How is the construction industry moving forward during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Aug. 7, 2020

What is your position within your company?
Mike Toohey: I am general manager for The BILCO Co., New Haven, Conn.

What has your business experienced since the start of the pandemic?
The BILCO Co. had a strong start to the year, and then the bottom fell out mid-March. We began to see improvement in May led by our residential products. The number of orders we received never really declined—just the quantity of products on those orders. Our distribution partners continued to order, but they were keeping inventories at a minimum.

Have you seen some parts of the U.S. rebounding faster than others?
Business has been fragmented geographically. Sales on the West Coast and in the South have been strong. We aren’t sure how recent flare-ups of COVID-19 in those regions will affect business going forward. The upper Midwest and New England have been improving, as well as Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, which are rebounding after being hit hard by shutdowns.

As some level of normalcy returns, what do you expect to see in the next six months? In the next 18 months?
I think the third quarter will be solid due to pent-up demand, and business may taper off a bit in the fourth quarter. Various projections show construction slowly improving into 2021, but the impact of the pandemic this summer and fall is a true wild card. I’m also concerned about construction projects that were deferred because of COVID-19. I think some of those projects are just going to go away.

Are certain sectors of construction such as hospitals, commercial buildings and schools rebounding more rapidly than others?
The education and infrastructure sectors seem to be busy. Historically, the summer is the busiest time in our business for school construction. Everyone has to operate on the premise children will be back in school in the fall. A lot of funding was already in place for water and waste treatment construction, and these projects also are steadily proceeding.

The pandemic seems to have caught everybody off-guard. What are your key takeaways from the pandemic, and what processes do you think will change in the construction industry going forward?
I think everyone has learned to operate remotely and found it can be done successfully for the most part. Safety always has been critical in the construction industry, and I think the pandemic has only heightened this. Everyone seems refocused on the importance of personal protective equipment and other safety protocols to protect employees. Going forward, it will be interesting to see what kind of impact the shift to working remotely has on commercial construction. Over the next several years, we will likely see many organizations downsize their office footprint to reflect having fewer people on site.