The Florida Transportation Builders’ Association, Inc. is better known to those in the industry simply as the FTBA. Today, eighty-five years after it was created, the FTBA promotes the necessity of a robust, efficient, and integrated transportation system across the state of Florida. It speaks as one clear, strong voice for hundreds of members – and acts as the transportation construction industry’s watchdog.
The roots of the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association go back to 1933 when it was known as the Florida Section of the American Road Builders’ Association. In 1933, Florida was significantly expanding, and although this was one of the worst years of the Great Depression, the organization persisted. It changed names to Florida Road Builders’ Association, Inc. then changed again in 1974.
The non-profit FTBA was created to serve those in the road-building business and help forward their interests before the legislature in Florida, working with what was known at the time as the State Road Department. While it has evolved to meet the needs of its members, the mission of the FTBA, however, remains the same: “To promote a very good transportation network throughout the state, and represent the industry in all phases, both legislative and agency discussions,” according to Florida Transportation Builders’ Association President Bob Burleson.
Burleson has been instrumental in overseeing much of the growth of the association over the decades. He previously worked for a Virginia-headquartered family-owned construction business building bridges and other heavy work projects and joined the FTBA in January of 1989.
At the time he became president, the association had about two hundred members – roughly half of them contractors – and was in dire financial straits. Under Burleson’s leadership, the FTBA is now in a much better position and has more than doubled its membership, to over four hundred. “In terms of participation, we’ve gone from holding an annual meeting where we would have two hundred people in the past to over a thousand people today.”
Today, he is on the threshold of having served for thirty years as president and will be retiring this December, with Ananth Prasad taking over the role. “I’m going to be seventy years old, and I want to take some time to enjoy things with my wife while we’re still able to do it,” he says.
Prasad is an experienced civil engineer whose experience includes working as Secretary at the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) from 2011 to 2015, along with key roles including chief engineer and director at the office of construction and as senior vice president at HNTB Corporation, an employee-owned infrastructure solutions company. He was selected as the next president of the FTBA by a unanimous vote and has been associated with the group for a long time.
“I worked hand-in-hand with Ananth for many years and his position at the DOT, and he’s just a perfect fit for this job,” states Burleson with pride. “I watch him and learn, and he watches me and learns, so it’s a good two-way street.”
Along with Prasad, there are other hardworking people at the association including Accounting Administrator and Building Manager Cynthia Hartsfield and Communications Coordinator Stacy Heidel, who also handles social media. Burleson’s son Jay serves as vice president of membership and events and helps raise sponsorship and exhibitors for construction conference and conventions.
“It’s a good blend,” Burleson says. “We work well together. We are a very small staff, but are all very efficient at what we do.”
The FTBA connects members to each other and promotes a viable, efficient, and completely integrated transportation system. It also provides educational opportunities, gives input into updating and modifying Florida’s DOT specifications, and fosters integrity among those connected to the industry like public officials, suppliers, contractors, and engineers. The FTBA realizes just how important transportation is to keep the state moving as efficiently as possible.
FTBA members are vital to the transportation needs of residents, businesses, tourists, and many others, and the association recognizes the role that its members play in politics, safety, the environment, and economics to the State of Florida. Over 28,000 jobs are created for every $1 billion invested by the state government on highway construction and improvements, and every dollar invested in the department of transportation’s work program nets $7 in return.
What makes the FTBA unique is that membership is not strictly Florida-based and not just for companies headquartered in Florida. “It’s either people who are doing work or who would like to do work in Florida,” states Burleson. “In Florida, you do not have to have a contractors’ license to be a road builder; you have to be prequalified with the Florida Department of Transportation. The difference is it is a company that is prequalified; a general contractor’s license – at least in Florida – is given to an individual. They are two totally different things.”
The FTBA is poised to start advertising on its website and keeps members informed through several methods, including Florida Transportation Builder, the official publication of the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association. The magazine covers highway and heavy construction in Florida and surrounding states and is sent to engineers, public officials, equipment dealers, suppliers, aggregate producers, and others in the highway industry, including to sister associations across the United States.
Like many other industries, transportation construction faces an ongoing shortage of new workers, so, transportation officials started a hands-on educational outreach program aimed at high school students almost twenty years ago. Construction Career Days sees students bussed in and introduced to the many career opportunities available in construction. Students will watch someone tie reinforcing steel and then get to do it themselves. Or they might help design a bridge on an iPad or operate a piece of equipment under supervision.
“We are doing everything we can to try to encourage kids,” says Burleson of the event, which was recently held in mid-October, and one of five Construction Career Days at different sites over the course of the year across the state. “It’s very difficult because so many young people now are into inside, computer-type jobs. I don’t think it’ll be many years before most of our equipment is operated either remotely from the inside or from an enclosed cab where you have computer-type controls. I think the industry is going to have to change in that regard in order to attract more young people to it.”
To further attract young, new workers to the field, the association initiated the successful Florida Transportation Builder’s Association Scholarship Program and has been running this for the past twenty years. It is open to any Florida resident who is a graduating high school senior and whose parent or legal guardian is a member of – or employed by a firm that is a member of – the association.
Annual scholarships are granted for periods up to four years. Somewhat unusual, the scholarship does not require students to study engineering or go into construction. They can go into any field they wish. “Every year, we have a few engineering students, but we also have doctors and lawyers,” says Burleson. “There are lots of different kids in the program. It’s a good thing.”
Every year, the association also hosts a number of events that are important to the industry. In early August, the FTBA held its annual convention in Boca Raton, which was especially significant for Burleson, as the association recently honored his thirty-year commitment to the industry. And on January 17 and 18, 2019, the next FTBA Construction Conference will be staged in Orlando at the Hyatt Regency, anticipating between 1,500 and 1,800 attendees – a mix of members and non-members, contractors, material suppliers, engineers, and Department of Transportation personnel.
The construction conference is promoted through the FTBA website, word-of-mouth, and members who regularly attend the event. The function is virtually compulsory for anyone in the highway construction business. “It’s not a social gathering,” states Burleson. “It’s basically breakout sessions, and there are no planned meals or anything like that. It’s a couple of days of educational sessions.”
While the FTBA’s president may be retiring after thirty years, he and the membership know the association is in good hands today and will be long into the future. “We feel like we are the voice of transportation construction in Florida. We’ve got a great state here; we are growing all the time, and people are moving to Florida because it’s a wonderful place to live. It’s exciting to be involved in a state that’s growing and as progressive a state as Florida is.”