School work saves Hawke's Bay builders

By JOLENE WILLIAMS

A government initiative to create jobs during the recession has kept the construction industry afloat and saved local jobs, according to some in Hawke's Bay's construction businesses.
The Government's economic stimulus package at the start of 2009 saw the fast-tracking of building projects that included 18 new schools, 400 school buildings and 500 school upgrades nationwide, in response to rising high unemployment during the recession.
The government spent $5,648,295 on new buildings and upgrades at 13 schools in the Napier area, and $5,227,746 in 20 Hastings and Central Hawke's Bay schools.
Minister of Education Anne Tolley said the projects relied on local contractors and "kept construction firms going at a time when other parts of the market have slowed down".
Mackersey Construction managing director Wayne Birchall said the development in schools was a "godsend" for the industry.
"If the government didn't do that, a lot of people would've lost their jobs, redundancies would've been rife," he said.
Prior to the recession the construction industry was positive, he said. But over the last couple of years the number of building consents had "gone backwards" and inquiries from people outside of the region looking to build in the Bay had "dried up".
Gemco, which employed plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters, joiners and masons, was one of the local trade companies contracted to work on school upgrades around the region.
Gemco Group Holdings managing director Darren Diack said although the government stimulus package "greatly increased" the amount of construction work in schools, it was not enough to offset the effects of the recession.


Mr Diack said the industry moved from "very healthy" prior to the recession to "patchy" in 2011.
"Some people are busier than others. It's been up and down, it's difficult to have a continuous flow," he said.
The past couple of years saw Gemco's number of employees fluctuate between 80 and 120.
Hawke's Bay Registered Master Builders' Association president Gordon Sanson was less optimistic. "It's been 3 years of getting quieter every year. The last three years people have been leaving the industry ... apprentices are the first to go," he said. He noted the industry typically followed a boom and bust cycle, "but nobody expected it to be this quiet for this long".
Mr Birchall said there was concern about where the industry was heading in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake.
If the government concentrated its efforts in rebuilding the city, publicly-funded projects elsewhere may be put on hold, he said.
Napier MP Chris Tremain said the spend had been a critical part of retaining jobs in Hawke's Bay. "It's keeping our regional workforce in jobs, it's keeping those sub-contractors [going], and money turning over in our economy," he said.
Mrs Tolley said the construction in schools under the economic stimulus package created 2000 jobs nationwide.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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