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ISA Hosts Webinar about Rebounding & Adapting During the Pandemic

The Indiana Subcontractors Association recently hosted four panelists in a webinar about best practices for adapting to a pandemic. Moderator Kevin Turner, Vice President of Wurster Construction, posed questions about the current state of the industry to panelists Chris Harrington, owner of Gaylor Electric and ISA board member, Rod Foley, president of North Mechanical, and Robert Barnes, business development manager for The Hagerman Group.

Panelists discussed strategies their firms are using to embrace new safety regulations and budget modifications. By focusing on the industry’s improved methods of communication, as well as its increasing pool of potential workers and the possibility for demand growth in certain markets, panelists gave viewers an optimistic look into the future of construction in Indiana.

How Has the Pandemic Affected Business?
Barnes said so far, Hagerman has seen most projects continue due to Indiana’s designation of construction as an essential business. He said some hospitality projects were put on hold for pandemic-related issues, but his firm is cautiously optimistic for 2021 and beyond.

Foley shared similar thoughts about COVID-19’s effect on his business’s day-to-day operations.

“By and large, the work we had already started or is getting ready to start is still moving forward,” Foley said.

Foley said larger projects initiated before the pandemic, such as the city’s new community justice campus, IU Health’s new medical campus, and renovations to Bankers Life Fieldhouse are all still moving forward. North Mechanical has dealt with minor scheduling difficulties on some projects, but Foley said pandemic delays have affected his company’s business operations more than anything.

How Are You Adapting?
Remote working is becoming more prevalent than ever before, so companies like Hagerman, Gaylor, and North Mechanical are implementing technology in new ways to sustain productivity. Company meetings that were once hosted in a single conference room are now being conducted over teleconferences, and offices are now stocked with hand sanitizer, masks, and other personal protective equipment.
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Harrington and Barnes said this pandemic forced their companies to embrace online meeting software to regularly communicate with staff and clients.

“Before, our Zoom meetings were simply based out of convenience,” Barnes said. “Now, it has become a necessity.”

Barnes said Hagerman outfitted three rooms with Zoom capabilities since the pandemic began.

“I was really surprised at how quickly everybody embraced teleconferencing,” Barnes said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of my friends and colleagues and clients better just by seeing the backgrounds of their homes. I’ve even met a lot of my clients’ children via them running around in the background.”

What Positive Signs Have You Seen from the Industry?
Panelists agreed that despite experiencing some project delays, the construction industry has already shown a remarkable ability to acclimate to new circumstances.

“It all comes down to adaptability,” Barnes said. “The state has been challenged before, but for most of it, we’ve come out on top.”

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Barnes said the pandemic has shone a light onto the critical importance of relationships between general contractors and subcontractors. Foley echoed Barnes’s evaluation and told viewers that North Mechanical is working harder than ever with their marketing team to maintain relationships with other businesses. Each panelist agreed that the pandemic is also forcing vendors and suppliers to be more proactive in informing businesses about product availability and possible delays.

Turner noted that before the pandemic, the construction industry was struggling to find new applicants. He asked panelists if pandemic-related layoffs in other industries have helped their businesses find more willing applicants. Foley said North Mechanical recently hired an employee who worked as a bus boy in his previous job, and Barnes and Harrington confirmed that both their companies have seen an increase in applicants coming from the struggling restaurant industry.

“Would he have found that opportunity in this industry if the pandemic hadn’t happened?” Foley asked. “Probably not.”

Barnes said, “This is an industry where we welcome just about everybody.”

Harrington added that his company recently hired 85 interns for the summer who give him confidence in the younger generation of construction professionals.

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“It’s amazing what our young talent can produce quickly,” Harrington said.

How Has the Pandemic Affected Various Markets in Indiana?
Turner asked panelists if they thought Indiana’s industrial market, which started making a resurgence in Northern Indiana before the pandemic, will remain a strong market for construction projects in the coming years. Foley said multiple industrial projects that were discussed over the last few years are likely to still move forward, including a new food plant in Shelbyville and another industrial project in Logansport.

“I’m excited about that side of the business,” Foley said.

Markets like healthcare, K-12, and higher education are also predicted to show an increase in demand for projects in the near future. As the world continues to learn more about safe designs for schools and healthcare facilities, Harrington said he expects those industries to make their spaces safer for children and patients. He said classrooms have already changed seating layouts to ensure students are not facing each other and Barnes added that facilities are trending toward adding more bathrooms so fewer people are confined in one area.

Harrington acknowledged that although some industries may see a project demand growth because of COVID-19, a lack of state tax revenue will likely result in less money allocated to universities, which could slow the demand for higher education projects. But while every industry in the country has been affected by the pandemic, panelists in ISA’s ‘Rebound & Recovery’ webinar all expressed optimism for the future of Indiana’s construction industry.

“Our state has done a hell of a job managing this and governing through all these issues to do what best for everyone,” Barnes said. “At the end of the day, we’re all in this together.”

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