The Big Bad Wolf huffed and he puffed but he just could not blow the house down. The masonry industry can take away a lesson from the Three Little Pigs fairy tail, and not just because the third little pig outsmarted the wolf by building his house with brick.
If there ever was a Big Bad Wolf, it would be the troublesome U.S. economy. As its winds blow, the industry may be battered and beaten, but it still stands tall.
As the construction industry tries to rebound from one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression of the 1930s, MASONRY CONSTRUCTION's Annual Top Contractors survey shows masonry contractors are finding ways to overcome the hardships through building schools, public works construction, and repair/restoration. They are being forced to expand their markets in an attempt to stay afloat. “Diversification is key in this economy,” says Robert Gladu, president of Artisan Masonry in Garland, Texas.
Our survey respondents' revenue dropped 26.2% from 2008 to 2009. This is not surprising, considering nonresidential construction remains stuck in neutral and overall construction has fallen for the fifth consecutive year.
“The economy has forced us to downsize approximately 50%,” says Bruce Dexter, president of B.W. Dexter II Inc. in Danielson, Conn. “We have been forced to lay off employees that have been working with us for 20 years.”
Despite the hard times, mason contractors can take advantage of niches in the marketplace. While these will not bring the industry back to the heyday of the last decade, they will keep business alive and allow money to flow through the balance sheets.
As the nation's population continues to expand, school attendance will also increase. Many see masonry as the sensible building choice.
In 1999, $18 billion was spent on new school construction, according to the Portland Cement Association. The total for the next three years is projected to be $74.5 billion. Looking ahead eight years, it is estimated that 6000 new schools will be built. At a 90% market share, masonry construction will account for over 5400 of those new schools, the PCA says.
“Schools have been keeping us busy,” Gladu says. “This market is now 70% to 80% of our business, compared to the past where it was only 20%.” Similarly, Terry Burgess Sr., president of Burgess & Burgess Masonry Construction Inc. of Clifton Springs, N.Y., says his company's most important projects last year was for the Fairport and Red Creek school districts.
Tight school budgets necessitate quality construction that lasts. School districts rely on voters to pass tax levies for new school construction, so officials must persuade the public that it is paying for a quality building. Masonry's long-term benefits of durability, affordability, low maintenance, and pleasing physical appearance is just what the principal ordered.