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Business & Economy

Wexner Medical Center tower among several construction sites drawing thousands of jobs to Ohio

 A construction crane stands tall next to the Wexner Medical Center Inpatient Hospital tower.
George Shillcock
The Wexner Medical Center Inpatient Hospital tower construction project is well on its way to completion. The 20-plus story building is one of several major construction sites bringing jobs to Central Ohio and making Columbus one of the top three metro areas for construction jobs in the country.

Columbus is third amongst major U.S. metro areas for new construction jobs created in the last year, trailing only New York City and Dallas with 6,100 jobs between May 2022 and May 2023.

This booming growth isn't lost on industry leaders, who are trying to attract and retain construction workers in Ohio's fastest growing metro area. Columbus has major projects, like the OSU Wexner Medical Center inpatient tower and the Intel semiconductor plant in nearby New Albany, as well as many multi-family apartments and single-family homes to house new residents.

Earlier this week, it was announced that Amazon will invest $7.8 billion to build data centers in central Ohio, which is the second-largest single private sector company investment in Ohio’s history, which is only behind the Intel plant.

Officials with The Ohio State University, the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and Turner Construction Company toured the 26-story, $1.9 billion Wexner Medical Center tower project on Wednesday. The tower stands high amongst the hazy Columbus skyline as the 10th tallest building in the city.

Turner Construction Senior Project Manager Raymond Benjamin says it's important to have good wages, safe working conditions and amenities to attract workers to construction careers. Turner Construction and Walsh Construction are joint project managers on the Wexner tower project.

"We always want to be the best job for people to come to and then they come and they stay. That's one of the real keys. When you get them, you want them to stay," Benjamin said.

Benjamin and AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson spoke to reporters following the building tour. The two announced a new advertising campaign to recruit workers called "Construction is Essential" in Ohio and other parts of the country and a new program called "Culture is Care" that is designed to help firms retain newly hired workers.

The AGC and Ohio Contractors Association also launched a new website called I Build America to attract workers to construction jobs.

"Our goal is to address the challenges of a limited workforce pipeline and lack of awareness about the industry's professional potential," Benjamin said.

Simonson said the ad campaign uses the same technology that companies like Amazon use to target customers, in this case to reach the people the industry needs to reach.

"We have worked to run this campaign in parts of Ohio, as well as many other areas of the country, and have encouraged over 20,000 people to explore curriculum and instruction career opportunities as a result," he said.

Simonson said Columbus could be considered a model on how private contractors can recruit more people into construction. He said a key problem is that even though construction work is expanding, firms are finding it difficult to retain workers, as many older workers retire and too few young workers are considering entering the industry.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports Columbus has gained 16,200 total jobs across all non-agricultural sectors in the last year.

The 6,100 construction, mining and logging jobs Columbus added, according to the AGC, in the last year makes up two-thirds of the state's total of 9,100 jobs. Dallas gained 11,600 jobs and NYC gained 9,600 jobs. The list included 358 metro areas that are tracked by the association.

There are 54,700 construction workers in Columbus today according to the AGC, up from 48,600 last year.

Simonson said that obvious factors like Columbus' burgeoning growth are driving factors for why it is an attractive market, but also said "workplace culture" and amenities offered on major construction sites draw in more workers. He pointed to good wages and amenities like a culture of safety, break rooms and parking offered at the Wexner site.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean wage in Ohio for construction workers is $28 an hour as of May 2022, but that ranges greatly depending on the position. The lowest wage is an average of $15 an hour, almost $5 more than the Ohio minimum wage, but elevator and escalator installers and repairers get an average of $50 an hour.

Benjamin said firms can attract workers to their site versus others in Columbus by offering these amenities. He said the Columbus market is strong, but very competitive making it more difficult to find workers.

"The other thing that ends up happening, especially as we get to jobs of this size and magnitude...because the local tradespeople may not be able to handle all the work load, the work goes out to travelers, who then come to the area," Benjamin said.

The Wexner tower's project managers said repeatedly that 1,100 construction workers have worked on the site in its almost three years under construction. An additional 3,000 employees have worked on design and other aspects of the project.

Project managers said the tower will reach substantial completion by October 2025 and have a target opening date for the medical center in the second quarter of 2026.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.