State of the Construction Industry: November 2019 Roundup
We hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving break. Due to the holidays, we delayed our roundup of November news and trends just a bit. November was another busy month in construction news as new projects, new reports and a heightened focus on safety dominated the headlines. Here’s a look at some of the storylines we’re following:
Construction of $1 Billion Apple Campus in Austin Underway; Part of $30 Billion Capital Investment Plan
Tech giant Apple has announced it has begun construction on a new $1 billion campus in Austin, Texas. According to Construction Dive, the new campus will be a 3-million square-foot development and is expected to open at some point in 2022. More than 5,000 employees are expected to be housed in the new facility when it opens, though Apple’s plans could see that figure expand to as many as 15,000. This development is part of a larger $30 billion commitment by the company to capital investments in the United States through 2023. Construction Dive noted that Austin is quickly becoming a new tech hub and that the city’s younger demographic of urban professionals (averaging around 33 years of age) makes it a good spot for Apple to expand to.
The Takeaway: We see this as a win — both for the expansion of innovative technology, but also for contractors, which are increasingly finding themselves flush with projects in the tech space. This should also prove to be a good project for green builders to show their chops, as Apple’s plans call for solar power to be generated on site and include a 50-acre nature preserve helping the company achieve a total of 60-percent green space on the project.
Construction Safety Issues Still Dominating the Headlines
In an effort to reduce safety issues, New York City has begun random inspections of construction jobsites. According to the New York Times, these efforts are being carried out by “a new SWAT team of inspectors who swoop in to ferret out any safety lapses, often leaving behind frayed nerves and a stack of violations that can bring hefty fines or even stop the work.” So how many violations? The recent round of surprise inspections uncovered a staggering 11,484 violations at New York construction sites. The Timesnoted that construction injuries soared by 61 percent to 761 last year from 472 in 2015, according to city data. Construction fatalities, however, remained constant at 12 a year during that same period. The New York Daily News also noted that construction injuries fell from 672 between January and October 2018 to 507 during the same 10 months of this year, a drop of nearly 25 percent. Meanwhile, the Texas Department of Transportation has halted design work on the construction of an $800 million replacement of the Harbor Bridge in Corpus Christi. The agency asked developer Flatiron-Dragados LLC to suspend activities on the project after it learned that FIGG Bridge Engineers Inc. was removed from the project. FIGG was cited by the National Transportation Safety Board for design errors it allegedly made as probably cause for the deadly 2018 pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University.
The Takeaway: In a year where high-profile safety incidents at construction projects have been dominating the news cycles, we’re now seeing government agencies stepping up their oversight of construction. Many projects across the United States are now under the microscope as both civic leaders and construction industry leaders attempt to reign in safety issues in all areas. It’s an issue we’ve covered at length this year, and serves as yet another reminder that preventing safety incidents should be top of mind for contractors. Many safety incidents are caused by a lack of effective oversight and safety tracking on projects. That’s why many contractors are turning to technology — from wearable safety tech and drones with monitoring cameras to integrated construction management software with compliance and safety tracking features built in. These modern solutions are helping give contractors much more control when it comes to communicating and enforcing vital safety measures, helping contractors avoid hefty costs in fines, litigation and costly rework — and save lives.
Dammed to Failure?
A two-year investigation by the Associated Press found that nearly 1,700 dams across the United States posed some form of risk to the communities they served. The AP reviewed federal data and scores of reports acquired under open records laws. Those documents showed 1,688 high-hazard dams rated in poor or unsatisfactory condition within the last year across 44 states and Puerto Rico. “The actual number is almost certainly higher,” the AP notes. “Some states declined to provide condition ratings for their dams, claiming exemptions to public record requests. Others simply haven’t rated all their dams due to lack of funding, staffing or authority to do so.”
The Takeaway: This is yet another example of why the nation’s crumbling infrastructure is a critical issue that needs to be addressed. We’ve seen, as with the story above, that safety issues surrounding new construction is making headlines. However, there’s less attention on just how poor of a state some of our nation’s roads, bridges, dams, pipelines and other infrastructure pieces are in. When they fail and people and property are affected though, people notice. Anyone remember the 2007 I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis that killed 13 and injured 145? Let’s not get to that point. There are skilled contractors standing by, ready to do this work. But legislators need to free up funding to make this happen.
Kanye Dig It?
Park County, Wyoming planner Joy Hill told TMZ that Kanye West was asked to stop construction on a 70,000-plus square foot amphitheater on the grounds of his Monster Lake estate because work was started without an official permit. West and wife/entertainer Kim Kardashian-West were asked to stop work when county officials visited the site after the building permit application was submitted. The construction team hired by the Wests, however, allegedly, ignored the order and continued to work. The project was set to be discussed during a Park County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, but it was dropped from the agenda when West’s team notified the commission it was changing the intended purpose of the project to residential use.
The Takeaway: Just a little light-hearted story to end with … and a reminder that all construction projects have compliance and licensing issues that need consistent attention. Contractors should look for the right integrated construction software that includes built-in solutions to manage construction compliance and documentation. And, we’re guessing whatever Kanye and Kim wind up building will be spectacular in scope!