Local construction company says new KCI could bring stability as jobs in the industry become harder to find

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Voters are just a few days away from deciding whether Kansas City should build a new single terminal airport. But one industry says it needs the project badly to put people to work.

There’s something about the roar of loud trucks and thick mud piles that excite Greg Looney.

“Something about playing in the dirt! Started when I was a kid probably," said Greg Looney with Clarkson Construction. "It’s just always been fun to me, and to realize you can actually make a living out of it and build things is pretty enjoyable."

The project Looney’s working on currently will extend roads in North Kansas City. But jobs like it are getting hard to come by.

The problem is a shrinking pool of state and federal dollars to pay for infrastructure projects. The result is a loss of 3,100 construction jobs in Kansas City in the past year, according to a recent national contractors group study.

“It’s gray, and it’s not sexy, and yeah, it’s a road I drive on every day and drive on it for 30 seconds then I’m onto the next piece of road," said Jay Jodges, director of the Laborers’ Employers Cooperation and Education Trust for Western Missouri and Kansas. "So spending a million dollars to do whatever is really difficult to get people to wrap their heads around."

But the shiny diamond in what’s been a rough patch is the potential of a new KCI. The project would create anywhere from 3,500 to more than 10,000 construction-related jobs.

“The airport is at such a different scale than everything else that goes on," Hodges said. "You’re going to need thousands of people to go out there and do carpentry work and to do floor laying and cement masons. Just all the number of skills for a project that size is something we don’t have anything else like it in the city right now.”

With three kids, two of them college bound, Greg Looney said a steady job for three years is a big deal.

“It’s really nice to wake up every morning knowing that you’ve got a place to go,” Looney said.

Those are all reasons the Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City is now posting billboards, advocating for infrastructure spending, including the new airport. The organization’s director says she can’t even imagine all the added investments that could come from a new KCI.

“When you have a transportation system that works, companies tend to follow," said Bridgette Williams, executive director of the Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City. "So it could spark billions of dollars of other economic development because we have an airport that works.”

Williams thinks the airport could also be a catalyst for further infrastructure investment in new roads and bridges, and she believes that’s all value the community can benefit from whether they fly or not.

If the KCI project is approved by voters Tuesday, Nov. 7, construction could begin by next summer with project completion in fall 2021.