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Construction confident for 2013 – with some caution

By Philip Hochstein, President ICBA

The year is almost over and the calendar is set to turn to 2013. It’s been a busy year for ICBA, for our members, and our industry. Every indication is that the coming year should be busier.

Just last month we completed our annual wage and benefits survey for the industry. Across the board construction firms are confident about the year ahead. In fact, half expect their volume of work to grow in the coming year. That’s the kind of confidence we haven’t seen since the pre-Olympic boom – and before the global economic downturn.

Then there was the crane survey we released earlier in this year. When the number of cranes hit their peak in November 2013, there will be 142 up and running in the Lower Mainland – compared to the 78 ICBA counted back in 2005-06. When you do the math on all the trades needed under those cranes, it adds up to half the skilled workers in the region.

That means construction companies have to make sure they train and retain as many workers as they can. The most productive – and least expensive source is your own company. That’s why ICBA is constantly improving its key human resource supports for the industry – training and health and retirement benefits. Taken together they can help you get the skills you need on your crews – and keep those crews together.

Despite these positive economic signs, there are clouds on the horizon. On the municipal front our industry faces ever increasing fees, taxes, and regulations that drive the price of construction up – something ICBA has highlighted in the past and will highlight in the future.

But the biggest cloud is the May 2013 provincial election. The way the polls sit the NDP under Adrian Dix is poised for victory. That would equal a return to some of the disastrous policies of the 1990s – best summed up as tilting the workplace towards unionization.

There’s already talk of bringing back mandatory trades for construction, which are government regulation telling contractors how to staff their jobs. It sets the number of apprentices the contractor is permitted to employ and then limits what each worker is allowed to do. Those limits are based on the craft system that has been discredited by the marketplace. The end result is an inefficient worksite that will cost contractors and our clients more to have the projects completed

These sorts of policies, coupled with promised spending increases and likely tax increases, will erase the confidence we have by scaring away investment.

B.C.’s construction industry is poised for its busiest and best year in decades. But only if we can avoid a return to the kind of economic and labour polices we had in the 1990s that choked off investment and slowed the work available to a crawl.

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