An uncertain time

The roofing industry is feeling the effects of the pandemic in different ways

I have been putting off writing this column until the last minute ... not because I am lazy but because the situation in the U.S. and in the roofing industry seems to change daily. Forgive me if parts of this column sound outdated by the time you read it.

The new coronavirus has taken the world by storm. I am in my mid-sixties and in my lifetime, I have never seen anything like it. At press time, more than 985,000 people in the U.S. have contracted the disease, and more than 55,000 have lost their lives. This is a tragedy beyond description, especially for grieving families. How the U.S. and the rest of the world respond will matter as much as the responses to the disease in the earliest days of the pandemic.

How has the pandemic affected the U.S. roofing industry? Well, it depends. It depends on the type of work. It depends on location. It depends on how long backlogs were going into the pandemic. It depends on company size. It depends on any number of additional things.

Residential contractors are feeling the effects more than commercial contractors. Roofing companies in California, Michigan, Pennsylvania and other states where roofing is not deemed an essential service are struggling to survive. Companies that work in the public sector and in institutional roofing are doing well. Small- and medium-sized companies that were eligible for payroll protection loans were thrown a lifeline that wasn’t available to large companies.

At NRCA, we have been working from our homes for more than a month. Our team has been busy trying to keep you informed on what is happening nationally and what help may be available from the federal government. Tracking new legislation has dominated our staff’s time in Washington, D.C. Our web team has been busy, too, posting virtually (excuse the pun) every single day to update information on our website. Our communications department has been working overtime delivering important updates via social media, email and publications like this one. On top of all that, our folks in risk management and technical services are busy answering your questions every day. Our phones keep ringing, and your team at NRCA continues to respond.

Although I haven’t seen the numbers yet, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. from Yale to realize the U.S. is in a recession, which happens when the economy suffers negative growth for two straight quarters. Unemployment has soared during the past 90 days as millions of workers were laid off. The travel, airline, hotel, restaurant and retail industries have been pummeled by the pandemic. How this will ultimately affect roofing companies is well-known. We need customers who have the finances and the confidence it takes to survive.

There certainly will be long-lasting consequences. Will the effects last until election day in November? In my opinion, it is likely.

I wouldn’t mind being an incumbent member of Congress right now. Incumbents have the benefit of an anxious media trying to fill a relentless 24-hour news cycle. Elected officials are front and center in most places while challengers struggle to get any attention at all. A few months ago, I predicted Democrats would win control of the Senate. Today, I am less sure.

Democrats finally arrived at a presidential nominee in former Vice President Joe Biden, but hardly anyone noticed. Meanwhile, President Trump is on television for a few hours every day attempting to appear presidential during his COVID-19 briefings.

Only time will tell who voters ultimately blame. Congress, the president, China or the World Health Organization are all likely to be called out. But will any of it matter to voters who place partisanship above candidates?

The world has changed and, in some ways, maybe forever. Virtual meetings may be here to stay, a handshake or hug as a greeting will likely be less frequent, and how you react and interact with your customers and co-workers will be different than it was before the pandemic. People will travel less and for good reason. I sense people will be wary about personal contact for a long while. The pandemic has changed us and the economy. We have all lost something.

I am concerned we are less human. Less caring. Less personal. More fearful and less trusting. More anxious about our future and the future of our children. Yet I remain hopeful because I have worked side by side with people like you: People who have lived the American dream in brilliant color. I can’t imagine a more hopeful, optimistic and hardworking crew. I have watched you work these past few months. I have seen your dedication, hard work and generosity on display. I am proud to know you and to be able to say I am a roofer.

Reid Ribble is NRCA's CEO.

This column is part of News + Views. Click here to read additional stories from this section.


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