An anticipated lack of workers needed for the installation of new 5G technology is the focus of a new bill just introduced in Congress.
The TOWER Infrastructure Deployment Act, as proposed by New York Representative Yvette Clarke and Michigan Representative Tim Walberg, would, if passed, set up an advisory council specifically designed to respond to the demand for a trained 5G and next-generation broadband workforce.
That commission would operate under the guidance of the Federal Communications Commission.
As proposed, the council would formulate recommendations on how to better develop a national high-tech telecommunications workforce, with a focus on training and hiring more people living in what are described as under served communities.
By tailoring workforce development programs, said Walberg in a statement, “We can free up resources for greater broadband deployment instead of recreating the same curriculum across the country.”
The legislation, otherwise known as HR 3255, has won the support of the Wireless Infrastructure Association.
Jonathan Adelstein, chief executive officer of that group, said the proposal could lead to the establishment of more telecommunications industry apprenticeships with the goal of developing a “skilled, professional workforce capable of deploying next-generation wireless networks.”
The measure has now been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce for review.
By Garry Boulard
Nearly a dozen tribal communities in New Mexico will be receiving a combined $14 million in state funding for a series of long-needed infrastructure projects.
The funding has been approved by the Tribal Infrastructure Fund Board, which is run by the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department.
Among the largest projects:
The Jicarilla Apache Nation will be receiving nearly $2 million for the construction of the Cutter Lateral Intertie Water Supply in Rio Arriba County.
The Pueblo of San Ildefonso in Santa Fe County is slated for $1.9 million to build the second phase of a waste water system.
Another $1.9 million will go to the Pueblo of Isleta for three separate road projects in Valencia County; while the Pueblo of Santa Clara will get $1.8 million for water and wastewater improvements.
In a statement New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said the projects to be funded are “absolutely essential and, in some cases, long overdue.”
The Governor added that “hundreds of families across New Mexico’s tribal communities will benefit from these investments.”
The Tribal Infrastructure Fund Board came about as the result of the Tribal Infrastructure Act. The board is tasked with evaluating proposed infrastructure projects in tribal communities across New Mexico.
When Tribal Infrastructure Act was passed by New Mexico lawmakers in 2005, an analysis of the measure by the Legislative Finance Committee noted that “poor infrastructure on tribal lands has contributed to a lack of economic development, uncertain health conditions, and social maladies.”
Additional projects just announced for funding include more than $1.8 million for a series of Navajo Nation chapter initiatives, including the building of a new Head Start facility and the design of a new water system in McKinley County, along with water system upgrades in Bernalillo County.
By Garry Boulard
A 150-acre park in the metro El Paso area is slated to receive upgrades to its network of walking trails, while also seeing the construction of new shelters and restrooms that will be Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.
Funding for the work at the San Felipe Park in Fabens is coming in the form of a $400,000 grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
Altogether, the commission has announced that it will be funding this year nearly two dozen park infrastructure and facility projects across the state.
In total, the award grants announced by the commission come to just over $3.8 million, and are designed in particular to support both motorized and non-motorized recreational trail upgrading projects.
The Texas State Legislature earlier this spring passed a bill which will put on the November ballot a constitutional amendment mandating that revenue from a sporting goods tax must go to the upgrading of roads, trails, bathrooms, and bridges in all of Texas’ state parks.
By Garry Boulard
New building jobs in almost all industry sectors increased this spring, according to the latest figures just released by the federal Department of Labor.
Even more, those new job gains were recorded in 39 states as well as the District of Columbia.
Numerically, Texas posted the greatest increase with the creation of roughly 35,200 new jobs, for a 4.2 percent gain, over the spring of 2018.
The next largest state was California more than 32,200 new jobs and a 3.8 percent gain; followed by Florida with 28,000 new construction jobs in the last year, for a 5.2 percent gain.
In the West, Arizona during the last year led the way with 17,300 new jobs, making up an 11.1 percent gain. Nevada was not far behind with a gain of 15,200 jobs over the last twelve months, comprising a 17.2 percent gain.
Almost all of the states of the West, including Colorado and New Mexico, saw some kind of job growth. Only Montana recorded a job loss of around 800 positions, for a 2.8 percent decline.
