The Building Jobs Coalition of Nevada (BJCN), a nonprofit consortium of business, professional and labor groups, organized the rally to draw attention to the plight of the state’s construction industry.
More than 180,000 construction jobs, 12,000 in the Reno-Sparks area, have been lost in the state since the recession first hit in 2007, resulting in a payout in unemployment benefits of more than $850 million. Moreover, one in every three unemployed workers in Nevada hails from the construction industry.
Several members of a local union chapter of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association attended the rally to put a face on the state’s joblessness rate, which stands at 14 percent, the nation’s highest.
The apprentices said work had been hard to come by in recent months and that their training graduation dates had been pushed back as a result.
Michael Torma, 28, said he had invested more than four years in the sheet metal industry and wasn’t yet willing to abandon the work he loved.
Kenneth McKinnon, 32, believes the rally could be a turning point for he and his colleagues.
“I’m hoping somebody will hear us,” he said.
That sentiment was a common refrain among attendees.
Bill Madison said he had been in and out of work over the last several years, though he considered himself “luckier than most.”
Madison, 62, is a member of a carpenters union based in Reno. He has seen his commute time grow exponentially as work has dried up in Washoe County, forcing him to travel to Elko and beyond for a job.
Madison said he would like to see laws passed that give Nevada businesses and workers preference in state issued public works contracts.
Gordon Hinkel, general manager of Basalite, said tax credits were important for recruiting news businesses to the state.
“We need to diversify this economy,” Hinkel said.
His company, which produces concrete blocks and pavers, has a distribution center located in Sparks and could benefit from the arrival of new businesses.
The many suggestions heard at the rally for halting the slide of the construction industry echoed, in part, the strategies developed by the BJCN and released in a first report Thursday.
Creating a stable revenue source for capitol projects, eliminating certain sun-setting tax rates for capitol projects, streamlining permitting processes, and requiring continued public infrastructure investment were among the solutions presented in the “Creating 100,000 Nevada Jobs” report.
Pat Pusich, co-chairman of the BJCN, said that if adopted by the Nevada Legislature, these solutions could produce about 27,000 jobs in the next 18 months, generate $1.5 billion in earnings, and drive more than $3 billion in economic activity.
But sales tax or property tax increases are likely needed to support these initiatives, which are not revenue neutral, according to the coalition’s report.
Pusich said talk of no new taxes in Carson City might jeopardize the Legislature’s ability to create jobs.
Because the prospect of a quick economic recovery no longer seems probable to many jobless workers, Pusich said legislators must act promptly to address negative effects on the long-term unemployed, even if doing so only provides an incremental change.
“Something has to happen this year,” he said.