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Hutch ahead of development curve, construction official says

Published on -7/24/2014, 4:24 PM

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HUTCHINSON (MCT) — Hutchinson and several parts of Kansas are experiencing a building boom, a Chamber of Commerce luncheon audience was told Wednesday, because of a pent up demand as facilities in various industries age and an aggressive stance by local officials in getting projects approved and a trained workforce developed.
"It's a perfect storm of construction," said J.R. Robl, business development and marketing manager at Hutton Construction Corp., Wichita, sponsor of the luncheon at the Hutchinson Town Club. "Commercial, residential, retail and industrial are all doing well. I can tell you it's the busiest we've been in the last 10 years. We're having trouble finding enough employees."
The reason for demand, Robl said, is in the numbers.
Kansas, he noted, has the largest number of critical access hospitals in the nation. Most were built in the '50s and '60s, with an expected lifespan for most facilities of 40 years.
"Many are way past the length of their intended life," Robl said. "We're working with six facilities on projects in Kansas."
Kansas is third in the nation in the number of bridges, Robl said, behind Texas and Ohio. The average lifespan of bridges is 50 years, but many county bridges are now 60 years and older. A recent program announced by the Kansas Department of Transportation to help counties replace bridges will give projects a needed boost.
Kansas is fifth in the nation in the total number of local governments, and many municipalities are building new detention centers and other bonded infrastructure projects.
Kansas is 16th in the nation in the number of schools, and "on a record pace" for school bond issues, Robl said, with an 80 percent success rate in getting issues approved by voters.
"We're working with five different school districts across the state," he said.
Hutchinson is ahead of the game, said Mike Gibson, executive vice president of Associated General Contractors of Kansas Inc., because of an understanding by local officials of the need to act quickly.
"Construction isn't sexy," Gibson said. "A lot of times politicians in D.C. and Topeka will attend a hospital opening," but you won't see them cutting ribbons for sewer or waterline projects.
Gibson praised the vision of community leaders in Hutchinson and Reno County and at Hutchinson Community College for partnering to address industry needs and particularly praised the college for its training programs.
Dodge City and Garden City are experiencing even more building than Hutchinson, Gibson said, but because of a shortage of workers, there's "a three-plus-year backlog on projects."
"The average construction worker is 52 to 54 years old," Gibson said, and many are starting to retire. There aren't enough new workers in the building trades to replace those leaving, but at least in Hutchinson there are programs in the high school and community college that are training replacements.
"In Kansas there are 7,000 to 12,000 workers that need replaced," Gibson said. "Nationally, we need 350,000 to 500,000 workers."
He lives in Topeka, Gibson said, and can visibly see his community lagging Hutchinson and central Kansas.
"I drive through your community and can see major (retail and restaurant) chains that are not in Topeka," Gibson said. "It all comes down to a can-do attitude. The thing Hutchinson has is that it's great at communicating between the public and private sectors, and they're quick to respond. If a company comes here and said we need this quick decision and you say 'We'll get back to you,' you've lost them. The longer it takes to make a decision, the more it will cost."
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(c)2014 The Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kan.)
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