Houston Construction Execs Push Back On Data Saying City Led U.S. In Construction Jobs Lost
Houston’s construction industry took a bigger hit than any other major city in the U.S. as the coronavirus pandemic raged in 2020, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.
The economic uncertainty of the pandemic, in tandem with the energy downturn, is considered to blame for the slowdown in construction activity and subsequent job losses. While the numbers are dire, some construction executives in Houston pushed back against the data, saying they don’t see that much pain in the market and are continuing to add jobs and move forward on schedule themselves.
From November 2019 to November 2020, the Houston metropolitan statistical area lost more construction jobs than any major metro area in the country — 22,500 jobs or 9% of the local construction job market, according to an AGC analysis of government data.
That figure was well ahead of the second hardest-hit location, New York City, which lost 16,700 jobs, or Midland, Texas, which came in third at 9,800 jobs. Nationally, large numbers of contractors have had to lay off workers once they complete projects that started before the pandemic, because private owners and public agencies are hesitant to commit to new construction, the AGC said.
AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson told the Houston Chronicle that the Houston construction industry has likely been left much weaker than other parts of the country because the downturn in the energy sector suppressed demand for construction workers.
Incoming 2021-2022 AGC Houston Chairman John Marshall said that while he doesn’t know for sure, he also believes that challenges in the energy sector prior to the pandemic contributed to job losses in Houston. Combined with economic uncertainty, it isn’t surprising that projects were delayed or canceled in 2020, taking jobs with them.
“I think it's that continued uncertainty, almost being exponential on top of [the energy downturn],” Marshall said. “I think it's the uncertainty that's really driving the slowdown.”
Marshall is a vice president at Houston-based Satterfield & Pontikes Construction, and said the firm has seen some projects slow down or be pushed back because of the pandemic, though few have actually been canceled outright. Commercial development projects have been more likely to hit the brakes than public works, which have continued mostly as usual, Marshall added.
In terms of where job losses have hit hardest, Marshall said that delayed or slowed projects have forced subcontractors to bear the brunt.
“We've seen the effects of COVID on subcontracting firms, which can ripple through the owners that we work for, and how that causes people to react. So it continues to be the big influencer,” Marshall said.
Some construction companies and subcontractors have fared better. GT Leach Construction President Gary Leach said that his firm briefly laid off two people earlier in the pandemic, but has since rehired them. The company actually increased its total staff in 2020 because things have been so busy, he said.
Leach said that the AGC’s number of job losses in Houston surprised him to the point that he questioned the accuracy, as it didn’t add up to what he has seen in daily business life.
“It really surprised me. I mainly work in the residential high-rise area [and] hospitality, and we've actually added more jobs this year,” Leach said. “I've never been busier.” con't article by link