We owe the name for the month of January to the Romans who, during this time, honored their god Janus, gifted with the ability to see both the past and the future.

Starting my second year as president of the Engineering Contractors’ Association, it is thus time to look at our industry’s recent past and with hope to our future.

The past year has been near perfect for contractors, with, for most, the biggest problem is finding qualified field crews to handle the high level of work. It’s not just here; the performance of the nation’s construction industry remains robust, adding more than 110,000 jobs. California added more than 34,400 new construction jobs created this year, bring the total workforce to 903,000+ working on our job sites.

The forward-looking effort is a lot tougher and relatively murky. Construction spending in several private nonresidential categories has waned. There is evidence of overbuilding in individual segments, including office and lodging, both of which have experienced substantial increases in spending over the last five years.

Private spending is generally down while public spending is doing the heavy lifting. One of the sources of strength for the U.S. economy over the last year has been a pickup in infrastructure spending. Much of our future depends on decisions made in Washington. With impeachment in the air, Congress seems to be trying to show that it can legislate while they investigate.

There are promises to fashion a full-fledged infrastructure plan for the nation and save the Highway Trust Fund, set for insolvency by 2021 absent Congressional action. State and local governments have come to the rescue, supported by rising collections of income, sales and property taxes. Several key construction segments have benefitted as a result, including water/ sewer, transportation and highway/street.

Economists have been predicting the next economic recession for years now. The last year was especially challenging to forecast, given the enormous influence of uncertain policymaking. Tariffs announced as final one month would be postponed indefinitely during the next, only to return a few weeks later.

The heightened level of uncertainty is causing decisionmakers to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, further reducing economic activity in the context of an already rapidly softening global economic environment.

Whether that thinking carries onto California’s construction market remains to be seen…but, as in the case of Janus, keep your eyes open.

 

By Brendan Slagle, ECA President Email: [email protected]