These were the best of times—and these were the worst of times. Michigan construction companies saw projects across a few sectors, such as service, hospitality and entertainment slow down this year because of COVID-19 restrictions, but increases in transportation, industrial, and residential markets created a balance.
“It was feast or famine for many of our contractors,” said Associated Builders and Contractors of Southeastern Michigan (ABC SEMI) President and CEO Keith Ledbetter. “With so many deemed ‘essential services’ many were able to continue working, but with CDC regulations and the state and local municipalities enforcing their own restrictions, most if not all of our companies experienced shortfalls in work or jobs that were shuttered due to discontinued inspections. It was a frustrating year, but one that our staff made sure our members navigated and adapted to ensure their businesses survived.”
Ledbetter points to several similar associations which chose to shut down during the pandemic and lay their staff off. Fearing the worst, even a number of ABC Chapters across the nation opted to downsize to ride out the outbreak. But Ledbetter believed that when times are at their worst, associations like ABC need to be there for their members to advise them and help them navigate the process of operating legally and safely during this unprecedented global epidemic.
“I applaud our staff for their efforts to inform and assist our members with their struggles adhering safely to the state and CDC guidelines of COVID-19,” said Ledbetter. “Prior to this year, we had never imagined a world where ‘Zoom meetings’ and mass-conference calls would be the norm, but we jumped in with both feet to better inform our members of the ever changing regulations and restrictions imposed by our government dealing with COVID-19 and, more importantly, what help was out there to see them through this desperate time.”
“Prior to this year, we had never imagined a world where ‘Zoom meetings’ and mass-conference calls would be the norm, but we jumped in with both feet to better inform our members of the ever changing regulations and restrictions imposed by our government dealing with COVID-19 and more importantly what help was out there to see them through this desperate time.”Keith Ledbetter, ABC SEMI President and CEO
Robert Clancy, owner and operator of Clancy Contracting, Inc. in Casco, ABC SEMI Board member, and new ABC State Chairman, was impressed with how quickly Ledbetter and his team dissected the COVID-19 restrictions and were able to prepare, inform and advise their membership on what was needed in order to conform and continue working in that environment.
“When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s initial stay-home order halted construction projects that were not deemed essential, we knew that the impact on the industry was not going to be good,” said Clancy. “Many of us assumed we were done, but Keith and his staff dug in and got us the latest information we needed to prepare our companies to deal with COVID and continue to work safely. And all of us became better acquainted with electronic media and other ways of communicating with clients, our staff, and customers. I, for one, have had my share of Zoom meetings and look forward to getting back to face-to-face meetings and doing the networking that ABC does best.”
Despite several obstacles this year that exacerbated construction’s ongoing talent shortage, including workers sidelined by the pandemic, and a contentious national election, many ABC SEMI contractors were still aided by a healthy backlog of projects going into the new year. Many are hopeful for continued growth and announced projects going into the 2021 bid season.
“As the economy continues to be reopened, construction activity has recovered somewhat, but the impact of the still very weak economy has meant the delaying and cancelling of planned projects,” said Drew Maltese President of DJ Maltese Construction and ABC SEMI Chairman. “I think like most contractors in our association, we are very optimistic about the coming year—we do expect to be busy, but not what most would consider ‘back-to-normal’ until the fall. Most believe at that point everyone who wanted to receive the COVID-19 vaccination will have done so.”
Maltese expects the rebound will not be as lengthy as many expect due to the essential side of most projects being bid and is confident that sectors like entertainment and recreational will see a quick rebound once the virus has been curtailed. Restaurants and entertainment venues will continue to be in demand, but Maltese feels one unintended consequence of the pandemic that forced many companies to have employees work at home will impact future projects in the commercial office sector.
“I think like most contractors in our association, we are very optimistic about the coming year—we do expect to be busy, but not what most would consider ‘back-to-normal’ until the fall. Most believe at that point everyone who wanted to receive the COVID-19 vaccination will have done so.”Drew Maltese, ABC SEMI Chairman
“Projections this time last year had a steady growth in the commercial office market,” said Maltese. “But if this last year has shown us anything it is that many companies were just as, if not more, effective when a decent portion of their workforce worked from home. The savings on day-to-day operations and purchased and rented space certainly impacts the profitability and allowed many companies who would have had to lay off or downsize a real viable option to keep their staff at full capacity. This will not be overlooked as business crunches the numbers on just how big an operational footprint they really need when it comes to headquarters and branch offices. I frankly think to a lesser degree we will see educational outlays diminish as more students opt for online learning as well.”
In spite of this unprecedented epidemic, ABC SEMI has made substantial strides in 2020 for both its sister trade academy, Southeastern Michigan Construction Academy (SEMCA) and retention and growth for membership. Ledbetter and Maltese both echo each other’s praise for the efforts the leadership and staff at ABC SEMI has made under less than easy circumstances.
“It was quite a year—I had barely taken the reins as Board Chairman when the COVID-19 pandemic hit,” said Maltese. “Credit goes to Keith who immediately reached out to me and said, ‘this is what we are going to do.’ We made changes across the board and adapted to the demanding needs our members had and, in all situations, exceeded their expectations. We improved our electronic outreach and increased our direct mail to make sure we kept our finger on the pulse of what our members were going through. For many struggling companies, knowing that ABC SEMI was still in their corner made a huge difference in surviving this demanding year.”
Ledbetter was grateful that the ABC SEMI Board understood the need and vision he had to keep the organization running at full capacity and couldn’t argue the results certainly paid off for the organization and its members.
“We invested heavily in providing our students with a safe online/in-person hybrid system of learning,” said Ledbetter. “It was important to update our technology to provide real-time streaming of classes and a segregated workshop experience that incorporated all the safety guidelines for COVID-19. But rest assured we are looking forward to being totally in person once again—giving our students that special hands-on experience.”
“Many of us assumed we were done, but Keith and his staff dug in and got us the latest information we needed to prepare our companies to deal with COVID and continue to work safely. And all of us became better acquainted with electronic media and other ways of communicating with clients, our staff, and customers.”Robert Clancy, owner and operator of Clancy Contracting, Inc.
The job of an association is to keep their members informed and educated on all aspects of the industry and the impact it will have on them. According to Ledbetter, it was the outreach to ABC SEMI members that made all the difference in 2020.
“I cannot say enough about the way we stepped up to keep our members informed,” said Ledbetter. “Not just regarding the pandemic, but local regulations, state legislation, local, state and the presidential elections—it was an incredibly busy year. And even though we were very limited on the in-person contact, we excelled in planning online events and conferences both in our chapter and across the state to keep ABC members informed. I credit that hard work with our excellent retention numbers (91%) and the best year of growth with 38 new members since I became president here. Even though this was a good year, like many, I look forward to putting this pandemic in our rearview.”