Paul Drury was named president in February of the Associated General Contractors of Arkansas. He is president of CPC Midsouth of Searcy, overseeing projects in its Midsouth region. Before that, he was president of Patriarch Contracting LLC of Searcy, which CPC purchased in 2019.
Drury has bachelor’s degrees in business administration and in education from Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau.
Arkansas is wrapping up another legislative session. What issues have been most important to AGC Arkansas members?
It was a very busy and productive legislative session for our legislative committee and lobbyists. There were a variety of issues brought before us for discussion and action involving topics such as contractor licensing, workforce development, contract liability, funding and certain procurement specifications. One of the more impactful pieces of legislation improves the work zone safety of highway contractors subject to working in high-traffic areas of controlled-access highways, such as interstates. This legislation allows for automated enforcement devices to aid law enforcement in patrolling these work zones, improving driver behavior and making the work area safer for the workforce and traveling public. The legislation alone is noteworthy, but there is a broader satisfaction derived from its life cycle since inception. ArDOT leadership did a great job of assembling and engaging a group of industry stakeholders, including AGC Arkansas and the AAPA, along with the State Police and Highway Police to bring us together with ArDOT personnel to develop the bill that Sen. Kim Hammer [R-Benton] and Rep. Lanny Fite [R-Benton] would lead through their respective chambers with overwhelming approvals.
How are AGC Arkansas members dealing with inflation in materials and supplies costs?
I think we are all hopeful that the worst is behind us with some normalization and predictability on the horizon. One of the more important steps to dealing with inflation is mitigating time impacts to projects. The old adage that “time is money” has hardly been truer than today. Successful contractors have always been geared toward getting projects up and running as soon as possible with an eye on beating schedules. Any period of high inflation makes it even more important to accurately predict timelines for deliveries and performance, so you have the opportunity to price your work accordingly. There seems to be an ever-increasing uncertainty revolving around time components that causes projects to get delayed in starting or slowing progress at some midpoint. The impacts of these unforeseen circumstances become magnified with high inflation and pricing volatility. Contractor management of their manpower, equipment, material deliveries and subcontractors requires extra degrees of planning and diligence in order to make up time for the many other external factors you have less control over.
Are contractors able to find capable workers? What can be done to improve the labor pipeline?
This is a challenge across many business sectors throughout the United States and is no different for the contractors of Arkansas. While it seems we can never get results quick enough, there are some exciting recent developments in attracting and developing younger, more diverse people into our profession. AGC Arkansas joined with other industry organizations under the leadership of the [Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce] to develop the Be Pro Be Proud movement and continues support of it today. Their purpose is to educate our youth on the many opportunities provided by working in the trades as an attractive option to going to a traditional college or university. In many school districts there are opportunities for high school students to receive specific hands-on training in construction trades. Our state community colleges and technical schools have also been responsive to industry needs and have improved their curriculum. AGC Arkansas is proud to partner with the Arkansas Construction Education Foundation in offering training and apprenticeships for those wanting to develop a specific skill. Their program offerings and footprint continue to expand in innovative and exciting ways. And for students who select a four-year degree, we are engaged specifically where degrees in engineering and project management are offered. There is a new and improved workforce on the horizon that we in the construction industry are excited to welcome.
What has been a key leadership lesson for you?
Never lose sight of the value of a personal connection. The contracting business has always been about relationships, and those require investments beyond what Zoom, emails and the various social media forms can provide. Important business relationships are similar to important personal relationships and require in-person time to develop the understanding and respect necessary to strengthen those relationships for the times when opportunities and challenges come.
The construction industry has been grappling with a suicide epidemic. What’s behind that, and what’s being done to deal with it?
The facts are unnerving — recent data shows that the rate of suicide for construction workers is four times greater than the national average. I really think it would be a disservice to try to offer an opinion of what is behind this. I would never want to oversimplify such a complex issue. But what I can say is that AGC of America has made great strides in trying to deal with this since it has come to light. At our most recent national convention we learned details about the AGC Mental Health & Suicide Prevention Task Force and the forums that are planned. We also viewed a very powerful public service announcement on the subject and were provided other useful resources to aid in incorporating these into existing company safety and health programs. Among other strategies, there is now a whole series of toolbox talks on the subject to allow for project crews to open their minds for discussion with the people with whom they work together most and watch out for each other in new ways. The key is to get our workforce and leadership to treat mental and emotional health with the same attention as physical safety and health and reinforce that it is OK to ask for help.
What other challenges is the construction industry dealing with?
We are by nature a highly regulated industry so the chief source of our additional challenges occurs at the federal level in an environment of increased regulation. The alphabet soup that is DOL, EPA, OMB, FAR, etc., give our AGC of America plenty to do to protect the interests of all the AGC chapter members nationwide. One of the most impactful to those contractors doing business with the federal government is the planned implementation of an expansion to the Buy American Act, which adds another complex wrinkle to construction material shortages and price spikes. Another challenge for many in our industry is the newly revised definition of the “Waters of the United States,” which adds further complexities to an already challenging permitting process as the definition for jurisdictional waterways expands. With far-reaching impacts to many Americans, this appears likely headed to the Supreme Court for a ruling.