First Word: Around the world

If you still have problems accepting that ours has become a global economy, consider that our steel and tire shortages are due in large part to an increased demand in China. Or that the Canadian dollar’s record gains on the American greenback are causing our good neighbor to the north big problems, since 80 percent of what it manufactures is exported – mostly to the states.

Just 10 years ago, this global economy concept was something that seemed to affect only the world’s most precious commodities. Now it controls how even the smallest manufacturers and suppliers in the construction industry plan and budget each year. Our industry now embraces products made in countries around the world and employs workers of every nationality so we can compete with anyone in the world.

During a recent business trip to Toronto, I was asked how the construction industry’s economic forecast looked for the near future. While admittedly not even close to being an economist, my reply was that our industry showed every indication of remaining strong for several years to come. A number of manufacturers are behind on delivering equipment ordered months earlier, even though we’re now in the fourth quarter of this year. And the new transportation bill makes $286.5 billion dollars available to states for road and bridge jobs during the next six years. From my vantage point, our industry looks as strong as it has in many years.

Manufacturers are scrambling to produce new equipment that offers greater versatility for contractors, including attachments that allow one machine to multi-task – great stuff in our do-it-all, one-stop way of thinking.

Some challenges remain: supply chain management, the cost of fuel, fleet maintenance and replacement, and the ever-present shortage of capable equipment operators. Compare that to the situation the industry was in just two or three years ago, though, and things don’t really seem so bad.

Yes, there will be a lot of rebuilding following Katrina’s wake. (And please check out our special Reporter section on page 13. This is the first installment in what will be a continuing series on the storm’s impact on construction.) But even without the disaster-related projects, our society seems intent on growing and improving every community in our country through new construction. The ripple-effect of our optimistic, progressive culture is indeed felt, and will continue to affect future construction in every corner of the globe.