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Examining the Forces Shaping the Industrial Building Construction

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

Pre-Pandemic Challenges and the Trump Presidency's Influence

The industrial building construction industry has experienced a rollercoaster of changes in recent years. Its peak in 2016, coinciding with the election of President Trump, was marked by a surge in construction due to the anticipation of laissez-faire economic policies. However, the initial excitement waned as the administration's promises went largely unfulfilled. The decline was further exacerbated by a decrease in private investment in manufacturing, as foreign competition discouraged domestic investment. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic further intensified these challenges, creating an increasingly difficult operating environment for contractors in this sector.

The Devastating Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound effect on the performance of industrial building construction contractors. Government-imposed shutdowns halted construction projects and corporate profit contractions in 2020 led to the suspension of private commercial construction contracts. The pandemic also disrupted trade, resulting in decreased consumer spending and logistical challenges that left shipments stranded and industrial warehouses underutilized. Additionally, the plummeting prices of steel in 2020 added to the woes of the construction environment.

The Role of Rising Inflation and Interest Rates

The period of near-zero interest rates early in this era fueled growth in industrial building construction, as borrowing costs for financing projects were minimal. However, the Federal Reserve's decision to incrementally raise interest rates beginning in March 2022 has led to higher borrowing costs, slowing the expansion of industrial building construction contractors. Despite these challenges, the sector has seen growth in renovations and additions as markets seek to enhance flexibility, energy efficiency, and environmental friendliness in their operations.

Overcoming Current Hurdles

Despite growth in niche markets like chemical, petroleum, and plastic manufacturing, the initial impact of COVID-19 in 2020 dimmed these bright spots. Economic uncertainty has led to a decline in manufacturing capacity utilization. Yet, technological advances, tax incentives, and a lower number of skilled workers in developing countries are drawing some manufacturers back to the U.S., offering growth opportunities for industrial building construction contractors.

Future Outlook: Demand and Revenue Growth

Looking ahead, an increase in exports and rising consumer demand are expected to drive industry growth. Expansion in manufacturing to meet consumer needs will likely lead to more construction projects. As supply chain issues ease, sectors like automobile manufacturing are expected to boost demand for construction services.

Profit Dynamics and Competitive Landscape

Contractors, who often compete on price, quality, and reputation, are likely to see modest profit gains. The uncertainty around global events like the Russia-Ukraine war may temporarily increase material costs, but a subsequent decline is anticipated. As construction activity increases, price-based competition is expected to ease, somewhat relieving profit pressures on contractors.

Industry Consolidation and Specialization

Employment growth in the industry is predicted to be modest, with a shift towards more specialized construction services. Contractors are likely to lean more on subcontractors, balancing the need for skilled labor with cost-saving measures. Large contractors are expected to engage in more mergers and acquisitions, absorbing smaller contractors facing modest growth.

Government Investment and the Role of Falling Interest Rates

Government initiatives like tax incentives and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act are set to bolster the industry. Investments in transportation infrastructure, including aviation, ports, rail, and mass transit, are particularly promising for contractors. While growth may be slow initially, falling interest rates in the future are expected to stimulate new construction and expansions, enhancing the industry's performance.

In summary, the industrial building construction industry is navigating a complex landscape shaped by economic policies, global events, and technological advancements. While it faces ongoing challenges, the sector is poised for growth, driven by government investment, technological innovation, and evolving market demands.

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Source: Loan Analytics, IBIS World


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