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After 15 years in the family business, Chris Carson has a new vantage point as president. overseeing 40 employees at the 72-year-old company.
2019 Projection: Work in the industrial and manufacturing sectors, along with student and multifamily housing, will pace the construction industry, while increasing competition will keep margins low.
SBJ: Nationally, private-sector spending has risen 23 percent since 2011, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, while public-sector spending has been flat. What’s your forecast?
Carson: There’s been a lot of private-sector spending the last two years in town and in the region. The big box to medium box type of store is kind of getting built out now, especially with the completion of those two Menards businesses and those businesses out on West Sunshine that kind of filled out the retail park. That’s going to slow down a bit but not necessarily stall. The private spending on that level is going to level out. There’s still development going on downtown; that’s going to continue at the same pace. An infrastructure bill is probably something we’re all looking and hoping to get next year. I’m encouraged but skeptical that it’s going to happen soon.
SBJ: Construction employment in Springfield grew by 5 percent from August 2017 to August 2018 compared with a decrease statewide of 0.8 percent, according to Associated General Contractors of America data. What is the current climate for construction employment locally?
Carson: If nothing happens, 2019 will stay about the same as 2018. It should be rosy for the next two or three quarters as far as employment goes. I think industrywide you’re going to see that stay at the same level or move a little bit higher. We’re ready for a downturn, and it looks like we’re in for one, but Springfield and the Midwest in general is at the tail end of the whip. By the third or fourth quarter, we’ll start to feel it.
SBJ: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data project nationwide growth in construction employment at 3 percent in 2018. Do you think that trend will continue and what would be the impact?
Carson: Things are staying steady for 2019, but there’s a lot of competition, so that’s pushing margins down. Based on the people coming and bidding on more work from out of town, it’s good. Things have peaked or are starting to trend down in the bigger cities, so the competition is coming down here to look for volume. They’re coming in with some pretty low prices and it’s making it very hard to compete. It’s a good sign of a robust construction environment when, especially from an owner’s side, they’re happy to have seven to nine bids on all of their projects. Owners are getting good value.
SBJ: What are some of the challenges the industry faced in 2018 that may bleed over into next year?
Carson: People are the biggest issue. You can solve a lot of things with money, but you can’t always solve manpower with it. Everybody I’ve talked to across industries is looking for employees. If we were to suddenly get really, really busy, finding people would be very hard. We’re retaining the people we have in every way we can, and if we lose them, getting them back would be almost impossible.
SBJ: Over the last decade, there has been $185 million in student housing constructed in Springfield. Will the student-housing boom continue?
Carson: I don’t know that there’s any reason for it not to continue. The universities are strong. They have a lot of nonregional type of students where they can fill those student housing like Bear Village. If they continue to have success with the model they have, you’ll see more student housing up and down National [Avenue]. I think you’re going to see more four-and-five story student housing developments go on.
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