If you build it, they will come.
The actual quote from the movie, “Field of Dreams” is “If you build it, HE will come.”
But for the purpose of describing the great reception FGCU’s new Construction Management program has received, we’ll use “they” in reference to Southwest Florida’s builders — the regional construction-industry leaders who have “come” to support the newest bachelor of science degree “built” by the U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering.
With Wright Construction Group of Fort Myers securing naming rights for the Construction Methods Laboratory outside Holmes Hall, 32 local construction executives volunteering their time and expertise on FGCU’s Construction Management Advisory Committee, industry leaders helping to organize and support fundraisers that have raised money for the program, and several other individuals and companies sponsoring student scholarships, FGCU truly is building “it” — an academic program that produces skilled graduates in great demand.
And the regional construction industry — “they,” if you will — has come behind “it” big time, rallying behind the program introduced in the 2019-20 academic year.
“With a founding freshman class of more than 40 declared students this fall, we are well on our way to providing the industry with high-caliber, highly educated and experienced (through required internships) workers for the future of construction in Southwest Florida,” said Craig Capano, professor and department chair.
“We already have students receiving part-time employment opportunities, have a multitude of scholarships established, formed an industry advisory board, coordinated multiple fundraising events, and have had faculty invited as guest lecturers for local construction association events,” said Capano, who joined FGCU in January as the program’s founding director, bringing an extensive academic and professional resume in the construction field. “These gestures of industry involvement with this program are evidence of the need for this new major.”
Industry statistics back up Capano’s statement. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Florida ranks third nationally (behind California and Texas) with the highest employment level of construction managers, with the metropolitan markets of Collier and Lee counties ranking third and eighth, respectively, in the U.S. The forecast through 2026 is for about 45,000 new construction-management jobs to be created to add to more than 400,000 that existed as of 2016, with that 11-percent industry growth way above the national average for most professions. And these are lucrative jobs — the mean annual wage for construction managers in 2017 was estimated at $101,000, with the top 25 percent earning an average of $121,570.
Fred Edman, president of the laboratory-sponsoring Wright Construction Group, sees quick impact and payoff from the program for both FGCU and his industry.
“We and numerous other contractors in Southwest Florida will benefit greatly and almost immediately from the students entering this program,” Edman said. “Competition for quality graduates from major universities is high. A local program creates numerous internship opportunities that will allow local companies to build-long term relationships with students. The benefit is twofold. First, local contractors get the benefit of part-time or summer interns in a time when manpower is at a premium. Second, this will translate into a higher number of graduates staying right here in Southwest Florida.”
Howard Wheeler, president of Chris-tel Construction in Fort Myers, one of the signature hosts of the Eagle Eye Shooting Clays Tournament fundraiser for the program, says the region’s growth dictates the necessity for qualified construction managers. “Our region is growing at an unprecedented rate, and the demand for adequate infrastructure to handle the increased number of full- and part-time residents must be met,” Wheeler said. “In addition, the amount of retail, healthcare, educational and residential construction projects have to follow suit.
“Being able to hire and retain local talent is a prime advantage that not only our firm, but every other construction firm in the area benefits from,” Wheeler continued. “With the creation of the Construction Management program, the university not only understands the growth impact on our region, but the opportunity to increase the likelihood that these talented graduates will stay in our area, and have an abundance of job opportunities for internships and eventual permanent employment in an industry that is challenging and fruitful.”
The Construction Management program benefits greatly from the generosity, input and expertise of regional executives such as Edman, Wheeler and Gary Griffin, president of B & I Contractors of Fort Myers, who chairs the Construction Management Advisory Committee.
“We’ve already had 32 companies volunteer to be part of the advisory committee and our goals are to provide support and improve the program with strategic input,” Griffin said.
Besides Wright, Chris-tel and B & I, other local companies and their executives who have funded scholarships are Liz Perez Lavin and Service Contracting Solutions; Tommy Heuther and Gulf Point Construction (also hosted the benefit Contractor Cup Golf Tournament); Robert and Matt Johnson, R.D. Johnson Construction; Lisa Swinto, Associated Builders and Contractors, Gulf Coast chapter; Southwest Florida Roofing Contractors, liaison Tammy Hall; and Skanska Building Company, liaison Bob Kramer.