It’s been a little over a year since the pandemic came to America. The construction industry has had to deal with a lot of challenges and has been forced to adapt to new ways of doing the work. It makes sense to look back and see what we’ve learned and what we still have to overcome. 

We found and excellent long article on written by Kendal Jones* that gives an overview of how the construction industry did, and we’ll summarize and share the good with the not-so-good. Of course the most important measure of success is how well your business did. It’s likely we all came out at least somewhat better than we feared. 

It was March 2020 that WHO (World Health Organization) Director-General, Dr Tedros, declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Soon we began to see stay-at-home orders and interruption in public gatherings. New rules forced non-essential businesses to close and threatened the economic engine that drives the country. 

Initially, outside of a few states, the construction industry was considered an essential business and was allowed to stay open. Later the same applied all over the country. Projects that were already started continued under new guidelines but businesses had to accommodate shifting rules as more knowledge of the virus affected those guidelines. Uncertainty abounded for much of the last year.

Overall Construction Spending

Remarkably overall construction spending was up in 2020 by almost 5% over 2019. This growth was uneven however. Residential construction was up about 12% but non-residential was down about a half of a percent. 

Construction Starts 

Construction Starts didn’t do as well. Uncertainty caused a lot of projects to be paused or canceled. Non-residential starts were down 27% compared to 2019.

Remarkably, 2021 is off to a record increase. US homebuilding soared to a 15 year high in March surging almost 20% for the month. Starts were up 37% in March on a year-on-year basis. Most of the increase was in the Northwest and partially due to weather. 

“While housing demand is expected to remain strong, we expect it to diminish somewhat as the year progresses,” said Doug Duncan, chief economist at Fannie Mae in Washington. “Homebuilders continue to face supply constraints, including increasing prices of lumber and other materials.”

Construction Technology brings new Efficiency

The Construction Industry as a whole has traditionally been slow to adopt new technology and so has suffered a lag in efficiency for decades compared to other industries. The pandemic forced the industry to explore and embrace new technologies in the office and on job sites. The rate of adoption in 2020 was equivalent to the combined change of the previous three years. 

New ways of interacting with customers and monitoring job sites should provide an accelerator to productivity gains in the coming years. From interactive 3-D modeling on iPads to compact X-ray imaging technology, the ability to foresee problems before they happen will help avoid making costly mistakes. The use of closed circuit cameras to monitor safety and progress and even the advanced use of drones promises to make job sites safer and easier to monitor. 

The Year of Covid

Overall the construction industry rose to the occasion and took on the exceptional challenges of this unpredictable once-in-a-lifetime event. It was forced to adjust and adapt and in spite of the challenges it generally did well, and set a path for sustained future growth that should keep it strong for years to come.