Economy still offers opportunity

May 9, 2009


We are in an economic time of crisis, around the country, as well as right here in Lawrence, Kansas. There have been lots of layoffs recently and not enough jobs to go around. That should be obvious to everyone, but especially to those of us in the construction industry. I’ve been in construction, here in Lawrence, for 35 years and went through the recession in the ’80s, which hit the Lawrence construction industry almost as hard as what we’re facing now.

In the late ’70s and early ’80s, we were also in the midst of an energy crisis, but at the same time we were experiencing high inflation and 12 percent interest rates, which put new home loans out of reach. This time around, the banks’ and Wall Street’s greed caused it. Today, the housing industry is in far worse shape and many more people are affected, not by high interest (it is actually lower than at any time in history) but by the credit freeze that affects so many of us.

The real question is, what can we as individuals do to help? There are actually lots of things that those of us who haven’t lost our jobs or our nest egg can do. President Obama has given us the opportunity to save money at the same time as we help our floundering economy and put local people back to work.

1. The tax credit for new home buyers is $8,000. That is huge! With the lowest interest rates ever and deals literally everywhere, there will never be as good a time to invest in a home. Interest rates can only go up from here. If you are in this market, now is the time.

2. Tax credits of up to $1,500 are available for those who need to upgrade doors, windows and insulation. Don’t count on the 30 percent savings offered to last forever. Even lower-income homeowners can benefit from increased funding for energy-saving grants and assistance.

3. Now is the time for homeowners who would like to sell but can’t because of the soft market to invest in enhancing their homes. Make them more attractive for when the market does turn and everyone else, who has been waiting as well, puts their houses on the market.

4. Incentives are also available for new car buyers who select hybrid technology. My folks get 45 miles per gallon in theirs. Anyone remember paying $60 to fill up last summer?

5. Also, there is now a 30 percent credit, with no top limit, available to people who install home wind generators or solar collectors. The state of Kansas will soon offer their own incentives, which will bring the costs down even further and make it more cost-effective.

There are other things that our state government could be doing, such as energy conservation and investment in alternative energy resources. I wonder how many people know that Kansas has the third-greatest potential for wind generation in the United States. Why are they only attempting to develop a tiny fraction of our potential? That is a baby step at best; however, the legislation will require the building of transmission lines necessary to deliver electricity from the wind farms, and that is a big step in the right direction.

Greensburg, Kan., has already begun construction of a wind farm projected to supply most of its electricity. It could be possible for the City of Lawrence to lease land in southwestern Kansas and build our own wind farm. Our local government could do more as well by offering more incentives to construction projects that hire locally.

I implore builders, developers, businesses and the City Commission to try to avoid more layoffs and look for ways to start putting local people back to work as soon as possible.

Stephen Crockett lives in Lawrence and owns Steve Crockett Carpentry.


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