Commercial Construction Index Finds High Optimism in U.S. Commercial Construction Industry

Hurricane Recovery Efforts Expected to Heighten Concerns about Labor Scarcities in the South, Where Two-Thirds of Contractors Already Face Worker Shortages 

Commercial construction is in high demand across the country and contractors remain optimistic about the current and forward-looking health of the sector, according to the Q3 USG Corporation + U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index (‘Index’), released today. Nearly all contractors surveyed this summer (95 percent) expect revenues to grow or remain stable over the next 12 months compared to the prior 12 months, nearly the same percentage as in the Q2 2017 survey. Most contractors (93 percent) also expect to see profit margins stay the same or increase in the next 12 months, reflecting healthy contractor sentiment.

Commercial construction is in high demand across the country and contractors remain optimistic about the current and forward-looking health of the sector, according to the Q3 USG Corporation + U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index (‘Index’), released today. Nearly all contractors surveyed this summer (95 percent) expect revenues to grow or remain stable over the next 12 months compared to the prior 12 months, nearly the same percentage as in the Q2 2017 survey. Most contractors (93 percent) also expect to see profit margins stay the same or increase in the next 12 months, reflecting healthy contractor sentiment.

Despite contractors’ expectations for growth, access to talent continues to pose challenges in the third quarter of 2017, with 60 percent of contractors having difficulty finding skilled workers, compared to 61 percent in Q2. Nearly all contractors (91 percent) said they are at least moderately concerned about the skill level of the workforce, with 66 percent of contractors in the South expressing concerns about the availability of skilled labor. The Index release comes on the heels of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which are expected to exacerbate existing concerns about labor shortages in the South.

“The Commercial Construction Index is unique in providing the contractor’s view of the state of the industry, which is a key driver of the U.S. economy,” said Jennifer Scanlon, president and chief executive officer of USG Corporation. “This quarter’s findings reveal strong optimism about future prospects for the industry, and also highlight a real need to address ongoing concerns about skilled labor shortages and the impact it has on building in the U.S.”

The Index looks at the results of three leading indicators to gauge confidence in the commercial construction industry – backlog levels, new business opportunities, and revenue forecasts – generating a composite index on a scale of 0 to 100 that serves as an indicator of health for the contractor segment on a quarterly basis. The Q3 2017 composite index score was 73, down slightly from the second quarter’s 76, but close to the first quarter’s 74, representing a consistent sentiment of health in the sector.

The Q3 results from the three key drivers were:

  • Backlog: On average, contractors currently hold 9.5 months of backlog, close to their average ideal amount of 12 months, indicating a steady market and a healthy amount of booked work. This represents 77 percent of their ideal backlog levels.
  • New Business: More than half of contractors (54 percent) reported high confidence in new business over the next 12 months (compared to 59 percent in Q2).
  • Revenues: The majority of contractors (67 percent) continue to expect revenues to grow or remain stable in the next year, although expectations for the rate of expected growth inched toward more modest levels (compared to 71 percent in Q2).

“The commercial construction industry employs millions of Americans and the contributions the sector makes to the U.S. economy are vital to our country’s growth,” said Thomas J. Donohue, president, and CEO of the U.S. Chamber. “However, finding skilled workers remains a challenge for this industry, and it’s likely to remain a challenge in the areas affected by the recent hurricanes. Finding skilled construction workers will be essential to ensure the Gulf region is able to quickly and efficiently rebuild. Our nation must address our workforce challenges to enable the economy to grow.”

This quarter, contractors surveyed were also asked about workforce skills development after revealing insights last quarter about the increasing difficulty in finding skilled workers. Respondents identified safety, technical proficiency, and communication as the most valued skills on the job site. Of note, there is a wide gap (40 percent) in the number of contractors who note the importance of communication skills and those who think their workers have strong skills in that area.

