Rarely have I talked to so many roofing contractors who have different opinions about the state of the industry as I have lately. The adjectives range from "awful" to "improving" to "fantastic." I think it's a clear demonstration of the uncertainty we all feel as we work through our fourth year of, well, malaise.
The weather, of course, contributes to the confusion. There was no winter to speak of (not counting Alaska, where it still may be snowing); there were hundreds of thousands of homes and buildings damaged by wild wind events in the hail belt; and yet there have been virtually no big weather events along the Atlantic seaboard for six years now.
The weather's one thing, and it always will provide a baseline of work for the roofing industry. The bigger issue, of course, is what Uncle Sam will do. Tax cuts and changes to the estate tax expire Dec. 31. Regulations for our new health care program still are being writtenand no one fully understands the consequences for employers. And then there's the elections, which will make us all so sick of political ads we'll be throwing up "unsustainable debt" and "Swiss bank accounts" long before November.
And the government keeps piling on new regulations, hoping that will somehow, miraculously, level the hypothetical playing field. Instead, the pile of regulations simply makes it more difficult for businesses to operate, makes them less inclined to think about expanding and creates new opportunities for the underground economy.
Back in the everyday world we live in, some private owners are finally freeing up capital improvement money as the credit market eases, however slowly. But state and local governments are running out of money, and the federal government, too, has slowed its spending spree. (I'll paraphrase a letter to the editor of Northern Wyoming Daily News: Saying that the federal government is spending money like a drunken sailor is an insult to drunken sailors. We had to stop when we ran out of money.)
And then, when the work finally starts coming in, our members tell us it's harder than ever to find qualified workers. With tougher immigration laws, more stringent prequalification requirements by some owners and an aging work force, the challenge of finding good people is bound to intensify.
For NRCA, this means we will continue to fight for reasonable regulations; constantly remind building owners why it's important to use only professional roofing contractors; and develop educational and training materials that will help attract and keep the best workers in the construction industry.
In spite of it all, the industry continues to exhibit its remarkable sense of resiliency and this year should be better than last. Here's to a happy summer.
Bill Good is NRCA's executive vice president.