Funding Forecasts, Trump Tax Plan, and Active Shooters

Written by  Kristen Smith

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Tracey Aping (left, Williams Brothers; TxDOT-AGC DBE CommitteeTracey Aping (left, Williams Brothers; TxDOT-AGC DBE Committee Chair) moderated a discussion during the Administrative Conference on “The Road to 100 percent Race Neutral.”Panelists: Colette Holt, attorney/Colette Holt & Associates; Martha Kenley (National DBE Program Manager for the FHWA; Bob Lanham,Williams Brothers president and AGC of America vice president; and Michael Bryant, Civil Rights Director for TxDOT. Bob Lanham emphasized that he remains totally committed to make the program work, adding it needs goals and strategies to get there: “We can’t get there with the current methodology. We all agree we need to get there. We need a strategy.”

For President-Elect Trey Pebley, the Administrative Conference is a place for families to grow in the AGC community.

“The one thing that really stands out to me in regards to the Administrative Conference is the number of kids that are attending. We are steadily seeing that number increase and that is great to see. In the past, there were a few families attending but now you see families everywhere. I think this large contingent of kids brings energy and a sense of the future to the AGC. Any organization that has its future leaders attending conferences like this is setting itself up for continued success.”

Pebley should know, since he spent several of his childhood summers at the conference. This year, he presided over the business sessions as incoming AGC of Texas president in 2019.

Three hundred fifty members, spouses, guests and children joined Trey, Kathleen and their boys at the stunning JW Marriott Hill Country Resort and Spa for three days of the most important updates in the highway industry—as well as a little fun.

“The 2018 conference program was really strong,” said 2018 President Chad Clark. “The session on the Trump Tax plan was particularly interesting,” referring to tax expert Jon Karp of Whitley Penn.

Karp, an accountant who also has a degree in religious studies, jokingly told members that the Trump Tax plan is a “mess” right now, but Biblical times often highlighted chaos-turned-to-order. The IRS has yet to issue guidance on most of the plan features, making it difficult to provide guidance. Still, Karp’s presentation provided timelines and clarifications for the features of the tax plan while at the same time providing an entertaining insight into tax law.

Another favorite feature of the conference for President Clark was the relaxed atmosphere that made networking with other generals and associates more effective.

“When I’m in the office with a million things to do, I’m not going to have a lot of time to get to know an associate member. The conference allows all of us to get a way from the day-to-day stress of business and focus on the relationships between members,” he said.

And relax they did, kicking off the event with a Cubanthemed opening night reception, complete with Spanish guitar and percussionists, a cigar roller, and a heavy hors d’oeuvres. The event, originally scheduled to end at 8, stayed open until well after 9.

One missing guest to the Cuban-themed celebration was San Antonio district engineer and Havana native Mario Jorge. Jorge joined a panel of district engineers, moderated by Randy Hopmann, to discuss their ongoing efforts to have plans ready in their districts.

Ina Minjarez

State Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, and Rep. Mando Martinez, D-Weslaco, participated in State Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, and Rep. Mando Martinez, D-Weslaco, participated in a panel discussion moderated by Steven Albright (AGC, left). Both legislators said they support toll roads as an option and additional funding tool for Texas highway construction. The state’s governor and lieutenant governor have expressed opposition to more toll roads. Martinez noted that if toll roads were to be completely eliminated, the state’s highway funding shortage would leap to $11 billion a year. Both legislators serve on the House Transportation Committee.

Highway lettings will hit $8 billion for the current fiscal year, including $5.76B for state projects, $636 million for local project, and $1.13B for design-build. TxDOT officials say they are striving fore more consistent monthly lettings for the 2019 fiscal year—targeting an even $500M per month. The agency is planning for $75B over the next decade.

“Another great time at the conference,” summed up Randy Hopmann, moderating for his third consecutive D.E. Panel, which has become the capstone of the conference. “Everyone wants success, but the only way to truly achieve success is by having respectful relationships with partners. These relationships help resolve problems and challenges faced on projects and create trusting partnerships so success has a greater chance. Citizens win when there is a successful partnership through quality, durability, and cost efficiency.”

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Contractors who don’t participate in the U.S. Labor Department’s wage survey make it harder for the agency to publish rates that reflect “the reality that’s happening on the ground,” Michael Lazzeri, assistant administrator for government contacts/U.S. Department of Labor, told AGC of Texas members attending the annual Administrative Conference in San Antonio. A failure to participate distorts pay scales and messes up the labor market, he said: “Tell folks how scary I was. We need you. It’s that important...We don’t share information with the enforcement side. We need your data; otherwise, we can’t publish rates that reflect reality.”The next highway wage survey is scheduled for spring of 2019.

Fellow panelist and Austin D.E. Terry McCoy agreed. “Open and honest dialogue is the cornerstone for effective partnerships, and these are the key to successful project delivery. I sincerely appreciate having this relationship with the AGC and the opportunity to participate.”

San Antonio District

San Antonio District Engineer Mario Jorge had some fun with his Cuban hat to open TxDOT’s Saturday panel discussion during AGC’s Administrative Conference. The conference adopted a Cuban theme, which suited Mario, who was born in Havana. Unlike most of his Aggie colleagues, Mario is a University of Texas graduate.The discussion was moderated by Randy Hopmann, left, TxDOT director of District Operations; and Lonnie Gregorcyk, right, Porfolio Project Manager; panelists, Paul Reitz, Yoakum district engineer; Mario Jorge, Terry McCoy, Austin district engineer; and Lance Simmons, Bryan district engineer.

