Gianforte talks regulations, workforce training with local builders

Challenges facing the homebuilders and construction trades were the focus of a roundtable held in Great Falls earlier this month with Rep. Greg Gianforte.

The group included members of the Montana Building Industry Association and was held in the recently opened SpringHill Suites.

“It takes guts to put capital to work,” Gianforte said.

Gianforte asked the group about issues facing them and their work.

John Harding of S & H Aluminum Products said he has concerns about regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Gianforte said regulatory agencies have become the fourth branch of government. He asked the group to send him letters with specifics on rules that don’t work and why so he can look into changes.

Members of the MBIA told Gianforte that about 25 percent of the cost of modern homes is related to regulations.

“We have such a concern about affordable housing, but the government regulation is driving up the cost,” Gianforte said.

The workforce is also a concern, the group told their congressman.

On the whole, they said, American society isn’t encouraging students to pursue the trades or entrepreneurship.

Gianforte asked the group where they get their workers now and the response wast that it’s getting to a point that they might have to steal workers from friends.

Bill Pierce, of Pierce and Associates in Helena, said his company is limiting projects based on the available workforce.

Pat Volkmar, advisor for the Grizz Biz program at North Middle School, said he surveys his students and recently, 98 percent of his 7th grade students said they were planning to attend a 4-year college.

Funding is also a struggle in the public school system, he said, but GFPS does what it can to support the program with the available resources.

“When you allow middle school shop programs to go elective, they’re going to die,” Volkmar said.

He said students are told to go to college so many won’t take shop courses. Gianforte asked what the solution is, Volkmar suggested that all 7th and 8th graders should take shop to expose them to those careers and skills.

“We can’t train those kids because we don’t have them,” Volkmar said.

Gianforte said there’s a disconnect between education and the marketplace and there’s and obligation on the business sector to pressure the education system to do workforce training or do it for themselves.

“If we wait for the education establishment to figure this out, it’s not going to happen,” Gianforte said, but business can also do more.

He said he’d like to have tax credits for businesses that provide apprenticeships and training.

Katie Hanning, director of the Great Falls Home Builders Association, said they are implementing a student chapter of the association, so students can go to job sites and be exposed to the construction industry.

Volkmar said students need to hear from contractors about opportunities in the trades.

“We’ve got to get them to believe there’s a job they could get if they don’t go to college,” he said.