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Building up for the buildup

by Heather Hauswirth

Guam - The Guam Land Use Commission, the Guam Department of Labor and the Guam Contractors Association have a lot on their plate these days in preparing the island for projects related to the military buildup. As the hustle and bustle of the construction industry gets underway, competitive bids between contractors, requests for workforce housing permits and workshops and seminars designed to prepare the industry for the future challenges of this buildup have everyone wondering what changes can be expected for the industry responsible for laying down the bricks for the buildup.

The Guam Department of Labor's records for the end of March indicate that there are currently 1,900 H-2 workers on island - 76% are from the Philippines, 19% are from China, and the remaining 4% come from countries like India and even New Zealand.  But this number is expected to increase exponentially with the influx of labor coming to the island to take advantage of projects that deal with the military buildup.

GLUC Chief Planner Carl Untalan tells KUAM News that he has received a number of requests for additional work force housing permits for barracks that would be accommodating as many as 24,000 H-2s, saying, "I'm not too sure if we will see 24,000 people here, but there's the potential for accommodating 24,621 H-2 workers...it will require us to take a look at it in detail because there were a lot of conditions imposed on these projects so we have to be meticulous."

Whether bricklayers, carpenters, cement masons, electricians, plumbers or welders, H-2 workers of varying skill sets are in demand. The administrator of the Alien Labor and Processing Certification Division, Greg Massey, says his department is already planning to beef up its staff to make sure all the rules and regulations are followed as it pertains to the H-2b workers.

"We are concerned we have enough staff to staff it," he explained.  "We did get some resources from the Legislature, so we are doing recruitment now for it. I think we are pretty much on track. The buildup hasn't started yet. We still have about a year before it really starts to pump."

Massey says additional personnel will help his department with inspections and the casework needed to monitor employers. Massey emphasized that his department and the Guam Department of Labor regularly issue citations to companies that are not in compliance.  "Mostly making sure these workers once they are brought in doing what they are supposed to be doing and not working illegally for other places or taking away jobs from us workers or something like that," he said.

It's no secret that the construction industry as a whole is bustling, GCA President James Martinez says everyone wants a piece of the pie and there's no shortage of work. Martinez cites two $300 million projects on the table for the U.S. Naval Hospital, and adds that several companies from the U.S. and Japan have come to Guam to reach out to smaller contractor members and suppliers who provide services to the contracting industry.

But Martinez says these projects will be mutually beneficial as off-island companies that are more established have the bonding capacity needed to execute the projects, but says what's needed is a trained and skilled workforce. "In speaking to these companies who are coming from off-island, a lot of them have mentioned we don't want to just come here get the work done and then leave, we also want to leave behind some of the skill and some of the expertise that we've brought to the island, so that when we leave some of the stuff we've brought over will be left behind," he said.

Martinez notes that GCA Trades Academy is also focused on pushing training and safety workshops to prepare the local work force the sustainable jobs after the buildup.

Meanwhile, the industry as a whole is diving right in and what's still unclear is who will be the biggest fish in the pond.  "We have to do our job no matter how many come. We get creative. We partner with other agencies," said Massey. "One thing about GovGuam: we are pretty good at making do with what we have."

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