Last month at METALCON, Paul Deffenbaugh, editorial director of Metal Construction News, moderated a state of the industry panel featuring Tony Bouquot, general manager of the Metal Builders Manufacturers Association (MBMA); Jennifer Heimburger, president of the Metal Builders Contractors & Erectors Association (MBCEA); Chuck Howard, long-time industry veteran and president of Metal Roof Consultants; and Alan Scott, FAIA, registered architect and sustainability practitioner with Intertek. They discussed supply chain issues, rising costs, the labor shortage and workforce development.
Bouquot said, “Manufacturers are able to find materials but are having to deal with some substitutions like components of paint supplies or specific gauges; they are turning to conventional steel as it is more readily available.” On the same topic Heimburger said, “Companies are able to find alternate suppliers; wait times have varied; and businesses are turning to conventional steel.” Howard contributed, “It has been difficult to get jobs done, and costs have gone up, but the demand is still there. The supply chain is constant now; things have leveled off; and they are in a more comfortable position.” He also stated, “Now is a good time to step back, think long-term and make lemons out of lemonade.”
Deffenbaugh asked about pricing increases and what the panel is seeing. “Nobody was talking about inflation when steel prices increased 400%,” said Heimburger. “Concrete is affecting projects, fuel surcharges and fuel. The market will bear some increases.” Howard said, “Over the last two years, budget planning has been difficult because of price increases, but they are leveling off, and we are catching our breath.” Bouqout contributed, “The value of coming to METALCON is we can have those face-to-face conversations. We are all trying to stay ahead of the downstream prices we are seeing.”
On the topic of sustainability, Scott said, “Low cost, long-term financing ITCs (international tax credits) have been extended, and building performance standards are coming into place, affecting existing building performance approval.” Heimburger contributed, “The retrofit market is growing; it is cheaper to buy an older building and retrofit it vs. building new.” Howard stated, “There is more demand than capacity to take care of the demand in retrofit. You never have to worry about feeding your family if you get into the retrofit business.”
The panel also discussed the environmental benefits of using metal in construction, and reducing carbon emissions. Scott said, “Building materials make up 11% of global carbon emissions, so there is room for improvement. Investors are taking carbon emissions seriously and leaning on us to reduce those emissions. Energy efficiency has been a topic in the industry for a long time.”
Bouquot contributed, “Wood and the wood industry are winning right now. Wood just looks like a better thing. Embodied carbon is captured in the material. Steel is 100% recyclable and will be used as new steel. Can’t say the same thing about that with lumber and when it is demolished, the carbon is going back into the environment so it is recyclable vs. renewable.”
On the topic of the labor shortage, Deffenbaugh says, “This isn’t a new problem.” Heimburger said, “We are trying to change the perception that every student has to go to college. The trades are not giving the schools the curriculums that need to be taught. We need to #1 change perception and #2 provide tools.” Deffenbaugh responded, “Societal attitudes need to change. The industry needs to change, and contractors need to change the way they are looking for talent.” He continued, “There needs to be a focus on workforce development.” Howard agreed, “There is a need to get into high schools and community colleges to develop programs.” Bouquot also agreed. Heimburger said, “If we do not change direction quickly, it is going to have to come from the outside.”
Deffenbaugh asked, “Where are we headed?” Scott replied, “More modular construction and the integration of smart buildings and microgrids will need to be part of the industry in the future.” Howard said, “Retrofitting metal roofs. I don’t think there is a lot that we are doing that will change.” Heimburger added, ”Using metal in construction because as Rob Haddock of S-5! says, it makes good financial sense and helps the environment.” Bouquot stated, “I’m guessing interest rates will continue to increase, probably into next year. Growth usually follows pain.” On the final question from Deffenbaugh, “What will make things change?” The panel was in agreement that it will be economic drivers and that colleges are placing themselves out the market.