-on organization that hosts over one hundred face-to-face events per year to a pandemic-friendly event model. In approaching the situation, they demonstrated, as is their very essence, an unwavering commitment to industry success. There were 650 attendees at their first virtual Summer Summit in 2020, including the state Governors along with various other politicians and economists. Dave describes the event as a “home run,” an impressive reflection considering the monumental adjustments that had to be put in place to ensure its successful execution.
Over a year later and it’s no longer COVID that dominates the US construction industry’s news headlines, but instead the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. When asked about the bill and the ongoing delays in passing it, Dave is passionate in his response: “I’m hoping that Congress and the President can get their acts together and cut a deal on the highly needed $1.2 trillion dollar infrastructure package. They need to stop bickering and start working together to secure this badly needed funding at a time when our infrastructure system is in deplorable condition, not only in the Carolinas but throughout the US.” Dave is a business leader who is well-versed in the benefits of working together rather than against one another to get the job done. This is the exact mindset that is needed to drive not only the survival of, but the success and growth of an ever-changing and ever-important industry.
“This year CAGC were granted $642,000 dollars from the South Carolina legislature, which they went on to spend on their Be Pro Be Proud Skilled Trades Mobile Workshop.”
Dave’s passion for the industry is also evident when he talks about the work Carolinas AGC is doing to promote the benefits of a career in construction. There continues to be an ongoing workforce shortage in the construction industry throughout the US, making it a struggle to “get people into an industry and a career in which the future is unlimited.” But as the workforce shortage continues to pose a challenge, Carolinas AGC continues to be innovative and committed in their approach to overcoming it. This year CAGC were granted $642,000 dollars from the South Carolina legislature, which they went on to spend on their Be Pro Be Proud Skilled Trades Mobile Workshop. This is a 53-foot mobile truck that comes fully-equipped with simulated construction equipment, offering an interactive way for children, students and parents to learn more about skilled trades. “We’ve got $5 million more that we think is coming from the North Carolina legislature this year which we plan to use for the same thing. We’ll have one truck in South Carolina, two in North Carolina, rolling around and promoting construction as the great industry that it is.” The launch of this workshop is a hands-on approach to tackling the workforce shortage, communicating through tangible and interactive means the exciting prospect of a career in construction.
In 2020 Carolinas AGC’s Foundation was granted $3.5 million from the North Carolina General Assembly for its Public Relations efforts, the only chapter to be named for two awards. $3 million was spent reimbursing the construction industry for COVID-related expenses such as onsite safety efforts, safety equipment and related efforts. “I was writing checks from a few dollars to up to $100,000 to both members and non-members,” says Dave, recognizing the detrimental impact of the pandemic and ensuring that at the very least nobody was out of pocket. Another $750K was used to reach out to minority organizations via a radio network, in particular African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, and make subgrants for multilingual education, training, and community outreach programs.
The inclusion of minority groups is an integral part of Carolina AGC’s stateside efforts in North and South Carolina to improve and support the construction industry. Women in construction, for example, is of growing importance to CAGC and as such is an area that they pour a great deal of time and funding into. It’s a commitment that does not stop at targeted advertising campaigns showcasing the benefits of a career in construction for women. CAGC goes that step further by, to mention one effort, launching an entire CAGC Buildercast podcast series on the issue. We Were Built For This aired during Women In Construction Week in March 2021, and is a four-episode series interviewing women in construction and highlighting the impact they have on their workplace and within the industry. “We are dedicated to getting more women and minority groups involved in construction,” Dave says, before proudly directing me to a particular page of the CAGC website where I could read some reflections from female CAGC members for myself. “I want to be an example of how women can be successful in this industry,” says Lindsay Smith of Palmetto Corporation. “Just like any other industry, if you keep your nose to the grindstone, submerge yourself in the opportunity to learn, and don’t overthink being a woman surrounded by men, you will succeed.” The world is progressing, and to ignore the need for gender and cultural diversity within the workplace is to do your company a great disservice. Dave mentions often throughout our interview that there is no limit to the amount of construction work available in the Carolinas, and he is passionate about making this work both appealing and accessible to women and minority groups.
“We are dedicated to getting more women and minority groups involved in construction.”
It’s evident that while there is no shortage of work available within the construction industry, there are some significant roadblocks in the way of getting the jobs done. Aside from the workforce shortage, the delayed Infrastructure Bill and the ongoing COVID situation, Dave says “one of the biggest challenges the industry is facing is supply chain delays and surging material prices, making it not only hard for people to get materials, but also for them to lock down prices. That’s no way to be able to do business.” But CAGC exists to fight these very issues, and Dave is both dedicated to the cause and up to the task. He says, “Between the material delays, the surging prices that you can’t lock down, and not having enough people to do the great work that’s out there – that’ll keep us busy for many more years.”
It does seem that from the perspective of Dave and Carolinas AGC that the positives of the construction industry far outweigh the current challenges it faces. Dave puts it simply: “The outlook for the construction industry is excellent. What we need to do now is get more young, promising, and enthusiastic people into the industry and build the many things that need to be built, highways, bridges, buildings, utilities, dams, factories, hotels, warehouse, tunnels, airports, schools, churches, you name it. I can’t think of a more exciting thing for people to do.”
The construction industry in the Carolinas, supported in no small way by Carolinas AGC, continues to move with the changing tide and hold its place as one of the most lucrative and optimistic sectors in the state.