A palpable confidence has returned to the domestic U.S. construction market. Robust financial markets, rising home values and less-constrained spending by tightfisted American consumers all injected energy into what had been a languorous pace of recovery. Infrastructure megaprojects rolled forward in Denver and New York City. Budget pacts steadied a wobbly federal government. More construction workers walked through project gates than any of the past five years.
Yes, there was trouble. The federal government sputtered as if it were an old gasoline lawn mower, and contractors "bought" projects without much profit. Subcontractor defaults reached eyebrow-raising levels. Despite it all, 2013 represented improvement. That said, we would like to make a few requests for 2014:
Less Federal Comedy-Drama
By our lights and with a few exceptions, it's time for Washington to let go of the financial stimulus, as the Federal Reserve has signaled, and, in general, just get out of the way of the economy. Let's shift our focus from Washington, D.C., where the chance of consensus is low, and Wall Street, where the product is purely financial, to the basic activity of business: making the things that people want and need.
Counting on P3s
While public-private partnerships were once just a nice idea when tax revenue couldn't support infrastructure, they now seem to be vital if the U.S. is ever going to have a physical infrastructure that supports economic growth and meets higher safety standards.
The Philippines typhoon made clear, once again, the hazards of dense populations concentrated on shorelines and under threat from rising and tempestuous oceans. Zoning regulations must be updated to change this tragic pattern of use.
More Risk Management, Less Risk Shifting
The U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in the J-Crew case upheld the idea that courts must enforce a contract that requires subcontractor claims to be filed in the general contractor's home territory. Does anyone who isn't a general contractor think such "forum selection" clauses are a good idea? Smart subcontractors will anticipate the high costs of potential claims and put them in their prices.
Health Cost Control Beyond Initial Reforms
With health-care markets and services in flux due to the botched rollout of Obamacare, the next phase of promised reforms and fixes is as important as ever. Health-care costs continue to eat into business and consumer wallets. We need to go back to discussing how to limit drug and hospitalization costs without compromising care.