Construction Industry Trends: September 2022 Roundup
1 Minute Read
September 29, 2022
October has been a busy month. With world conflicts on the rise and most of us bracing for another important election here in the States, the construction industry, too, has been in overdrive. Assessing the work needed to be done in the wake of Hurricane Ian, addressing building safety, much-needed infrastructure projects kicking off, and diversification within the industry were all among the stories in the spotlight. Here’s a look:
Though supply chain challenges have begun to ease and huge spikes in the costs of construction materials are beginning to drop back to near-normal levels, it is still going to prove challenging to rebuild the billions of dollars of homes, commercial real estate and infrastructure lost in Florida during Hurricane Ian.
An October NBC News feature noted that prices for building materials had climbed 4.9% through the year-to-date, and were up 14.3% over the past year. The scale of building that needs to be done in the wake of Ian could also lead to increased demand for materials and another pricing surge. In fact, property information group CoreLogic, noted that early estimates suggest Hurricane Ian will prove to be the costliest Florida storm since Hurricane Andrew hit the state in 1992.
“Hurricane Ian will forever change the real estate industry and city infrastructure,” said Tom Larsen, CoreLogic's associate vice president overseeing hazard and risk management. “Insurers will go into bankruptcy, homeowners will be forced into delinquency and insurance will become less accessible in regions like Florida.”
And, the construction industry, faced with skilled labor shortages across the board and low unemployment in Florida may also be strapped when it comes to finding the people to wield the hammers and drills. Colleges are ramping up programs to train more skilled workers, but these programs can take time and additional costs. Even hiring unskilled workers could be a challenge as the state’s overall unemployment rate is below the national average of 3.7%
The Takeaway: Several solutions are being discussed, including loosening of some rules regarding things like permits and worker regulations. But at the end of the day, the construction industry may have to prioritize the most critical projects—like infrastructure—first. It can also look to technology and innovation like digital construction workflows, more modular building, 3D printed construction and robotics. After all, it’s all hands on deck after the storm.
This past Spring, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Florida Condo Safety Act into law. The measure aimed to improve the safety of residential condominium towers following the deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers condo complex in Surfside. Specifically, it requires stricter inspections and prohibits condo associations from waiving maintenance reserve funds-meaning condo owners must keep enough cash on hand to immediately address needed improvements or repairs.
In October, as the first reaches of this new law began to kick in, some groups are crying foul, alleging the law is too strict and is too economically unjustifiable for property owners. Some say it will force them to sell to large corporations that could intend to demolish properties, displacing residents, and rebuilding mega complexes or resorts in their place. The new law, however, could be another boon to the state’s construction industry, which is expected to win more work-either through refurbishments and renovations, or through demo work and new building construction.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, a $1 billion-plus, multi-year earthquake retrofit project hit a significant milestone in October. Seven years, and $1.3 billion in, contractors have now managed to successfully retrofit more than 8,000 of the city’s once seismically vulnerable buildings to endure a major earthquake.
The Takeaway: When it comes to building safety, the words from Jurassic Park’s John Hammond come to mind: “Spare no expense.” There have been too many incidents in recent years, as poor building practices of yesterday coupled with time have led to deadly accidents like the Champlain Tower collapse or the Grenfell fire in London. Of course, money is still an issue for building owners or municipalities, However, today’s modern contractors are using leading-edge technologies to better manage projects and build safer end products more efficiently than ever before, so these renovations and rebuilds won’t necessarily break the bank—at least not like a wrongful injury or death lawsuit could.
We’ve all heard about how robotics is changing how construction work is being done. But so far, the application of robots on construction projects has been grounded on Earth. How about space? Researchers have now designed a new robot—the E-Walker—to do just that.
The E-Walker aims to revolutionize construction projects in space, like work on space stations, satellites and more, replacing tasks that once required humans to do with a robot counterpart. The robot “has the potential to walk, learn different modules and assemble complex equipment with seven degrees of motion. Additionally, the robot has a larger payload capacity, making it an ideal candidate for assembling large-scale projects in-orbit.”
The Takeaway: This is really cool stuff. Like the article notes, while space is the motivation for this tech, it can have practical applications on earth as well, replacing dangerous tasks that humans are doing today, like window washing, cell or radio tower maintenance, and fixing motors on wind turbines. On a similar note, if you love science fiction, check out a book called “Project Hail Mary,” by Andy Weir (who also wrote “The Martian,” which was turned into a major motion picture starring Matt Damon). It has some amazing scenes of design, engineering and construction in deep space, along with a look at what the future of robotics could look like.
Construction Inclusion Week was Oct. 17-21 as industry leaders and construction companies focused on advancing issues like diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and stamping out racist acts or harassment on construction jobsites. Construction Dive had several impactful articles around these topics, including an in-depth interview with Turner Construction CEO Peter Davoren about why he’s directly confronting racism.
Davoren and his company were instrumental in the formation of Construction Inclusion Week. Davoren noted that Turner has instituted a twice daily inspection of its jobsites to look for signs of bias, graffiti, or other forms of harassment and intimidation. If something is found, the company’s anti-bias response plan kicks into action, with work stopped, the scene preserved, reports made and employees gathered for town hall style meetings to talk about why these incidents are not acceptable. The company recently made news for shutting down its massive Meta jobsite in Nebraska after several incidents of racist graffiti were found.
“When we shut it down, there were 1,349 people that were really upset that one person defaced the project and made them collateral damage. It may seem like shutting the job down is punitive, and it is,” Davoren said. “But that symbol of hate was intended for somebody, and we need to support them.”
Turner has also stepped up other significant DEI efforts, including recruiting more from historically Black colleges. And, the industry is taking notice, with many other construction firms following Turner’s lead. Construction Dive, in a different article, dug deeper into these efforts, including how to add anti-bias clauses to construction contracts.
The Takeaway: This is the leadership by example that is going to move the needle in the construction industry. Already, contractors have made significant gains in DEI programs and strategies, but their effectiveness is proven when it impacts the front line as well as the back office. Here’s more on why construction DEI programs are important and how to get started.
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