Maine real estate community sees flood of federal funding as ‘once-in-a-generation’ opportunity

Maine is just now beginning to see impacts from the infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year. The measure promises to significantly boost federal spending on roads, bridges, rail, water projects, and broadband internet, among other things.

And it will be the prime topic at the Maine Real Estate and Development Association’s spring conference Tuesday.

Architect Brian Curley, a board member of MEREDA, spoke with Maine Public’s Irwin Gratz about what areas of infrastructure will benefit Maine most:

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Curley: Yeah, I think [the infrastructure bill is] such a multifaceted piece of legislation. It’s one of those legislations I think is going to [be a], once-in-a-generation, sort of investment for Maine. So we’re seeing a big influx of monies, which translate ultimately into projects that will help, not just the state, but also the local municipalities as well as — it’ll trickle itself through the economy quite a bit. So it’s not just what I consider to be the roads and bridges, but it’s also several other items.

Gratz: I’ve been told that it was just this past March that Congress actually started to appropriate the dollars that were authorized in this bill. Are we actually beginning to see work funded by this measure that you know of?

I know that there’s a lot of enabling work. So on the design side, I think people are quote-unquote getting their act together with moving forward with design. So it’s the thinking that I think you always — and some of these monies go into existing programs, so those shovel ready projects are a lot more immediate than not.

Are there any reasons to be concerned, because we do seem to have a shortage of construction workers in the state? We’re seeing inflation, raising the prices of many things, including materials needed for construction.

I think those are all hot button issues. That’s why, when we did the conference, we included a housing expert from the governor’s office related to housing because you put all these things together, the workers that are going to do this work are going to need to live somewhere. And with the affordability being an issue in the state, I think more affordable housing and more volume of housing is an important conversation because the workers literally need places to live. And as far as the worker shortage, MEREDA has been beating that drum for several years, I’d say a good 10 years, trying to seek partnerships to develop the trades, meaning encourage them and encourage folks to enter the trades. So we’re very concerned about that.

I have heard about certain partnerships that are aimed at training people in the trades, and especially the construction trades. You know, clearly you still detect the need. But have you also seen some progress over the last decade in that area?

States like Tennessee have worker programs that encourage people to enter the trades. I know the AGC here in Maine has programs to spearhead that effort. I think you’re seeing that at the community college level where people are having signing events for graduating seniors that are choosing to be in the trades because those are good jobs that pay a lot of money and you’re literally building your own future because there’s a great point of pride there.

Officials who will speak at the MEREDA conference will be on Maine Calling Wednesday to discuss infrastructure spending in Maine.

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