Of the eleven states that lost construction jobs, Louisiana was first with a decline of 9,100 jobs; followed by South Carolina, off by 3,100 jobs; and Maryland, with 2,400 fewer jobs now over last year at this time.
In crunching the latest job numbers, Stephen Sandherr, Associated General Contractors chief executive officer, said construction employment overall would most likely have posted even higher gains in the last year, “if firms could only find more workers to hire.”
Continued Sandherr: “Making it easier to prepare and attract more people into the industry will provide significant benefits to the broader economy.”
By Garry Boulard
With a vote from the New Mexico State Legislature providing $1 million in funding, a new film studio is on track to be built in San Juan County.
Exactly where the facility will be located remains to be seen, but the project is seen as a first important step towards attracting independent and Hollywood filmmakers to northwest New Mexico.
Previous reports have indicated that a building measuring at least 7,000 square feet would be needed to house a sound stage, storage, and set-building space. County officials have also expressed an interest in acquiring a site with enough room to additionally establish a backlot for building large outdoor sets.
As discussed, the new studio could either be built as an entirely new structure, or carved out of an existing warehouse-type space.
It is thought that once the state funding is officially secured, a decision regarding exactly what kind of facility will be built will be made later this summer, with the actual studio opening next year.
Although compared with Albuquerque and Las Cruces, film production is regarded as a relatively new industry in northwest New Mexico, a movie called The Love of a Navajo, about a romance between a visitor from the East coast and a Native American woman, was made in 1922 with location shots taken in Aztec, Farmington, and Shiprock.
By Garry Boulard
A survey of historic properties in downtown El Paso is about to be re-launched after a year-long delay.
Members of the El Paso County Commission have voted in favor of continuing with the project, a vote that is seen as a victory in preservationist circles.
Always at issue with the survey has been the possibility of the general downtown area being officially defined as a National Register of Historic Places historic district.
That designation would further complicate the already-complicated effort to build a $180 million multipurpose performing arts and entertainment center in the Duranguito neighborhood.
For more than two years now, residents of that neighborhood, preservationists, and community activists have argued that Duranguito, which is the home to several Victorian-era residences as well as a fire station designed by legendary architect Henry Trost, should be officially regarded as a historic section of the city.
But El Paso officials supporting the building of the new arena have maintained that the structures in Duranguito are too few in number, with the structures themselves not officially defined as historic, to realistically comprise a protected historic district.
In a larger context, some developers have maintained that the creation of a historic district in downtown El Paso will make it more difficult to spur downtown construction, while others have pointed out that a historic district would make it easier for property owners to receive tax credits for any property renovation projects.
The survey itself, to be conducted by the Austin-based Hardy Heck Moore and Associations, a historic preservation consulting company, could be completed sometime next year.
By Garry Boulard
Three years ago, the Volkswagen company admitted it had covertly installed software in more than half a million cars allowing for those vehicles to pass exhaust tests.
When it was later revealed that those same vehicles were emitting up to forty times the amount of allowable pollutants, the Wolfsburg, Germany-based company agreed to a settlement seeing it pay nearly $3 billion to the states.
That money, as legally defined, was to be generally used to fund efforts across the country to reduce pollution from diesel engines in the states, although it would be up to state officials themselves as to how they would specifically use the unexpected windfall.
In Colorado, $14 million of the Volkswagen money has gone to six different state transit agencies and paid for the purchase of 28 alternate fuel buses. The state is now in the process of putting together competitive applications for the addition of electric buses later this year.
Arizona officials opted to replace more than three hundred aging diesel-powered school buses with new less-polluting new diesel-powered vehicles.
In New Mexico some $6 million has so far been spent paying for replacement school buses and delivery trucks in Albuquerque, along with ten new solid waste trucks in the South Valley, among other projects.
Now the State of New Mexico has announced that it is contemplating the idea of committing some $2.7 million in Volkswagen money to build a series of charging stations for light-duty electric vehicles.
Those stations would most likely go up in the more rural areas of the state.
A timetable for when the stations will be built has not yet been announced.
By Garry Boulard
A bill that has now won approval in the House Armed Services Committee will provide up to $54 million for the construction of a new command center that will be designed especially for the U.S. Northern Command’s special operations troops.
That facility will be built at the Peterson Air Force Base, which was originally established during World War II and is located in Colorado Springs.
