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California's New Gold Rush: Construction Jobs

Constrcution Worker
AP
Constrcution Worker

It's raining construction jobs in hard hit San Diego.

Like manna from heaven, an estimated $3 billion in taxpayer money is being funneled through the military to fund a building spree.

"Business is phenomenal right now," says Jeffrey Harper, who owns Harper Construction. "We have almost more work than we can handle."

Most of Harper's business is with the military, and the company had revenues of $225 million last year. That could jump to $300 million this year. And next year? "Harper Construction will be bidding on nearly $1 billion worth of work in 90 days," Jeffrey Harper says.

Harper calls military contracts more profitable than private sector work, and his firm's experience has attracted more than a dozen large global firms suggesting joint ventures.

"I've got a stack of resumes about ten inches thick," says Harper, who's nearly doubled his work force and is subcontracting out work. "I've got guys in Florida, South Carolina who have interviewed, and Washington and Oklahoma and Maine, and they're willing to be hired for anything, they're telling me to name the price," he says incredulously. "These are presidents, executives of companies these guys have run...and they're saying they'll do anything at any price that I want to pay them."

There are a reported 10,000 construction workers at Camp Pendleton alone, where the Marines will get a new $500 million hospital funded with the help of the stimulus package.

Another $125 million is being spent to build new quarters for enlisted personnel as the Marine Corps expands.

"We're getting four thousand more new people onto this base," says Commander Gus Lim, the base's Public Works Officer.

"It's a good time to be an engineer."

Many of the new buildings will be LEED certified for being "green". The Marines also want the new barracks to be more like a campus, with central meeting points. "If you like where you live, you're going to like where you work," says Cmdr. Lim, who also says new furniture will be sturdier as "Marines carry with them a large amount of professional gear."

Contractor Jeffrey Harper calls it the largest military building binge in decades, "But it is, from what I gather, a three-to-five year window, and then it should taper back down to more traditional levels." Traditional levels are more like $50 million a year, not $3 billion, says Pendleton's Cmdr. Lim. For now: "Just about every place that we can plant a building, that's what we're doing over here."

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