The Q2 2020 USG Corporation + U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index, released this week, reveals a drop in contractors’ confidence and outlook for their industry during the COVID-19 pandemic—but also that construction is well-positioned for recovery and positive change.
Survey results were collected in April, at the height of shutdown restrictions, causing the overall Index to plunge from 74 in Q1 to 56 in Q2. Two of the Index’s main indicators — confidence in new business and revenue expectations — both fell 26 points, to 50 and 44, respectively, revealing the severe impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the construction industry.
“We underwent a severe contraction in the economy in late March and into May, but now we’re starting to see a rebound of the data and the economy’s getting slightly better,” said U.S. Chamber Senior Economist Curtis Dubay during a panel discussion on the Index results. “But we’re not anywhere near where we were before the pandemic hit and the Commercial Construction Index reflects that.”
Contractors saw big impacts due to Covid-19. In this quarter’s Index very few contractors (16%) express high confidence in the market’s ability to provide new business opportunities in the next 12 months (down from 54% in Q1). Meanwhile, the percentage expecting to see their revenues decrease in the next 12 months spiked to 2% in Q1 to 21% in Q2.
Index results also reveal that project delays have taken toll. Eighty-seven percent of contractors report they are experiencing delays due to the coronavirus outbreak. Also, 87% expect delays to continue into the summer and 73% expect delays will remain in the fall.
However, contractors become less concerned about delayed projects as they look to the future. In April, over a third (35%) of contractors reported that at least 75% of their projects were delayed. Asked to look three months ahead, only 16% of contractors expected the same. Looking six months ahead, only 8% expect at least 75% of their projects to be delayed.
Further pointing to a near-term recovery for the industry is that 60% of contractors report having at least six months of backlog projects (compared to 69% in Q1). Plus, more than eight in 10 (83%) say their revenue will increase or remain about the same in the next year. And three in four contractors say they have moderate or high confidence that the next year will bring sufficient new business opportunities.
Chris Griffin, CEO of USG Corporation, said during the panel discussion that remaining an essential employer during the pandemic has helped the industry maintain momentum—and will hopefully help attract more skilled workers to construction jobs.
Index results say indicate that one in three contractors (32%) plan to hire more workers in the next six months, while nearly half (48%) believe their workforce will stay the same. Only 15% expect to employ fewer workers.
“The construction industry really does help keep our country running,” Griffin said. “During COVID-19, the construction industry built the field hospitals, testing facilities, shelters and other critical infrastructure that enables many of the fundamental services that our communities need.”
Covid-19 Accelerates Innovation
The pandemic is also acting as a catalyst for technological change in the construction industry, especially in pre-fabrication and modularity.
“I’ve been through a lot of these kinds of recessions, but nothing like COVID-19,” Griffin said. “What I am excited about is technology as an enabler. It has enabled us to collaborate and innovate with our people internally and also with our customers. We happen to be a slow-adopting sector of new technologies, and I think that COVID-19 is going to help accelerate that.”
Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry CEO Michael Stark said new safety procedures are likely another lasting change, including increased sanitation on job sites; additional washing stations; limiting the number of employees in a particular area; not sharing tools, equipment, or PPE; and frequently cleaning high-touch surfaces.
Index findings reveal that contractors also expect more remote work for their staff, and to pay greater attention to contract language. Nearly all contractors (92%) said say they already changed work procedures to increase social distancing.
Worker health and safety is top of mind: Given a list to choose from of the most severe COVID-19 consequences for their business, three-quarters (75%) said worker health and safety is a top concern, followed by fewer projects (48%), and increases in workforce shortages (33%).
For more information on the Commercial Construction Index and to download the full report, visit www.commercialconstructionindex.com.
If you missed our live panel discussion on the Q2 Index results, watch it here.