Just over half (53 percent) of contractors surveyed in Q3 said they plan to hire new workers, a decrease from 66 percent in Q2. This is accompanied by a 10 percent increase over last quarter in the number of contractors that plan to keep the same number of workers, indicating an anticipated shift from hiring staff to maintaining staff levels in the upcoming fall and winter months. Looking forward, only 39 percent of those surveyed in the third quarter predicted the situation will worsen, down from nearly a half (47 percent) in Q2, indicating that although there are shifts in the hiring environment, contractors believe it to be stabilizing. This situation bears monitoring in the coming months as parts of the Southern United States begin rebuilding from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

About the Index

The USG Corporation + U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index is a quarterly economic index designed to gauge the outlook for, and resulting confidence in, the commercial construction industry. USG Corporation and the U.S. Chamber produce this Index, along with Dodge Data & Analytics (DD&A). Each quarter, researchers from DD&A source responses from their Contractor Panel of more than 2,700 commercial construction decision-makers in order to better understand their levels of confidence in the industry and other key trends. This panel allows DD&A to provide findings that are representative of the entire U.S. construction industry by geography, size, and type of company. The majority of data represented in this quarter’s Index is from the Q3 2017 survey conducted online from July 12 to 19, 2017. Click here to see the full report, methodology, and graphics.

Please note the Commercial Construction Index report is intended for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to support an investment decision with respect to USG Corporation, nor is it intended to be used for marketing purposes to any existing or prospective investor of USG. This report is not a forecast of future results for USG and actual results of USG may differ materially from those of the commercial construction industry.

Where the Index is Available

Each quarterly Index published is available on the USG Corporation website at www.usg.com/news as well as on the website www.CommercialConstructionIndex.com.

About the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations. For more information, visit www.uschamber.com.

About USG Corporation

USG Corporation is an industry-leading manufacturer of building products and innovative solutions. Headquartered in Chicago, USG serves construction markets around the world through its United States Gypsum Company and USG Interiors, LLC subsidiaries and its international subsidiaries, including its USG Boral Building Products joint venture. Its wall, ceiling, flooring, sheathing and roofing products provide the solutions that enable customers to build the outstanding spaces where people live, work and play. Its USG Boral Building Products joint venture is a leading plasterboard and ceilings producer across Asia, Australasia, and the Middle East. For additional information, visit www.usg.com.

ABC Reports: Construction Input Price Growth Accelerates in August

Construction input prices rose 0.6 percent in August and are up 3.7 percent on a yearly basis, according to an analysis by Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nonresidential construction input prices behaved similarly, rising 0.6 percent for the month and 3.5 percent for the year. 

Only three of the 11 key construction input prices fell for the month. The inputs experiencing declines in prices were steel mill products (-1.5 percent), prepared asphalt, tar roofing and siding products (-0.3 percent), and natural gas (-1.8 percent). Crude petroleum prices exhibited the largest increase, rising 11 percent on a monthly basis and 15 percent on an annual basis.

“If we consider what ought to be happening with respect to materials prices, we would expect them to be marching steadily higher,” said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “After all, the global economic recovery is an increasingly synchronized one. China is on pace to meet growth expectations this year. Europe, Japan, Brazil, Russia and other nations are experiencing meaningfully better recoveries this year compared to 2016. While some economies like Great Britain’s and India’s have stumbled a bit lately, the broader story is one of more rapid global economic growth, driven in large measure by a low interest rate, post-austerity policy environment.

“The world’s improving global economic environment has helped stabilize demand and prices for various commodities. As a result, we are not observing the sharp declines in input prices that occurred during much of 2014 and 2015,” said Basu. “Demand for materials in the United States also remains reasonably high, given ongoing momentum in a number of private segments and indications of stable activity among road builders. The fact that asset prices have been rising, including in key global equity markets, has contributed to pushing materials prices higher, with positive wealth effects triggering greater confidence among real estate developers.

“For now, policymakers around the world appear focused on supporting economic growth.  While this may ultimately translate into problematic global inflation, for now inflation remains under control,” said Basu. “That suggests that accommodative monetary policy will continue to remain in place in much of the world, which will support asset prices, economic growth and demand for construction materials. While surging construction materials prices are unlikely during the near term, with the exception of areas recently impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, so too are large declines.” 

