Posted on June 6, 2014 by Mike Means

Editor's Note: This article was published in May 31 editions of The Oklahoman

By Mike Means

Copyright © 2014, The Oklahoma Publishing Company

Rebuilding efforts due to tornadoes have sparked a surge in the construction industry throughout Oklahoma. In Norman, Moore and Oklahoma City, contractors were already stretched thin to keep up with the demand for new housing; the need to rebuild neighborhoods pressed the construction industry to its limits.

Mike Means
Mike Means

This has driven demand for laborers in these fields beyond what the local workforce can provide. Jobs in the housing industry are a tough sell to unemployed American workers. The work is physically demanding. It's often seasonal and not an attractive option for young workers holding college degrees. But it pays well: Oklahoma builders offer annual salaries that are more than $24,000 per year higher than any other non-agricultural private-sector job.

Despite the difficulties securing a steady workforce in the manufacturing sector, a large part of which consists of home builders, this is an absolutely critical part of the state's economy. Oklahoma's 4,300 manufacturing firms generate $17.5 billion in annual output and employ 140,000 people. Manufacturing is also essential to the success of other industries, including agriculture, and reduces reliance on foreign imports.

However, when construction and manufacturing firms can't maintain a stable workforce, they're forced to reduce or relocate. In response, the Partnership for a New American Economy has launched an initiative to vocalize the dire needs of manufacturers and contractors and offer a viable solution: meaningful reform of America's outdated and broken immigration system.

By importing workers rather than exporting firms and businesses, this state and nation reap a multitude of economic benefits. Immigrants are twice as likely as native-born residents to start new businesses. The construction industry is projected to be one of the fastest-growing industries in the next decade; immigrant workers with the opportunity to work in the U.S. are more likely to grow this industry and create new businesses, equating to more jobs.

Immigrant entrepreneurs contribute more than $775 billion in revenues to the nation's economy. Without these entrepreneurs in America to start new businesses, we won't see sufficient job creation to grow the economy.

We can't allow Congress to ignore this issue. We can't continue to allow economic growth to suffer at the hands of representatives unwilling to mend a broken immigration system. Home builders call on congressional leaders to honor their promise to the people and pass a meaningful immigration reform bill this year.

Means is executive director of the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association, a trade association that represents the residential construction industry.

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