Set up to provide command and control of homeland defense operations within the Department of Defense, the U.S. Northern Command was launched nearly 17 years ago.
The $54 million for the new high-tech center is just a part of a significantly larger overall $750 billion budget passed by the committee as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020.
Among the other Colorado-based appropriations approved by the committee is $49 million for the construction of a new dormitory at the Air Force Academy’s preparatory school just to the north of Colorado Springs.
Popularly known as the “Prep School,” it was established in the spring of 1961 and has a current enrollment of more than 200 cadets.
One of the largest appropriations approved by the House Committee is the $71 million for Fort Carson, which is located some 7 miles southeast of Colorado Springs.
Last year it was announced that Fort Carson had been selected by the U.S. Army to activate a new security force assistance brigade designed to conduct, advise, and assist operations with allied nation forces.
The creation of that brigade also meant a projected growth of around eight hundred soldiers and their families at the base.
The $71 million will go for the construction of new residence facilities to accommodate that population growth.
Before passage of the bill, Adam Smith, a member from Washington State and chairman of House Armed Services Committee, remarked: “By a reasonably comfortable margin, this is the largest budget we will have ever passed in Congress” for defense.
The measure will now go to the full House, with work on a compromise draft between leaders in that chamber and the Senate expected to be ongoing until early this fall.
By Garry Boulard
A new building designed to house a number of different State of New Mexico offices is once again in the talking stage in Santa Fe.
What roughly a decade ago was simply being referred to as an executive office building would have seen the construction of a three-story, 56,000 square foot structure near the State Capitol.
Members of the Capitol Buildings Planning Commission voiced support for the project, as did the New Mexico State Legislature, which approved bond funding of up to $115 million for the building.
But momentum was lost after the Santa Fe Historic Districts Review Board in the summer of 2012 affirmed that the one-story buildings on Don Gaspar Avenue that would be demolished to make way for the new structure were regarded as significant.
That status is the highest level that the board uses in classifying historic property.
The structures in question were all built in the 1930s and originally served as houses.
Now a new effort by the state’s General Services Division may bring the project back to life, with that agency studying location options and the possible need to update a previous state master plan that had originally suggested the building’s construction.
That report could be completed later this year.
By Garry Boulard
A federal health insurance initiative that could ultimately impact as many as 800,000 employers and 11 million employees across the country has just been announced.
New regulations set to take effect next January will allow for an expanded use of what are known as Health Reimbursement Arrangements, or HRAs.
The regulations are being issued jointly through the departments of Health and Human Services; Labor, and Treasury, and would allow for greater flexibility in the kind of coverage employees purchase on their own.
The new policy, said Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta in a statement, “offers millions of American worker more health coverage choices and portability.”
Acosta added that a wider use of HRAs could “create a great opportunity for job creators to support their employees and for those employees to be empowered to make the best healthcare decisions for their families.”
In its essence, the new policy will allow employers to use HRAs to provide their workers with tax-preferred funds to pay for health insurance coverage. That means that workers who purchase an individual plan via an HRA will receive the same tax advantage as workers with traditional employee-sponsored coverage.
The idea, according to a Labor Department release, is to give workers “greater control over their healthcare by providing an additional way for employers to finance health insurance.”
The new policy is especially intended to help small businesses, many of which in recent years have curtailed offering any kind of coverage for their employees.
Just as often, employers who have continued to pay for some kind of coverage have done so by only offering their employees one type of health plan.
According to federal statistics, some 81 percent of small to mid-sized companies with fewer than 200 employees have typically offered benefits provided through only one plan, with 42 percent of larger companies doing the same.
Writing in the Washington Post, Avik Roy, the president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, suggested that the new HRA policy “has the potential to revolutionize the private health insurance market.”
While somewhat critical of the new plan, the Washington-based American Action Forum said the new HRA rules will “give employers and employees more health care options, which could lead to potential increases in the number of insured individuals.”
Despite those mainly positive reviews, the publication Medical Daily is warning that employers may try to “incentivize employees with health conditions to accept the HRA and move away from a group health plan and into the individual market.”
By so doing, many employers could essentially discard “high-risk employees into the individual market through an HRA in order to slash their own group health plans.”
By Garry Boulard
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