one was to judge by the headlines in 2004, America was in desperate
turmoil during the year as the bloodshed in Iraq continued unabated,
ferocious presidential campaigning was pursued relentlessly
by candidates seeking the opportunity to steer the nation one
way or another and political demonstrations took on proportions
last seen in the Vietnam era. But the turmoil did not affect
the construction industry much as it continued to build on the
strengths of America and contribute to it by moving forward
many thousands of projects during the year. Some were big and
innovative, some were small and necessary. All had a purpose
and all helped cement Americans together as a nation.
Even the political slugfest ended
peacefully, as it is supposed to, when winners and losers
accepted the decision of the voters, sometimes begrudgingly,
but with no poisoning of candidates or bombings.
Ups and Downs
Every year brings its own set of problems and opportunities.
In 2004, construction industry firms struggled with rising
insurance rates; price escalation for basic com- modities
such as steel, cement and lumber; a flood of undocumented
workers and the durable devils of accidents and injuries.
The industry made ground in dealing with some, lost on others.
In the process, it provided work and sometimes inspiration
for over 6 million people working in the crafts, professions
and technical specialities who make projects come together
and function as they are supposed to.
The industry did make some progress
in dealing with the uncertainty and aftermath of the 9/11
terrorist attacks. In most larger new projects, a higher level
of security now is being built in from the outset or, for
older structures, added on with greater difficulty and expense.
This is especially true for airports, ports, industrial facilities,
high-rise buildings and train stations. The coordinated terrorist
bombings in March 2004 that killed 192 and wounded more than
1,400 at three Spanish train stations demonstrated again to
the world that all nations are potential targets and those
that are not alert to the danger or do little about it can
suffer drastic consequences.
The focus on security and the consequences of terrorist attacks
on structures had a positive effect on research in 2004. Passionate
proponents of fire and building code changes or defenders
of existing rules met in the crucible of a federally funded
$16-million investigation related to the destruction of the
World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Before taking
action, many jurisdictions, designers and code developers
are awaiting the release of the report by the National Institute
of Standards and Technology, which will contain recommendations
for code changes in its 10,000 pages. It is expected in March
2005, more than five months late. Even without those suggestions,
fire now is a front-burner issue for buildings and other structures.
The industry as a whole had
a great year in 2004. Despite bellyaching from some in the
industry about the state of a market or two, U.S. construction
put in place is on pace to finish the year at an astonishing
$1.009 trillion. The engine powering this huge machine is
the residential market, which rose 14% from very high levels
and accounted for 54% of all U.S. construction. Other markets
also rebounded. The big task for the industry in 2005 is do
it again, plus some. There are economic uncertainties, but
2004 had them as well.