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Cityscape: Builders see spotty improvement in supply chain issues

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A reporter’s resolutions

We can always be and do better, and that’s why New Year’s is one of my very favorite holidays. Crafting and tracking my own just-right resolutions has been a lifelong hobby of mine, and one that I carry well past January.

Here are some of my professional resolutions for 2023.

  • Meet deadlines. It’s much easier on my colleagues if I give them the lead time they need to edit and lay out my work.
  • Be curious. This means not being satisfied, but instead asking new questions that arise. If I’m curious, you and I are both going to learn more.
  • Be kind. It really is true that everyone has secret burdens we can’t begin to know. I will be kind (but persistent), even if sources respond to me with brush-offs and nonanswers.
  • Think like a businessperson. In each story, I need to remember my highly specialized audience. It’s not enough to simply engage readers; I must get to the red or black business heart of the story.
  • Be open. I will strive to leave every interview with at least three good story ideas to pursue.

Here’s hoping your work year is profitable in every sense of the word.

Working out the Kinks: Builders see spotty improvement in supply chain issues

| Missouri State University's Grand Street pedestrian underpass, which had been slated for completion in May 2022, is one high-profile project that has been delayed by supply chain disruptions as well as geological issues. Matt Morris, vice president of administrative services at MSU, said he expects the project to be done by mid-February. SBJ photo by Heather Mosley |

Is the supply chain starting to shake out the kinks that have been the bane of businesses, and especially builders, since 2020?

Some report signs of improvement, but optimism is guarded.

Chris Loehr, an architect with H Design Group LLC, said things were pretty crazy in 2021, and some materials remain hard to get a hand on.

“Air handlers have been tough to source – we’re talking multiple months,” he said. “A lot of other stuff is slightly improving. Hopefully, that will all clear up here sooner rather than later.”

The global supply chain crisis has been hard for all involved, Loehr said. He described one current project, North Point Church in Nixa, as “fairly utilitarian” because of pricing and supply concerns. Church officials embraced a straightforward design in the interest of getting it done on time and kept their eyes on a singular goal: building a place large enough for its members to gather to worship.

Loehr said the supply chain continues to cause disruption.

“It leaves a lot of questions and open-endedness, which gives owners heartache,” he said. “That’s understandable. It falls back on us here, too.”

Annie Cox, a project manager with Ross Construction Group LLC, is also noticing movement.

“I would say overall the supply chain is improving, but we are still seeing very lengthy lead times, particularly on rooftop units, electrical gear, wire, wood doors and hardware,” she said.

For Rand Youngblood, project manager with Rich Kramer Construction Inc., items that have been difficult to procure include sprinkler heads, specialty electrical equipment and specialty heating, ventilation and air conditioning units.

“The supply chain issues for the most part have subsided,” he said. “There are still some delays, but most suppliers we work with are able to process and fulfill standard orders in a timely manner to keep jobs moving forward.”

At Morelock Builders & Associates Inc., Brendan Butler, project manager, sees easing on siding, roofing and cabinet products that had long lead times a year ago.

“We are in heavy demand for electric commercial switch gear and transformers on multiple jobs,” he said. “This is industrywide in this area. We’ve contacted several manufacturers and even searched out of state for used refurbished equipment to solve the issues.”

Morelock General Superintendent Jeff Renkoski agreed.

“Commercial air handlers, electrical switch gear and three-phase transformers are still long lead times that require planning and ordering way in advance of when needed for installation,” he said.

A Bloomberg Law analysis published in November projected supply chain disruptions will continue in 2023, but they won’t be the same.

“The 2023 disruptions may be more subtle and geographically dispersed than the collapse occasioned by COVID-19, but the key again will be to build flexibility into supply-chain structures,” the report states.

Flexibility may mean being open to alternative products or technologies, or it may mean ordering high-demand items far in advance.

In the short term, cost may mean flexibility is easier said than accomplished, with seven interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve in 2022 and more on the horizon. Developer Curtis Jared of Jared Enterprises Inc. said many are becoming more guarded about taking on projects.

Jared said interest rates are projected to continue to rise through the middle of 2023.

“They’re talking about capping out at 8%-9%, and that really starts to choke the life out of returns on any sort of development,” he said. “We’re probably looking at 18 months if the feds accomplish what they hope to with inflation and everything. We’ll probably be into mid-2024 before they finally start to ease up.”

Room to twirl

In my interview with Abigail Lind, executive director of the Springfield Ballet Inc. and our arts expert for this issue’s feature, The Outlook, I learned our local arts organizations are pressed for operating space.

The ballet is housed in The Creamery Arts Center, a 35,000-square-foot building at 411 N. Sherman Parkway shared by 30 arts organizations, 11 of which have their headquarters there.

The Creamery feels a little bit like Springfield’s own Hogwarts-style Room of Requirement, perfectly accommodating of everyone who needs a place to create. It would take actual magic to uncramp it.

The employees housed there all have to vie for one of the building’s 17 parking spaces – as do the parents of 200 ballet students who take lessons inside.

Performance spaces also are lacking, Lind said. There are very few proscenium stages – the outwardly fluted kind that slants up from the audience.

As a result, artists are getting creative with events, doing things like mounting outdoor performances that don’t require a stage at all.

Lind told me she and her colleagues have been eyeballing new locations, but all are out of their price range.

Elbow room for the arts: It’s an issue I plan to report on for the Jan. 23 edition.

Contact Karen Craigo
Phone: 417-340-3224
Email: kcraigo@sbj.net
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