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Iron Caravan Calls for D.C. Action on Highway Funds

Mon November 09, 2009 - National Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

A large caravan of bulldozers and other construction equipment displaying huge banners paraded through the streets of Washington Oct. 28 to send a message to lawmakers that they must act now to stop the bleeding in the construction equipment industry. Start Us Up USA! campaign organizers joined by House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., and other allies, also staged a rally on the National Mall against a backdrop of idle construction equipment and a sea of orange flags to emphasize the 550,000 jobs lost in this industry and encourage the federal government not to delay enactment of the multi-year highway legislation.

The caravan circled Capitol Hill and included an HTC-8660 telescopic truck crane transported by Keen Transport from New Kingston, Pa.

“Across the country, time is running out for the men and women of this industry as job losses continue to mount and prevent a broader economic recovery,” said Toby Mack, president and CEO of the Associated Equipment Distributors (AED). “New transportation funding is a critical component to spurring a recovery of the construction equipment industry nationwide and improving our nation’s infrastructure,” added Dennis Slater, president of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), who along with AED, is co-sponsoring the Start Us Up USA! campaign.

While recession abates for some sectors in the U.S. economy, the construction equipment industry remains stalled in a deep depression, according to Mack and Slater. In fact, eight percent of all jobs lost during the recession — or two out of every 25 — can be traced to this ailing industry, according to an economic report released by IHS Global Insight. AEM and AED largely blame the downtown in their sector, in part, on the uncertainty surrounding the future of the highway program and a scarcity of new federal investment in needed transportation improvements that would benefit the public and strengthen our nation’s competitiveness.

The current law — SAFETEA-LU — that funds the majority of the nation’s transportation investments expired on Oct. 31, and Congress and the administration had yet to move on a new multi-year reauthorization bill. Leaders in the Start Us Up USA! campaign are calling for enactment of a new transportation bill before the spring construction season begins in early 2010.

“It’s time for government leaders to act now on smart solutions, not apply a temporary band-aid,” noted Slater.

Chairman Oberstar spoke at the rally and urged his congressional colleagues to take immediate action on the highway bill rather than seek lengthy delays that would have severe consequences for the nation’s already congested and failing transportation network.

Ray Pourpore, who leads the National Construction Alliance, an affiliation of labor unions, and Bill Cox, president of Corman Construction in Maryland representing the Transportation Construction Coalition, also lent their support during the rally.

Link-Belt was among the rally’s participants. In addition, Link-Belt urged its employees, customers and distributors to sign the Start Us Up USA petition, contact their representatives in congress, or write letters to the editors of their local newspapers.

Jeff Weller, general manager of Link-Belt Mid-Atlantic, Richmond, Va., the Link-Belt crane distributor supplying the HTC-8660 for the rally, said that the industry is not asking for a handout.

“The intent is to demonstrate to our elected leaders that the industry needs some decisive action on their part to pass a multi-year highway bill that will give the industry the confidence to invest in new equipment and job creation.”

Chuck Martz, Link-Belt chairman, CEO and president added that “this funding is critical, long-term, not just to our industry, but to our country. It directly affects our international competitiveness. Similarly, delaying this funding not only affects the industry, but also the overall employment rate and our prospects for economic recovery.”

The recent IHS Global Insight report revealed that the current recession has placed a severe drag on the construction equipment industry nationwide, which is consequently holding back the broader economy from recovery. Other key findings include:

• The construction equipment industry — which includes manufacturing, distribution and equipment service facilities — has shed 37 percent of its workforce. By comparison, auto manufacturing and dealership jobs are down by 16 percent, while job losses in the finance and insurance industry amount to 6 percent of their workforce.

• Spending on construction equipment has fallen by more than 50 percent compared to its peak in 2006.

• The economic output of this industry has contracted by nearly 40 percent and resulted in the loss of approximately 550,000 jobs. That’s eight percent of all jobs lost since the start of the recession.

IHS Global Insight also analyzed the impact of the construction equipment depression on individual states. From “peak-to-trough” — roughly 2006 to 2009 — the states suffering the greatest losses are California, North Dakota, Texas and Wyoming.

Monty Boyd, president and CEO of Whayne Supply Company in Louisville, Ky., is among those who came to Washington to participate in the rally.

“In this economy, each day is a challenge to keep our workers employed,” said Boyd. “Passing this highway bill will make a huge difference to our roads and infrastructure, and it’s the best way to put people back to work.”

The Oct. 28 rally in Washington marks the third in a series of Start Us Up USA! grassroots campaign stops, with previous events taking place in Las Vegas, Nev., and Chicago, Ill.

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