Max Avery, CEO of Bolding Construction Co. and Professional Flooring Installation (PFI) in Fort Smith, said this is the time to invest into the Fort Smith area, and one of his most recent investments includes TriState Career Tech. The technical school offers a training course for those looking to receive a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
“Fort Smith has a big need for trade jobs,” Avery said. “There are always people looking for CDL drivers in this area as well as Northwest Arkansas and all over the country. I like the idea of trying to do something to benefit the River Valley area. Grow us as a base that’s able to provide that kind of talent for the different carriers around here that need drivers, and give people more of an incentive to come to Fort Smith for one reason or another.”
Avery, an Alma native, has worked in the construction industry for nearly 10 years and founded Bolding Construction in June 2018. The company, which recently acquired PFI, is focused on both residential and commercial projects. While it has yet to close the books on its first year, Avery expects revenue to exceed $1 million.
He and Jeremy Mincke founded TriState after investing $1.4 million into the 27,500-square-foot school on 6 acres at 211 Industrial Ave. in Arkoma, Okla., just west of Fort Smith. On May 29, the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety approved the school to offer a CDL training program, and it’s expected to start classes in about two weeks.
“One [reason] we’re excited to launch the CDL training first is due to the high demand for professional truck drivers,” Mincke said, citing employers’ needs for 50,000 commercial vehicle drivers, and that by 2026, more than 175,000 driver positions will be unfilled.
TriState will purchase more trucks to allow the school to train more students simultaneously. Existing capacity is 30 students with plans to grow as the school will purchase two more trucks and trailers and has instructors on standby, Avery said. Mark Stanback is the existing CDL instructor. The cost for the $3,200 course includes tuition, a drug screening, certification and other required permits. Students can complete the 160-hour program in about four weeks and take the CDL exam at a third-party testing site. Avery said he plans to offer the testing at the school.
EXPANDED TRAINING PROGRAM
The CDL training course comprises 50 hours in the classroom, 55 hours on the range and 35 hours observing behind-the-wheel operations. Each student will have at least 16 hours of behind-the-wheel training, including at least three hours of nighttime driving. Students will learn how to complete inspections, plan routes and perform backing and manual shifting. The program also includes training that others don’t offer, such as how to live life on the road, good eating habits and other life skills, Avery said.
“This is one of the reasons why businesses are already looking to register students in our program,” he said. “The more prepared graduates are, the more valuable they are to the carrier they sign with. Transitioning directly into employment with the right skills allows students to be more successful. They are polished after completing our class. Companies can immediately begin utilizing them. This saves companies time by not having to train on skills that should have been learned in school.”
Students will receive training on manual transmission vehicles, eliminating an automatic transmission restriction on their license. “Some companies won’t hire a driver with an ‘automatic restriction’ because it makes them a liability,” Mincke said. “If a rig breaks down, they can’t guarantee that a rental will not be a manual.”
Prospective students must be 18 years old, have a valid driver’s license and pass a Department of Transportation (DOT) physical exam. Other programs the school looks to offer include diesel mechanic, welding and forklift training.
CONSTRUCTION DEMAND RISES
Bolding Construction recently announced it had hired Buck Hitcher as a senior project manager. Hitcher has more than 15 years of experience in the construction industry, and in his position with Bolding Construction, he will prepare estimates and proposals, perform bids, award contracts to subcontractors and manage all phases of construction. He’s also involved in the design-build process with the company’s architects and engineers on a range of projects.
“With the growth we’ve experienced alongside the increasing market demand, we are actively recruiting talented individuals to meet those needs,” Avery said. “We are always looking to provide a high level of satisfaction to our clients, and Buck’s high level of experience and knowledge will ensure that we continue to exceed our client’s expectations. We are very glad to be adding him to the team.”
The most recent report on the Construction Backlog Indicator shows it rose 8.8% — or by 0.7 months — to 9.5 months in March, from February, according to the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). In the South, the Construction Backlog Indicator rose 3.5%, or by 0.3 months, to 10.9 months.
“The U.S. economy has been humming and construction backlog is correspondingly elevated,” said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “While there was a period of weakness in backlog in January, those dynamics, which may very well be seasonal, are no longer affecting the market. The U.S. economy’s strong first quarter appears to have greenlighted more construction projects, translating into ongoing and meaningful increases in construction backlog.”
“Nonresidential construction backlog has seldom been higher in the history of the series,” Basu said. “The implication is that those looking for employment in construction, especially in the skilled trades, will continue to find considerable demand for their services.”
For the second consecutive month, estimated construction unemployment rates declined nationally and in 49 states in April, from the same month in 2018, according to the ABC. Mississippi was the only state with an increase. In Arkansas, the rate declined to 4.5% — just less than the national average of 4.7%. The construction industry employed 256,000 more workers nationally in April, compared to the same month in 2018.
“The April construction employment numbers reflect the continued impact of the construction industry on the economy throughout the country,” said Bernard M. Markstein, president and chief economist of Markstein Advisors. “Reflecting this strength, unemployment rates in April were lower compared to a year ago in all states with the sole exception of Mississippi. This was only the second time in the history of these state estimated construction unemployment rates that rates fell in every state but one on a year-over-year basis. The previous time was in March of this year.”