s
s
Sections
Sections
Subscribe

With thousands of construction jobs estimated to be needed to rebuild thousands of North Bay homes lost in the wildfires — not to mention housing projects underway beforehand — a Santa Rosa businessman on Wednesday proposed that a multimillion-dollar pitch be made to win the next generation's hearts and minds over to careers in the construction industry.

The lure of careers in construction needs to be effectively communicated to the 16–34 age group as lucrative, "cool" and even "patriotic" and their contribution to the area’s recovery after the October firestorm, said Lawrence Amaturo to a couple dozen local construction, business, education and government leaders he invited to a presentation at the North Coast Builders Exchange's offices in Santa Rosa.

"This isn't going to be like joining the Marines, but it should be seen as something noble, even patriotic," Amaturo said. He owns a car dealership, car wash and a media group with several North Bay radio stations and a business magazine.

More than 6,000 homes were destroyed in four North Bay counties. About 6,300 jobs a year over the next three years, or upwards of 19,000, will be needed to rebuild the homes, according to Chris Thornberg of Beacon Economics. The North Coast Builders Exchange estimates the rebuild could take up to 10 years.

So what he's proposing is a multimedia blitz in fire-damaged Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake and Solano counties over at least two years. The message would point to a phone line and website with details about scholarships, training programs, apprenticeships and fulltime jobs. It would go out through digital marketing such as social media and even internet-connected video-game consoles. There would be spots on cable sports television and on radio stations targeted toward young adults.

His pitch was not just about supplying new local workers for the rebuilding but also about stopping the attrition of skilled employees when they retire. He pointed to statewide figures that one worker comes into the industry for every five who retire annually.

Another effort to coordinate recovery resources is Rebuild North Bay Foundation, a coalition of elected officials, business people, nonprofits and nongovernment agencies in North Bay counties affected by the firestorms. It was started by Darius Anderson, CEO of Kenwood Investments and managing partner in Sonoma Media Investments, which ownsThe Press Democrat, The Argus Courier, Sonoma Index Tribune and the North Bay Business Journal. The foundation's new director, Jennifer Gray Thompson attended Amaturo's presentation.

"I hope this campaign makes people look at the value of labor differently," she said.

Amaturo estimates the cost of the campaign is north of $2 million. That would also cover a full-time professional to oversee it. And Amaturo is recruiting for a 10- to 12-member board. Initial contributions are said to include $100,000 each from Amaturo and Alon Adani, principal of commercial real estate investor Cornerstone Properties.

"Folks don't know how much people in the skilled trades are paid," said one of the those attending, Stephen Jackson, director of Sonoma County Office of Education's College and Career Readiness Department.

Amaturo said that after two years, the success or failure of the campaign would be evaluated. If it has helped bring more workers into the trades, the model could be expanded throughout the Bay Area and the state. That said, Amaturo and others attending said the North Bay likely will not be able to fill all the needed labor during the rebuilding.

"This can make a difference," said attendee Willie McDevitt of McDevitt Construction Partners of Petaluma.

Another attending Amaturo's pitch was Shannan West of Governor Brown's Office of Business & Economic Development. She said the state convened its own workgroup after the October wildfires, composed of 50 federal, state and industry figures, who meet weekly in Sacramento. It's focused on the North Bay, but the idea is that learning what will work with recovery may be able to be replicated for the wildfire areas of Southern California, she said.

"We're discovering that this has been an existing issue of having enough construction workers," West said.