I got an interesting call yesterday from the local Federal Reserve Bank office asking about the impact of Hurricane Florence on the construction industry. They are trying to figure out the economic effect of the storm. The short answer is that it’s too early, of course, but history gives a little insight into the aftermath. Ike, Katrina and Harvey were similar storms in that they brought massive amounts of water damage. That means much of the damage is uninsured and more difficult to quantify. That also means that the rebuilding will likely stretch out over several years (or longer).
What is different now from 2017 or 2005 is the lack of capacity to rebuild. For building materials, supply is already limited for what will be in highest demand, like lumber, plywood, drywall, and construction equipment. That means there will be price increases, but, with little slack capacity, the availability will be a bigger factor. The same is true for labor. It will take tens of billions to rebuild and repair the flood damage but there will only be so much that can be rebuilt without skilled workers. The winter slowdown in northern cities might provide some labor force, but there is enough construction that there may not be many layoffs this winter. That will certainly be true of Pittsburgh’s construction workforce.
The guess here is that – like with Katrina – the reconstruction in the Carolinas will be stretched out over a number of years.
In project news the Builders Exchange reported on a project that the Turnpike Commission is requesting prequalification to bid. The Southern Beltway maintenance shops are budgeted in the $25 million range and based upon history should go out to bid in the month following the Oct. 24 prequalification due date.
Pittsburgh’s construction industry lost a great guy on Monday. Brian McKay passed away after battling ALS for the past year or so. Brian owned AMB Plumbing & Excavating and was incredibly involved in the industry, serving the Mechanical Contractors Association and the Builders Exchange for many years. He was past president of the MCA and the current president of the PBX board. Brian was a man who quietly helped a lot of people out over the years. He will be missed. Visitation will be held today and tomorrow at Schellhaas in Franklin Park. The details are in Brian’s obituary.
The bids taken Sept. 11 on Pitt’s $41 million Salk Hall Renovation Phase 2 had the hallmarks of growing inflation and a market that is busy. The $50,862,000 total for base bid #1 was about 25% over budget and the project will likely re-bid after scope changes, since there were few alternates to reduce the cost. Burchick was the low general contractor. The general bids are below:
I don’t have enough information to deduce how much inflation impacted the project but the U.S. index for inputs to construction rose 9.6%, 8.1% and 8.1% year-over-year in May-July. There are also some indications that the current market conditions played a factor. There were only 3 bids on the general and electrical packages. HVAC received 4 bids and plumbing received 5. That’s a dramatic difference from what a Pitt-delegated project would have received even one year ago. Moreover, the gap between bids was big. Burchick’s low bid was 6.8% below the second low bid, and 10.2% below the third. That was the tightest spread by far. The spread between the low and second bids on the other 3 contracts was at least 9.5% and as much as 12.5%.
One of the strong economic signs has been the upswing in owner-occupied industrial/manufacturing projects. Yesterday, Uwharrie Builders from NC broke ground on an 80,000 sq. ft. expansion for Technimark in Latrobe. On August 20, New-Belle Construction pulled a permit for a 68,000 sq. ft. new facility for Zilka & Company in Mason Park, an industrial park near New Stanton. Westmoreland County IDC has been preparing new pads in several locations in anticipation of opportunities like these. Zilka is in the bakery products business and Technimark does rigid plastic injection molding for healthcare applications. While emerging technologies and gas-related energy should drive growth in manufacturing, the gains in regional manufacturing seem to have a wider base.
Pittsburgh-based general contractor PJ Dick-Trumbull-Lindy Paving has announced a leadership succession plan on September 7. The board of directors has approved the transition of Chief Executive Officer Clifford R. Rowe Jr. into the role of Chairman of the Board, effective January 1, 2019. At that time, Jake Ploeger and Tim O’Brien will be promoted to Co-Chief Executive Officers.
(From left) Tim O’Brien, Cliff Rowe and Jake Ploeger.
In project news, Massaro Corp. is taking sub and supplier bids on its $4 million First Tee project at the Schenley Park Golf Course on Sept. 21. DGS awarded contracts for the $16.4 million new PA State Police headquarters in Greensburg. Leonard S. Fiore Inc. was the successful general construction contractor.
This may be looking for the dark cloud in the silver lining, but there’s an interesting economic indicator that appears to be a warning about the economy. It’s called the “output gap” and it’s an indicator of how close the economy is to the full potential GDP output. In other words, how close are we to having no more capacity to grow, either because there are no more workers or no more capacity to make things. That’s a pretty accurate description of today’s conditions. The thing that makes this measure worth noting is that a recession has followed the peak of the output gap every business cycle for almost 50 years. The question is: how close are we to peak?
