Although faced with a bevy of challenges due to the pandemic, things are looking up for Guam’s construction industry.
Deemed an essential activity at the start of the pandemic, construction continued although at times intermittently.
Progress was slowed by the now familiar and standard COVID-mitigation practices as well as the need to limit the number of workers on-site at a given time.
More recently, COVID infection clusters caused a brief, but complete, shutdown of work by Public Health.
But Guam Contractors Association president James Martinez says the construction industry has a lot to look forward to in the next year.
He says there are more than $2 billion worth of projects in the pipeline that will provide steady work through 2021.
The bulk of these will be military and other federal projects.
There are also more than $340 million worth of GovGuam projects.
Right now, the industry is crossing its fingers for the new National Defense Authorization Act, which is currently moving through Congress.
Along with more than $662 million worth of projects, if approved, the act will authorize H2B workers for civilian projects.
The federal government started denying H2B visas in 2015 for reasons that are still unclear to many local leaders and only started making allowances for projects related to the military buildup.
A shortage of H2B workers has caused construction, as well as associated real estate costs, to skyrocket.
Contractors are waiting for the act to be signed by the president before they even begin the process of petitioning for H2B workers because of the costs involved.
James Martinez, Guam Contractors Association, said: “I don’t blame them for being gun shy because it really costs a good amount of money to actually begin the process of petitioning for H2B. And a lot of these smaller contractors don’t have the finances to do that. They’ve got to go and get a loan or put up their own personal assets like their house or their personal equipment for their companies. They have to put that up for some kind of bond to even start that process,” Martinez said.
Martinez says that government projects are keeping the industry alive because they don’t carry the risk to investors that private sector projects do.
However, as Guam’s CAR score has remained low and COVID vaccines loom on the horizon, Martinez expressed optimism for private sector projects as well as the jobs they’ll bring.
“As we get out of this COVID, we’ll start to open up the economy a little bit more. We’re going to see more of those projects come to fruition for commercial contractors as well as the residential. So there’s going to be some opportunities there, but again, you need to look at training more of our local workforce to get some of those jobs for long-term sustainability and use the H2B only to supplement the local workforce where it’s needed,” Martinez said.