Visit ABC Construction Economics for the Construction Backlog Indicator, Construction Confidence Index and state unemployment reports, plus analysis of spending, employment, GDP and the Producer Price Index.

AGC Special Report on Difficulties FINDING QUALIFIED CRAFT WORKERS TO HIRE AMID GROWING CONSTRUCTION DEMAND

SEVENTY-PERCENT OF CONTRACTORS HAVE A HARD TIME FINDING QUALIFIED CRAFT WORKERS TO HIRE AMID GROWING CONSTRUCTION DEMAND, NATIONAL SURVEY FINDS

Labor ShortagesChronic Labor Shortages are Changing the Way Many Firms Operate, Recruit and Compensate Workers, but Long-Term Economic Impacts Could Be Severe Without New Workforce Measures, Officials Caution

Seventy percent of construction firms report they are having a hard time filling hourly craft positions that represent the bulk of the construction workforce, according to the results of an industry-wide survey released today by Autodesk and the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said that many firms are changing the way they operate, recruit and compensate, but cautioned that chronic labor shortages could have significant economic impacts absent greater investments in career and technical education.

“In the short-term, fewer firms will be able to bid on construction projects if they are concerned they will not have enough workers to meet demand,” said Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer for the Associated General Contractors.  “Over the long-term, either construction firms will find a way to do more with fewer workers or public officials will take steps to encourage more people to pursue careers in construction.”

Of the more than 1,600 survey respondents, 70 percent said they are having difficulty filling hourly craft positions, Sandherr noted. Craft worker shortages are the most severe in the West, where 75 percent of contractors are having a hard time filling those positions, followed by the Midwest where 72 percent are having a hard time finding craft workers, 70 percent in the South and 63 percent in the Northeast.

The labor shortages come as demand for construction continues to grow.  Sandherr noted that construction employment expanded in 258 out of 358 metro areas that the association tracks between July 2016 and July 2017, according to a new analysis of federal construction employment data the association also released today. Growing demand for construction workers helps explain why 67 percent of firms report it will continue to be hard, or get harder, to find hourly craft workers this year.

Tight labor market conditions are prompting firms to change the way they operate, recruit and compensate workers, Sandherr noted.  Most firms report they are making a special effort to recruit and retain veterans (79 percent); women (70 percent) and African Americans (64 percent).  Meanwhile, half of construction firms report increasing base pay rates for craft workers because of the difficulty in filling positions.  Twenty percent have improved employee benefits for craft workers and 24 percent report they are providing incentives and bonuses to attract workers.

Forty-six percent of firms also report they are doing more in-house training to cope with workforce shortages while 47 percent report they are increasing overtime hours and 41 percent are increasing their use of subcontractors.  In addition, 22 percent report they are increasing their use of labor-saving equipment, 11 percent are using off-site prefabrication and 7 percent are using virtual construction methods like Building Information Modeling, or BIM for short.

“The ongoing labor drought continues to put pressure on the already high-risk, low-margin construction industry,” said Sarah Hodges, director of the construction business line at Autodesk, a leading 3D design, engineering, and construction software firm. “As labor challenges continue to grow, technology will play an increasingly important role supporting the existing workforce while inspiring the next generation of industry professionals.”

Sandherr called on federal, state and local officials to act on the measures in the association’s Workforce Development Plan to address the growing worker shortages. In particular, he urged the Senate to pass legislation to reform and increase funding for the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

The survey was conducted in July and early August. Click here to see the national survey results, analysis of the data and regional and state-by-state results. Click here for the July 2017 metro construction employment data.

ABC Praises Trump Administration Regulatory Rollbacks in SBA Testimony

Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) today praised the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back burdensome regulations that drive up construction costs and hold back small business hiring and expansion.

Testifying at the 2017 National Regulatory Fairness Hearing at the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of the National Ombudsman on Aug. 28, ABC General Counsel Maury Baskin Esq. of Littler Mendelson P.C. urged action on the “persuader,” over time and silica rules, the new “joint employer” standard, and other onerous rulemakings and policies.

