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Washington must act to restart construction industry

"On behalf of the millions of Americans who rely on the design, construction and real estate industry, we ask for your support in enacting legislation that provides certainty to the marketplace and gets our economy back to work."

That was the opening sentence from a letter that was sent to President Obama and congressional leaders on Dec. 7 and signed by 45 design and construction industry associations. But it could have been sent to almost every American. At a time when unemployment in the design and construction industry is at 13.4 percent, it is no surprise that nearly one in 10 American workers is out of a job. According to the New York Building Congress, employment in the construction industry is down 19 percent in New York.

The industry accounts for 5.7 percent of gross domestic product, employing more than 7 million Americans who design, construct and maintain the infrastructure on which our economy depends. When unemployment in this sector is high, the impact is felt in every community across the nation.

Most construction projects valued at less than $5 million are stalled due to lack of financing, and more broadly, 21 percent of all construction projects are stalled due to the lack of financing, according to an analysis by the American Institute of Architects. This lack of funding deters job growth in a sector that can put the economy back on track and is a proven accelerator of economic growth.

So, what can you do about this? Ask your member of Congress to pass and the president to sign surface transportation, aviation, water resources and clean water and drinking water infrastructure authorization bills. Enactment of these authorizations will immediately provide programmatic and fiscal certainty that will help job creators in every state put people back to work.

Second, any effort to reinvigorate the design and construction markets must successfully jump-start new privately funded construction. The strength of the private sector market is the single largest determining factor in the health of the construction industry. Unfortunately, private sector demand continues to decline at alarming rates. The best way to boost private demand for construction is to put in place pro-growth policies that will boost economic expansion.

Our members are ready and willing to get back to work designing and building the infrastructure that will keep America competitive in the 21st century. They want Congress and the administration to perform the fundamental business of governing that will provide the stability that is needed to get this sector moving and take millions of Americans off the unemployment rolls.

We urge you to urge your congressional representative to take action on these critical measures that will help our economy fully recover. For when architects work, the nation builds.

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David Businelli is president of the American Institute of Architects in New York State.

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