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Building Trades Leader Views Economy Cautiously
David Kendrick, secretary/business manager of the Greater Kansas City Building Trades Council, in front of Performing Arts Center now under construction downtown.
Credit:  Michael McClure

During the Great Recession, David Kendrick of the Greater Kansas City Building and Construction Trades Council has seen unemployment in some trades climb as high as 20 percent, while a few have maintained nearly full employment.

Now Kendrick, secretary/business manager of the Building Trades Council, is looking ahead to contracts for next spring to see if the regional building slump is beginning to abate.

Spring is when major new construction projects usually are slated to start, and also when the effects of the Obama administration’s nearly $800-billion stimulus program is expected to be well on the way to stimulating the economy.

Of the unknown full effects of the $787-billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Kendrick said: “Nothing like this has ever happened—even during the Great Depression. This stimulus is so much more than has ever been done before.

“Maybe next spring we’ll see some of that start to generate work,” Kendrick said. “My gut feeling about next spring is that I’m worried. But then there’s that stimulus money out there. We’ll do everything we can to help make it work.”

In January, Kendrick succeeded Garry Kemp as the executive officer of the Building Trades Council, a group of 22 construction union locals in the Kansas City area with a total of about 20,000 members.

Kendrick said he was heartened by a recent article by Kansas City Star writer Kevin Collison which outlined how developers were ready to proceed with conversion of the old federal courthouse and the Home Savings Association buildings to affordable loft apartments. Both buildings are on Grand Blvd. downtown.

The article described how funds available because of the stimulus package had made these projects happen after delays caused by financing problems.

Kendrick, a sprinkler fitter with 30 years in the trade who had served several years as vice president of Century Sprinkler Fitters, was named Building Trades executive secretary/business manager in January; he accepted the position because of the challenge. Kemp remained on board as executive vice president.

Kendrick, as do many other regional business and labor leaders, traces the recession in the Greater Kansas City economy to August 2008, when, as Kendrick put it, the “economy crashed or started crashing.” That is when big Wall Street banks experienced very serious problems.

“Once the banks stopped funding jobs there wasn’t any money to fund the work,” which resulted in a gap in construction jobs that is only starting to show signs of closing, Kendrick said.

“There’s work we had projected last year for this year that the projects have stopped or never gone any further when the money dried up,” Kendrick said.

One example, Kendrick said, is the $350-million Wyandotte County casino project, the licensing for which has been delayed by the Kansas Lottery Commission. Kendrick said the current schedule is for a license to be awarded Aug. 28. This project would yield 850 construction jobs for 13 months.

Kendrick said another pending project is a 850-megawatt power plant that would be built near Holcomb, KS. A go-ahead on the plant was agreed to by Kansas lawmakers and the Parkinson administration, but Kendrick said he has been unable to determine a construction timetable.

Another pending large project, Kendrick said, is the Honeywell/National Nuclear Security Administration facility slated for M-150 and Botts Road, a $600 million facility. This plant would replace one in the federal complex at 95th and Troost.

A somewhat smaller pending project is conversion of the boiler house on the edge of the Union Station yards to a practice facility for the Kansas City Ballet. This project would generate about 300 construction jobs.

“Currently every job is important,” Kendrick said, adding that there are also school projects in the Blue Valley, Raymore-Peculiar and Blue Springs districts.

The largest construction job now under way here is the Iatan II power plant, which currently employs 2,600 construction workers. It will continue until after the first of the year.

Another major current project is the $350-million Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts downtown, which is about a year away from completion. Another major ongoing project is the Arrowhead Stadium renovation; the Kauffman Stadium renovation is just being complete

“It could be worse,” Kendrick said. “We’ll turn this around. I just don’t like to be a predictor of the future. It always comes around to bite you.”

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