GroundBreak Carolinas recently caught up with 2021 ABC Carolinas Board Chair, Derek Lanning of JE Dunn Construction in Charlotte to gain insight into how the association is working hand-in-hand with its members to help them grow their businesses, develop their workforces, and contribute to their local communities in a positive fashion.
What are the biggest challenges facing the construction industry and your members this year?
As I talk to trade partners, peers and fellow ABC Carolinas members in our region, a recurring theme is job start delays. In general, most companies have a good backlog secured leading up to, and during the pandemic-related uncertainty of last year. However, some owners and developers have varying degrees of comfort in starting the work. As a result, in the short term, competition for shovel-ready projects will increase, and some will take on that work in an aggressive manner, utilizing resources that were promised for future work that is now delayed. The domino effect of those business decisions will strain our already-taxed labor market. While the construction labor shortfall has been well documented, the solutions—and their results– are still a work in progress. As pre-pandemic construction activity levels are restored in the fourth quarter, we could see severe labor shortages. That is our biggest challenge and one we must resolve by stepping up our workforce development efforts.
What are the top three priorities for ABCC in 2021?
Our chapter is stronger than ever after three years of volatility. Our relationship with our National office is solid and our local councils are flourishing. My two predecessors, in the Chair role, put in a tremendous amount of work to make sure that happened. In addition to ensuring those efforts remain and continue to deliver results, our top priorities are: 1) Member Enhancement, 2) Workforce Development and 3) Political Voice. As the Carolinas association of choice, we provide unique access across the industry. From the largest General Contractors to specialty vendors that may be starting an exciting new technology, all ABC Carolinas members have an equal voice and standing in the association. Making and having warm connection points through our events over the years has been essential in my career, and keeping that tradition is very important to me.
Workforce Development is a wide-reaching initiative that goes beyond our strong apprenticeship program. A top priority this year is to expand those committees and paths for our members to have a reliable source for meeting the growing labor resource need.
As volatile as the industry may be, the political climate in our country is even more divided. ABC does not pick red or blue, we fight for the merit shop, and are champions of free enterprise. Our members are committed to delivering high quality projects that are awarded to the most qualified bidder based on merit, not mandates or political favoritism. Already this year Congress has introduced the PRO Act (H.R. 842 [congress.gov] [nam11.safelinks.protection.outlook.com] H.R. 2474 [congress.gov] [nam11.safelinks.protection.outlook.com]) which according to ABC National Action Page [abc.org] [nam11.safelinks.protection.outlook.com] “would enact harmful policy changes [freeenterprisealliance.org] [nam11.safelinks.protection.outlook.com] that would eliminate right-to-work protections in 27 states, violate employees’ privacy, upend the business community and devastate the economy.” I encourage everyone to review these bills and let your representatives know where you stand.
What do you hope to accomplish during your tenure as Board Chair?
The more members we have, the louder our voice. Growing our number and reach, across our seven-council footprint, is my main goal this year and, if successful, will be a great source of satisfaction for me. Our industry leaders are making difficult economic decisions for this year, and unfortunately, sometimes memberships in industry organizations don’t make the budget cut. In leaner times like this, I firmly believe that industry organizations, especially ABC Carolinas, are essential to business. I’ve been fortunate to have employer support for my ABCC involvement for well over a decade. The relationships and connections I’ve made within ABC events and volunteer roles are irreplaceable. I encourage everyone to make the case to their employer for their continued involvement.
How is ABC addressing workforce issues in construction?
In addition to our strong apprenticeship program, we have community partners that help connect our members to the future workforce. We believe school to career initiatives must start messaging in middle schools. While we don’t have the resources to permanently staff a middle school counselor, we do have the connections to maximize volunteer efforts and put construction on student radars as a meaningful career choice. Skilled trades offer the opportunity for a rewarding career with limited post-secondary investment and starting wages are often higher than those of recent four-year college degree graduates. To energize young talent at our member companies, ABCC has recently launched a Young Professionals Group, called the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX), giving young leaders the opportunity to network and build relationships with peers, industry experts and association leaders throughout the Carolinas. Fostering their growth strengthens both ABC and our workforce.
ABCC has recently hired a new President and CEO. What can members expect going forward?
We are approaching Amy Sullivan Hick’s one year anniversary with ABC Carolinas and I’m proud to have her as our leader. The energy and industry expertise she brought to the Chapter has been so well received. Covid-19 put a damper on her first year but if you spend a few minutes talking about ABC with Amy, you would never know it. Even a pandemic can’t deter her optimism and drive. Under her leadership, members and prospects can expect more opportunities to connect, both live and virtually. She has great aspirations for this Chapter and our industry in general. As 2021 Board Chair, I look forward to pursuing our shared vision and achieving our chapter goals.
Read GroundBreak’s Dec. 11, 2020 article, ABC of the Carolinas Announces 2021 Board of Directors.
About ABC Carolinas Chapter — Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of the Carolinas represents merit shop contractors and related firms in North Carolina and South Carolina. ABC Carolinas Chapter is part of the national ABC organization which represents more than 21,000 members. For more information and news, visit www.abccarolinas.org.