A new session this year focused on active shooter situations at the workplace, to widespread interest. Garland PD Hostage Negotiator and SWAT Officer Thomas Divers offered the presentation, noting that the average response time for policy is three minutes, which is a literal lifetime for someone in an active shooter scenario. Active shooters are for the most part cowards looking to rack up big numbers. Leave as soon as possible. If you can’t, fight like a vicious animal, he said. Divers also went through physiological stress responses under adrenaline and offered guidance on how to slow the heartrate to retain motor skills.

Divers offered to personally assist attendees in creating their own active shooter protocols. He noted that police forces always need real businesses to do drills in, which in turns help the business owners because the police force would already have familiarity with the location should an active shooter event occur. Reaching out to your local police force is a great way to increase your safety while helping your local officers.

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One of the pressing issues on the national level is a viable guest worker program for construction, Jimmy Christianson,vice president/government relations for AGC of America, told AGC of Texas members at the 2018 Administrative Conference.

“We promise we won’t destroy anything,” he joked.

Two other timely presentations came from The Department of Labor and a panel of DBE administrators and experts.

DOL’s Assistant Administrator for Government Contracts Michael Lazzeri and Regional Wage Specialist Craig Jackson provided commitments to education and partnerships as the department conducts a highway wage survey, scheduled to begin in the spring of 2019. Lazzeri acknowledged the confusion of fringe benefits to an open shop state—one of the major reasons TxDOT’s 2017 data was rejected.

Kathleen Pebley

Kathleen Pebley, Anne Wiesman, Patty Stroud, and Melanie Clark gather on the dance floor at the conference wrap party.

AGC will coordinate webinars and seminars to educate employers on the differences between wage survey reporting and certified payroll reporting, as they are governed by different requirements.

Both representatives offered themselves as resources throughout the process to make sure the process is efficient and that contractors understand the process.

Young Jaxson

Young Jaxson Smith dances with mother Rhondi during the conference.

DBE Committee Chairman Tracey Aping, Williams Brother’s Director of Business Development and Diversity, moderated a panel entitled “The Road to 100% Race Neutral,” in which regulatory experts discussed what Texas needs to attain a 100% race neutral program. Martha Kenley, FHWA DBE Program Manager; Michael Bryant, TxDOT Civil Rights Director; Colette Holt of Colette Holt & Associates; and Bob Lanham, Treasurer of AGC of America and President of Williams Brothers formed the discussion.

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Kids gather around Jeff Smith's ice cream social at the annual AGC of Texas Administrative Conference in San Antonio.. Jeff surpervises as children take their turn cranking the old-fashioned ice cream.

“…we were excited to convene a panel of esteemed individuals whose careers highlight a strong commitment to supporting the DBE contracting community. The discussion was informative, relevant and also delved into how the DBE program may evolve in Texas in the future. Conference participants – agency and AGC members alike – were engaged and came away with an enhanced understanding of some of the intricacies of managing and executing a DBE utilization program for one of the largest DOTs in the country.”

The discussion motivated Aping to appoint a special task force, charged with developing a plan to achieve a 100% race neutral program in Texas.

madison sotelo

Madison Sotelo, 6, enjoys face-painting during the AGC Administrative Conference in SanAntonio. Madison (daughter of Armando and Emily Bullock-Sotelo of Lhoist) was one of almost 100 children who attended this year’s event.

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There's always one brave soul who gets the dancing started. This year it was J.W. Zwak who warmed up the crowd.

One of the biggest announcements occurred on the first day of the conference during the federal update presentation by AGC of America’s Vice President of Governmental Relations Jimmy Christianson. He notified members about an upcoming bill that would include a temporary guest worker visa program. While it had little chance of passing this time around, it was important to voice strong support for the future. AGC set up a letter campaign to make it easy for members to contact their congressmen.

“Elected-officials and regulators don’t walk your job-sites every day,” said Christianson. “They don’t operate a complex business that may depend on winning another contract. And, they certainly don’t appreciate the crunch of a construction schedule. Yet, these individuals are constantly considering or making decisions that influence how you--in your construction career--and your construction business operate. Only contractors in the field understand the real world impact of these regulations and laws. Believe it or not, elected officials and even regulators want to know the actual and potential consequences of their policies and they always prefer to hear directly from the contractors. The AGC of Texas and AGC of America help provide opportunities for you--the contractor in the field--to help them understand and improve their policies. And, we as association staff cannot do that effectively without you as the contractors serving as our industry experts. There’s no doubt that the effectiveness of our messages depends upon the involvement of the most important part of our associations: the members.”

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DBE Committee members give an AGC welcome to guest panelists on the “Road to 100% Race Neutral” session. Left to Right: Adrienne Williams (Balfour Beatty), Colette Holt (Colette Holt & Associates),Nathali Parker (KLP Commercial),Kristen Smith and Martha Kenley(FHWA).

Outside of the conference room, members and families had a great deal of time to connect. One event in particular which began in 2016 has now become a tradition: Jeff Smith’s family ice cream social.

“I thought since we were pushing a more family-friendly atmosphere, that the kids would remember it. And I do like ice cream by the way,” said Smith, who brought along his family’s antique, hand-churn ice cream maker. The resort provides the ingredients for the ice cream, and members and their children all take a turn at the churn.

Smith talked about the work-reward and teamwork aspect of the event.

“Most kids think that ice cream comes from a store,” he said. “It shows the kids that hard work pays off—you do the work and the reward is the ice cream. And it tastes so much better that way.”

“Really, it’s showing them how this association works—and as future leaders, it’s an important message for this industry. Team work pays off. There’s a lot of enjoyment about doing it the right way,” he said.

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