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Valley construction company executive explains troubles finding new workers

US construction spending tumbled in April
Posted at 6:22 PM, Aug 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-31 12:17:24-04

PHOENIX — Pete King Construction Company has played a major role building Phoenix. In business since the 1950s, it's the largest construction company of its kind in the southwest.

Currently its 600 employees are spread over 60 job sites in the Phoenix area.

"This is the bullpen for all of our field operations right here," said Richard Luby, who has spent more than a half a century in the building trades, all of it with Pete King.

While there is plenty of work, Luby says the company is leaving money on the table.

"We've had an issue with getting new people and bringing them into the trades and training them," he said.

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Luby joined a group of local business leaders at a roundtable discussion with Senator Martha Mc Sally, Congressman Andy Biggs and Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward. Most of the discussion centered on how tax cuts and fewer regulations benefit the bottom line.

But Luby was not there to brag about his business. He was there because he needs help from Congress.

"Young Americans who are eligible don't want to work in the trades and the other people who want to work in the trades you haven't figured out a way to get them green cards yet," he told Senator McSally and Congressman Biggs.

Luby says his company worked with high schools, trade schools and even set up a training program at Lewis Prison in an effort to hire and train American workers for jobs as painters, drywall installers, framers and metal stud workers.

"We haven't been able to find the sweet spot yet for how to get new American workers to come here and learn a trade," Luby said.

Senator McSally says Congress needs to modernize the immigration system, possibly through reforming a pathway to receiving a green card or developing guest worker programs for areas of need, like construction.

"That really is the way forward," McSally said, "to kind of take the drag off that element that's holding them back."

Luby says Pete King Construction could easily double its workforce because of all the available projects. It recently walked away from a $5 million job because it didn't have the workers to ensure the job would be completed on time, so any help from Senator McSally and Congressman Biggs is appreciated.

"I don't know how that works there, but if they want to do a guest worker for construction," Luby says, "we're all in."