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p01 workforceThe new Edward Weber Workforce Center at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey.
IBJ photo
New workforce center to make debut this August

    One contractor recalls Ed Weber as the only laborer he ever knew who came to work each day with the Wall Street Journal tucked under his arm.
    Weber lived a frugal life, but he had a penchant for picking stocks. His last years were spent with an older sister in a small house in Hartford surrounded by refineries.
    “He never saw an oil stock he didn’t like,” Dr. Dale Chapman said.
    Chapman, president of Lewis and Clark Community College, didn’t know Weber when the man showed up in his college office with his financial advisor, telling Chapman that he wanted to donate toward the school. Chapman asked him if he was thinking about an endowed scholarship.
    “Actually, I was thinking about a building,” Weber told him.
    The conversation led to the largest single donation from an individual ever received by the Lewis and Clark Community College Foundation — an estate valued at $3.25 million.
    Weber wanted a building that would train tomorrow’s workers, giving them the kind of education he never had.
    The money made possible the construction of the aptly named Edward Weber Workforce Center, which is scheduled to hold its first classes this August.
    Initially, the center will be the arc connecting welders of the future with the employers who are demanding them. Eventually, the center can be expanded or adapted for multiple uses, Chapman said. A lot will depend on what the region requires in training down the road.
    Weber’s life was not always easy. He told Chapman the hardest he ever worked was a full day of offloading bags of cement from railroad cars. Safety wasn’t a big part of the job.   
    “He came to the college with the idea of setting up a center to train the workforce of the future, particularly in safe ways to work,” said Travis Jumper, an assistant professor and coordinator of Welding Technology.  “When he started as a laborer, they didn’t really worry about safety.”
    Sadly, Weber, who was well into his 80s, didn’t live to see the project become a reality; he died in July 2015, before the ground-breaking even took place.
    “He got to see some of the plans early on, but he never lived to see it come to fruition,” Jumper said.

    Oil prices have largely been on the rise for the last year and in May briefly topped $70/barrel for the first time since 2014, and you can look to OPEC for the reason, says Matt Schrimpf, president and CEO of HWRT Oil Co. in Alton.
    “Back in November of 2014 the Saudis basically said they were going to fight for market share,” Schrimpf said. “On a global basis everybody’s always looked at OPEC as a cartel that restricts supply and drives prices higher and historically Saudi Arabia was viewed as a swing producer. So, when they came out on Thanksgiving Day of 2014 and said, ‘We’re going to fight for market share.’ That was quite a shock to the market.”
    With that announcement, Schrimpf said, the price of a barrel of oil plummeted from $73.69 on Nov. 26, 2014, to just $55.84 a month later — a 27 percent decline.
    “The Saudis were beginning to view the United States as a threat to their crude oil production,” Schrimpf said. “We were becoming more of a player in the global market because we were producing more and more of our need. They figured that one of the ways to fight that was to make it uneconomical for us to compete with their cheaper oil.”
    While the price of oil has stayed low, pushing some American producers out of business, it also spurred some consolidations and efficiencies that were very much needed, he said. Global output was high and created an oil glut.
    “Oil was being stored all over the world,” Schrimpf said.
    After two years of that approach, the OPEC countries and some non-OPEC countries including Russia announced in November 2016 that they would cut production by 1 million barrels a day beginning Jan. 1, 2017. The price of oil has largely been climbing ever since, although at the end of May there was a notable dip that left crude near $67 a barrel.
    “The old adage is that high prices fix high prices,” Schrimpf said. “$143/barrel oil (a few years ago) got a lot of people interested in how to get oil out of the ground but the horizontal drilling was pretty sloppy and inefficient. At $143/barrel you can afford to be sloppy and inefficient and pay people to move all over the country. But, when the price dropped, a lot of them just shut down and walked away.”
    Innovations and efficiencies triggered by the two-year oil price slump meant the price of extracting domestic shale oil dropped from a break-even price of about $55 to $60 per barrel down to as low as $30 in some places, according to Schrimpf.
    Now, a strong global economy is combining with OPEC’s production reduction to boost oil prices. The oil glut has been worked off and the balance between production and demand is much more in line.
    Meanwhile, oil production in the United States is booming. Domestic drillers are pumping 10.2 million barrels a day of crude oil and the International Energy Agency is predicting that the U.S. will lead the pack in oil production for at least the next five years. That boom in American production has offset plummeting pumping due to political and economic strife in Venezuela.

p01 contractorsThe Trump administration’s tariffs threatened growth of the construction industry. As steel, aluminum, and wood prices continue to surge, contractors say they will be forced to charge more, potentially delaying new infrastructure and development projects.By ALAN J. ORTBALS
    The cost of goods used in construction jumped in April at the fastest year-over-year rate since 2011, with ongoing increases for a wide range of building materials, including many that are subject to proposed tariffs that could drive prices still higher and cause scarcities, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America.
    Association officials said that the new data from the U.S. Labor Department indicates many firms are already being squeezed by higher materials prices that they are unable to pass along to their customers.


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    ALTON – Simmons Hanly Conroy has announced the 14th Annual Simmons Employee Foundation Golf Tournament will benefit Join Hands ESL. The East St. Louis organization is dedicated to empowering the city’s youth and families by giving them the resources needed to find a pathway out of poverty. The tournament will take place Friday, June 22, at the Spencer T. Olin Golf Course in Alton, Illinois.