Diane Benck, vice president of West Side Tractor Sales Co., noted how difficult this recession has been on the employees of her company as well as the other distributors across America.
Start Us Up USA!, a nationwide grassroots campaign of the construction equipment industry and their allies, descended upon Chicago Oct. 20 with a rally of local business and labor leaders and construction workers calling on the federal government to move quickly on the reauthorization of a critical transportation bill.
New transportation funding is necessary to improve the nation’s infrastructure and spur a recovery of the construction equipment industry, especially in hard-hit states like Illinois. The rally was followed by a caravan of construction equipment, idled by the lack of federal support, parading around Soldier Field to urge the federal government to stop job loss.
“The construction equipment industry is in a deep depression and we have lost 33,000 jobs in Illinois and 37 percent of our workforce nationwide the past few years,” said Toby Mack, president and CEO of the Associated Equipment Distributors (AED), based in Oak Brook, Ill.
Dennis Slater, president of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), added: “More jobs are at stake in Chicagoland, throughout Illinois and across the country as time is running out for the men and women of the construction and equipment industries without long-term federal transportation investment.”
AEM and AED are co-leading the Start Us Up USA! campaign.
Illinois is among the ten hardest hit states in the nation, according to new research released by IHS Global Insight in September. While the recession abates for some sectors of the U.S. economy, the construction equipment industry remains stalled. Since 2006, the state of Illinois has lost nearly $9.5 billion worth of economic output from the construction industry. The research also found:
• Job losses in this sector are significantly worse than other industries — like auto and finance — that have received government bailouts.
• Two out of every 25 jobs lost during the current recession (or eight percent) can be traced to this downturn in the construction equipment industry.
• The main culprit is a more than 50 percent drop in construction equipment spending since its peak in 2006, which coincides with declining infrastructure investment this decade.
Diane Benck, vice president of general operations, West Side Tractor Sales Co., in Naperville, Ill., a mainstay in the Chicagoland community since 1962, attested to the challenges the industry is facing.
“Industry-wide sales have decreased 50 percent since its peak in 2006,” Benck said. “This is the first time we’ve seen conditions this poor and it has been difficult to watch the toll this recession has taken on our employees.”
At the rally, Jerry Roper, president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, and Dennis Gannon, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, lent their support to the Start Us Up USA! campaign.
Following formal remarks, a caravan of idle construction equipment including a motorgrader, rough terrain forklift and hydraulic scissor lift, fired up their engines and took their message to Chicago-area locals and visitors around the museum campus with banners saying “It’s Time To Start Us Up USA!” and “The recession is a construction equipment depression.”
Start Us Up USA! is rallying support for swift U.S. congressional action on a new multi-year reauthorization bill for critical infrastructure projects. Improvement projects give communities more transit options, safer roads, improves congested roads and decreases greenhouse gases while providing millions of good-paying construction jobs.
The transportation funding expired on Sept. 30, and critical infrastructure projects like the Eisenhower Expressway Expansion Project need this federal support to proceed in the coming years. According to recent data from The Road Information Program (TRIP), 43 percent of Illinois’ major urban highways are congested and 34 percent of the state’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition. Travel on Illinois highways has increased by 29 percent since 2007.
In addition, the reauthorization is critical to numerous improvements that are part of the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program to reduce railroad bottlenecks and congestion, shorten commute times and reclaim Chicago’s position as the intermodal capital of North America. According to CREATE, if infrastructure issues and rail capacity are not addressed, the Chicago region is at risk to lose 17,000 jobs and $2 billion in annual economic production within two decades.
This Chicago rally was the second grassroots event that equipment industry workers and leaders have organized across the country.
The campaign kicked off in Las Vegas at Cashman Equipment on Oct. 1.
Equipment from the Chicago rally came from area dealers and contractors: Illini Hi-Reach, Kropp Equipment Inc., McCann Industries, Metro Lift, Patten Industries, Polte Construction, Runnion Equipment, West Side Tractor Sales Co. and Vermeer Midwest.
A third campaign took place in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 28 with a rally near Capitol Hill.
For more information, visit www.StartUsUpUSA.com.