There is no reason that the economy has to go backwards just because it has when conditions were similar in the past. The most practical and urgent conclusion to draw from the current output gap is that the shortage of skilled workers and capacity could limit the ability of businesses to expand, even if their sales are growing. Adding a new plant or new equipment won’t help you grow if there is no one to occupy or operate it.
A few of the projects that have been in the news lately are either bidding or getting ready to bid. Packages are bidding and have been let by Forest City Enterprises for the $20 million conversion of the Freight House Shops to the UPMC training center. The $45 million Produce Terminal/1600 Smallman Street mixed-use development, being built by PJ Dick, is getting close to construction. Al. Neyer Inc. is preparing to start work on two new buildings, totaling 267,000 square feet at the Clinton Commerce Park in Findlay. There is a $6 million UPMC/Indiana Hospital joint venture cancer center out to bid to AIM, Landau, Massaro, MBM, Mosites, Shannon and Volpatt. New-Belle Construction has started work on a 67,000 square foot warehouse/office in the Technology Drive industrial park in New Stanton.
Bidding activity is very slow as the kids get back to school. The $100 million Section 55A2 piece of the Southern Beltway is out to bid, due Sept. 26. Pitt’s $40 million Salk Hall has been extended again to Sept. 11. The activity after Labor Day will be a good indicator of how the year finishes out. If the pipeline is any indication, there should be a lot to bid in October/November.
Regardless of what projects owners put out after Labor Day, there will be bidding for some of the big projects that have been tracking for the past year or so.
AHN’s new $260 million Wexford hospital broke ground last week and additional bid packages from Massaro/Gilbane should bid through the fall. Likewise, packages for bid on the $190 million UPMC South Hills and $350 million UPMCY Mercy projects will be out. PJ Dick is bidding the 320,000 square foot, $40 million-plus Bakery Square 3.0 office building. CCAC’s new $60 million classroom at the Allegheny campus is expected to be ready to bid in November. The 90,000 square foot building will be bid in five prime packages.
The Airport Authority’s $1.1 billion Terminal Modernization Program continues to quietly progress. The authority will issue an RFP for construction management services for the project in September, with the expectation of signing a contract in Feb. 2019. An RFP for additional A/E services specific to the $250 million-plus parking garage/lots and ground transportation center will also go out in Sept.
Thursday I attended a seminar on the Opportunity Zones that were created as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act at the end of 2017. The overlooked provision of the law has the potential to attract a lot of investment in poorer communities. The short explanation is that investing in Opportunity Zone projects or businesses allows you to defer capital gains as much as ten years, and then increase the cost basis of the investments made in the Opportunity Zones by up to 15%. If you hold the investment for ten years, the gains on the investment are tax-free.
There are 86 such zones in SW PA, some 300 statewide. Some of them are places where there is already redevelopment buzz or projects, like the Hill District, Hazelwood and Homewood. The bad news is there are still no regulations published by the IRS yet, meaning that investors are still waiting out to see what the rules will be. By year’s end (at worst) this should be accomplished. You can read more about the zones at the DCED web site.
Project news is quite lean. The economic news of the week was Friday’s jobs report, which showed the US employers adding 157,000 jobs in July. That’s a decline from June’s total but still brisk enough to keep the average monthly gain for 2018 above 200,000 jobs. Economists believe the hiring pace would have been better but for the lack of applicants in the job market.
Pittsburgh Homebuilding Report issued its research on the housing market in the six-county metro area this week. The report was unsurprising in that year-over-year growth in single-family detached homes was muted by lot inventory to 4.4%. There was a steep decline in multi-family starts but that is more a matter of timing than a change in direction of the market. With what is in the pipeline, it is expected that permits for apartments/condos will reach the 2,000 units mark again in 2018. The surprise was the 36.1% drop in attached single-family permits. This segment of the market has grown steadily over the past decade, as demographics and topography made townhouses and quads more desirable. This category has produced roughly 900-1,000 units during recent years. It’s unlikely that there will be a two-fold jump in townhouse construction during the last six months. Overall, the market was off by almost 800 units, or more than 30%.
One of the major projects in the apartment pipeline, the second phase of the Riverfront development being built by NRP, is out to bid for subcontractors, due July 27. According to the description at the NRP Construction website this phase will include 442 apartments in two buildings, plus a 544-space garage. In today’s market, that should be in the $55 million range.
Turner Construction was selected as construction manager for the $240 million UPMC Hillman/Shadyside Hospital expansion. That wraps up the CM selections for the major UPMC capitol program. To recap: PJ Dick/Whiting Turner will build the Transplant and Heart Hospital at Presbyterian. Mascaro/Barton Malow is CM for the Vision and Rehabilitation Hospital at Mercy. Rycon/Skanska will build the UPMC South Hills Hospital.