Building the U.S. Economy: The Construction Industry’s Role

Highlights from the panel sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and USG Corporation

Tom Belvan (far right), Co-Founder and Publisher of RealClearPolitics, interviewed (left to right) Todd Hitt, CEO of Kiddar Capital; Colin Dunn, President of the Heffron Company; and Andrew Hanson, Senior Research Analyst for the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.

On Thursday, June 15, construction experts convened at the Columbus Club in Washington, D.C. to discuss the future of their industry. Hosted by RealClearPolitics and sponsored by USG Corporation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Building the U.S. Economy: The Construction Industry’s Role panel brought together voices from business, politics, and research.

Jennifer Scanlon, President and CEO of USG Corporation

For the U.S. Chamber, the event also introduced their new quarterly Commercial Construction Index meant to measure the health of the industry.

“It’s going to make us smarter about the future challenges,” said Jennifer Scanlon, President and CEO of USG Corporation, who spoke before the panel and worked with the Chamber on developing the index. “We’re shining a light on this critical role that commercial construction plays in our economy. It will identify areas of strength and pinpoint opportunities for improvement.”

Congressman McKinley of West Virginia also endorsed the index. “Most Americans, and… certainly most people in Congress have no idea of the impact [of construction],” he said. “So this idea of the index, and more focus we can have on this is going to be very helpful… We’ve got to make sure people understand how this connects our whole economy.”

Suzanne Clark, Senior Executive Vice President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Senior Director of Industry Insights & Research at Dodge Data & Analytics Steve Jones also spoke at the event.

What follows are highlights from the panel, which covered topics including labor, regulation, building green, infrastructure, and technology in construction.

Labor

With the construction industry facing an acute labor shortage, the panelists weighed in on how this affects the industry and what they can do to face this challenge.

Todd Hitt, President of Kiddar Capital

“We want to make sure we have the right people to do the job, with the right quality control. That’s our big focus right now… It’s hard to find and recruit that talent.”

— Colin Dunn, President of Heffron Company

“There’s an enthusiasm gap for construction related jobs in the colleges… It’s our job to get out to the public that this is a great industry to be in.”

Todd Hitt, CEO of Kiddar Capital

“In the construction industry based on what we’ve seen based on the macroeconomic data is that is was by far the hardest-hit industry in the recession. 21% of the jobs were lost, only 10% of those jobs have come back… we have to be prepared for tomorrow, because we’re going to get back to that pre-recession level of employment within the next 5 to 10 years.”

— Andrew Hanson, Senior Research Analyst for the Center of Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University

Regulation

The consensus from the panel was that fair regulation is welcome and needed, but that current over-regulation restricts industry growth and hurts small construction businesses.

Andrew Hanson, Senior Research Analyst at Georgetown CEW

“That red tape is going to add cost and prevent the construction industry from expanding employment, creating jobs, so absolutely I think that that’s an issue. But in general what I would like to see from our politicians at multiple levels is more transparency.”

— Andrew Hanson

“There has to be some regulation, but it’s so over-regulated that you can’t get a job off the ground.”

— Todd Hitt

Building Green

While building green is more expensive, it’s increasingly desired by clients, required by law, and supported by the construction industry.

Colin Dunn, President of Heffron Company

“I think 20 years from now we’re not going to see anything that’s not considered to be a LEED silver building being built new… it’s coming, so everybody needs to prepare for it.”

— Todd Hitt

“We fully support it… But the cost of doing green needs to incorporated up-front with the developer.”

— Colin Dunn

Infrastructure

The only surety in American infrastructure is that it needs serious work. There is uncertainty in the construction industry about what an infrastructure bill might look like, and how they could fulfill that work under the present labor shortage. However, non-traditional collaborations like private equity and private-public partnerships could help fill the gap.

“When it comes to infrastructure, I think you’ll find that private equity — which we participate in through Kiddar Capital — is poised to help fund these things in innovative ways.”

— Todd Hitt

Technology in Construction

“Technology is changing our industry a lot in the sense that a lot of the up-front work is done at a computer, not by a foreman on-site laying it out.”

— Colin Dunn

“We invest heavily out of our capital unit into technologies, what we call built world technologies. Real estate, construction, automation, logistics, right, all crucial to where construction is going.”

— Todd Hitt

“Real estate, construction, automation, logistics, right, all crucial to where construction is going.”

Watch the full discussion at realclearpolitics.com.