PARKERSBURG - One of the sectors hit especially hard by the national recession of the past few years has been construction and those effects continued to be felt in the Mid-Ohio Valley in 2010.
Bill Hutchinson, business manager of the Parkersburg-Marietta Building and Construction Trades Council, said 2010 remained a slow year for the building trades in the Mid-Ohio Valley - as had 2009 - with about 50 percent unemployment in every craft.
The trades council represents eight counties in West Virginia and six counties in Ohio with 50 local unions covering the 15 building and construction crafts.
The council works to help local unions in whatever ways it cans, from advocacy and political representation to helping with work and negotiations. The council mainly represents two groups. One is the civil crafts, which include laborers, carpenters, bricklayers and others. The other is the mechanical crafts, which include pipefitters, electrical workers, ironworkers, boilermakers, sheet metal workers and others.
Hutchinson believes the national economic downturn and its effects locally was one of the main reasons for the negative year, but things seemed to be picking up in the fourth quarter of 2011. Hutchinson is hoping that trend will continue into this year.
Not only was little new construction occurring in 2010, Hutchinson said the council's members do a lot of maintenance work in area plants. Those have been cutting back where they could in the last couple of years and putting off work or handling it in-house where possible. Looking at 2011, Hutchinson said there are some indications that the plant projects will pick up this year, which would be good for the trades.
"I don't think we will have a banner year, but hopefully it will pick up from what it's been the last couple of years," he said.
Brian Stanley is president of the Parkersburg Area Labor Council, which works with many different types of crafts and trades in the local area.
Many local unions have members who serve on the council and meet monthly. The PALC's primary function is to share information, ideas and support among its members. The council also is involved in the political process from the local to the national level through endorsements and support for various candidates during elections. The council and many of its members are also involved in the community through service projects and similar activities.
Looking back at the past year, Stanley said 2010 was "fairly decent" year for the PALC's members. Building construction was still a little slow because of a slow year for plant projects, but overall it was positive year for the organization and its members, he said.
One of the big issues the PALC focused on in 2010 was a push for local jobs for local workers. The federal stimulus funds brought a lot of money and work into West Virginia during the year, but many of those jobs were taken by workers coming in from other states, often working for the contractors who won the lowest-bid contracts, Stanley said.
The PALC wants to continue raising the issue and working to get more of those in-state jobs for in-state workers this year, he said.
In a related issue, Stanley said marcellus shale projects may be another area to keep eye on. Big companies are bringing in out-of-state workers and the PALC wants to raise awareness of the qualified and hard-working workers in West Virginia this year.
"I think 2011 looks like it will be a good year, with a lot of work to be done in the area," he said.
A bright spot coming into last year for labor groups involved a $6 million "green grant" received by WorkForce West Virginia in January 2010.
The green grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor to provide West Virginia's education and training providers with targeted green training and professional development to assist them in providing technical skill courses for people in existing programs or for those who were starting a program.
Stanley said the green grant has been positive for the PALC's members, since it has been helpful in providing classes in green techniques in a variety of areas and in providing other types of assistance.
The PALC will continue to utilize the funding in similar ways in 2011, he said.