WILMINGTON, N.C. — Renewable energy, building restoration and maintenance, and Fort Bragg special operations projects were the hot topics at the 2012 North Carolina Federal Construction & Infrastructure Summit in Wilmington on Thursday.
The day of panel discussions, speed networking and guest speakers targeted upcoming contracting opportunities at North Carolina military installations and offered tips on how N.C. businesses can go after the work.
More than 750 people attended the summit at the Wilmington Convention Center, and more than 85 exhibitors arrived early to set up company displays.
"The days of large military construction projects are gone," said retired Col. Greg Bean, director of public works at Fort Bragg and one of the panelists. "So our philosophy is to maintain what we've got."
Fort Bragg's targeted projects are paving maintenance on Pope Army Airfield, retro-commissioning multiple buildings on post to take advantage of green technologies, and taking a look at roads, motor pools, fitness centers and ranges.
Fort Bragg's military construction program is expected to fall from the budgeted $406 million in fiscal 2012 to $246 million in fiscal 2013.
Bean said Fort Bragg would have "totally fallen off the cliff" in military construction funding if it were not for special operations growth.
Col. Steven Baker, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wilmington District, said his agency has 34 military projects under construction this year worth $372 million. Many of them are focused on U.S. Army Special Operations Command based at Fort Bragg.
The installation is continuing its efforts in renewable energy. Thomas Blue, Fort Bragg's energy manager, said despite the installation growing in 8 million square feet and by more than 34,000 people between 2003 and 2011, Fort Bragg's energy consumption has increased by only 3 percent.
Some of the energy projects include a Building Operation Command Center that monitors building efficiency on post and the retrofit of dams along Little River to incorporate hydroelectricity turbines. More than 300 buildings are going through retro-commissioning, which is supposed to save Fort Bragg 25 percent of energy costs for barracks and 65 percent for administrative space, Blue said.
"This is our 30,000-mile tune-up," he said. "It has turned out to be a very good return on investment."
Before lunch, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, who co-hosted the conference, brought up the fears of sequestration, or automatic federal budget cuts, to the audience.
If the cuts happen, it will be destructive to the federal marketplace, he warned.
"We've got to challenge private business to work with us in a different way," Burr said. "We will weather the storm, and we will grow while others seem to be bogged down."
Other constraints to the federal market that were discussed include unrest in the Middle East, the Afghanistan drawdown in 2014 and the Army reduction of 80,000 soldiers, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Among the crowd was Ladson Brearley, vice president of federal programs for AECOM, a technical and management support services company based in Charlotte. His company helped build the LEED Platinum community emergency services center in the Linden Oaks military housing community in Harnett County.
He said his company hopes to expand its presence in military projects.
"If there's anything coming out of Fort Bragg, we're hoping to eye that and pursue it," Brearley said.
It was Sandra McGough's second year at the FEDCON Summit. She stood next to her exhibit for Jacobi Hardware, based in Wilmington. When Jacobi could not find a lot of opportunities in the commercial sector, the company began to go after defense work.
"The only place that had a lot of good work was the military," McGough said. "If that starts failing, I don't know where we're going to go."