“For the construction industry, unjustified and unnecessary regulations translate to higher costs, which are then passed along to the consumer or lead to construction projects being unaffordable,” Baskin said. “ABC member contractors are encouraged by the Trump administration’s efforts to bring to light and roll back costly and burdensome regulations.”

Top priorities for regulatory relief among ABC members include:

  • rescinding the unlawful “persuader” advice final rule (Interpretation of the ‘Advice’ Exemption in Section 203(c) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act), which would have a chilling effect on employers that need advice on labor relations matters;
  • rescinding the “white collar” overtime  rule, which would be extremely disruptive and harmful to both employers and many of their currently exempt employees, and would be destabilizing to the construction industry as a whole;
  • creating a more workable standard to replace the Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica rule, which is technologically and economically infeasible in the real world of construction;
  • rescinding the Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses final rule, which would force employers to disclose sensitive information to the public that can easily be misused for reasons wholly unrelated to safety, subject employers to illegitimate attacks and employees to violations of their privacy, and force many employers to change their current safety programs in ways that will make workplaces less safe by discouraging drug testing and safety incentive programs;
  • repealing, or at the minimum making common-sense reforms to, the Davis-Bacon Act, which uses a flawed wage survey process to determine federal “prevailing” wages in the construction industry and often makes it impossible for small contractors to know how to classify their employees;
  • enacting the Save Local Business Act, which would overturn overbroad joint employer tests that threaten many small employers in the construction industry with significant new burdens, and restore fairness to National Labor Relations Board oversight of small business workplace policies;
  • maintaining government neutrality in federal contracting by restricting project labor agreement mandates on federal and federally assisted projects, which drive up the cost of construction projects between 12 percent and 18 percent by discouraging competition from small contractors.

ABC also applauded the president’s executive order aimed at expanding apprenticeship opportunities and pledged to continue working with the White House, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Labor Relations Board, the SBA and other government entities to reduce regulatory burdens on America’s small businesses.

Made in America, Right in Wisconsin. Governor Walker Joins Empire Level to Celebrate Commitment to Growth in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker today joined employees of Empire Level (Empire), a division of Milwaukee Tool, and local officials to celebrate its commitment to manufacturing growth in Wisconsin. With more than 200 employees, Empire is driving growth and job creation in Wisconsin through partnerships with Milwaukee Tool, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), Milwaukee 7, and local governments.

Milwaukee Tool invested $16 million to strengthen Empire since acquiring the company in 2014. This investment supported plant upgrades, over 150 new products, and more than 80 incremental hires.

“Empire Level and Milwaukee Tool have shown an outstanding commitment to growth and creating new manufacturing jobs right here in Wisconsin,” Governor Walker said. “Both of these long-time Wisconsin companies are teaming up with local colleges and universities on worker training initiatives to close the skills gap and recruit engineering talent. The commitment shown by companies like Milwaukee Tool and Empire is a major reason why Wisconsin will continue to lead the way in manufacturing and worker training.”

Founded in 1919, Empire is a Mukwonago, Wis.-based manufacturer of precision layout tools, and is the fastest-growing layout brand in North America. The company introduced such industry-firsts as the Monovial, the Torpedo Level, and the Magnetic Level, and its products are sold in more than 50 countries.

Milwaukee Tool is a Brookfield, Wis.-based manufacturer of cordless power tools, professional hand tools, and accessories. With its $16 million investment in Empire, Milwaukee Tool has rebuilt a 100-year MADE IN THE USA brand with a reputation for quality.

“Empire Level’s success is a testament to our commitment of driving growth and creating new jobs in Wisconsin,” said Milwaukee Tool Group President Steve Richman. “The Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement specialty retailer, recognizes Empire as the fastest-growing and largest U.S. manufacturer of levels. Our strategic partnership has delivered tremendous growth which is focused on developing innovative solutions for our users and The Home Depot customers. The investments we’ve made in people, training, plant upgrades, and quality processes at Empire will allow us to continue delivering on this partnership.”

In February 2016, WEDC awarded $18 million in enterprise zone tax credits to support expansion efforts by Milwaukee Tool. The credits are tied to job retention, job creation, and capital investment.