Editorial: Don’t worry, be busy
Contractors and suppliers remain positive, despite uncertainties.
By Andrew Snook
April 4, 2018 – You could sense the excitement in the air at the latest edition of World of Asphalt, which took place this March in Houston, Texas. Approximately 8,500 attendees flocked to the George R. Brown Convention Center from all over the world – including representatives from all 10 provinces. I bumped into a few of the Canadian contractors and asked about how 2018 is shaping up for them.
They all replied “busy” or “crazy busy,” or something to that affect. Their U.S. counterparts offered similar responses. So all is right in the world of asphalt, right? Well, I wouldn’t go that far.
In Canada, much of the federally announced infrastructure spending has yet to be rolled out, and this has certainly frustrated some contractors across the country (check out the column written by Manitoba Heavy Construction Association president Chris Lorenc on page 38, if you’re looking for an example).
In Ontario, associations are working to counter the scathing report from Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk, which placed the province’s paving industry under fire last year, when she stated that substandard asphalt used on major highways added millions of dollars in additional road maintenance costs for taxpayers due to premature cracking.
In Western Canada, fighting over the Trans Mountain pipeline has resulted in Alberta Premier Rachel Notley threatening to cut off oil exports to B.C., which could increase project and operational costs throughout the province.
Then there is potential of steel and aluminum tariffs hitting countries all over the globe, which would almost certainly increase equipment costs for manufacturers, suppliers and contractors. U.S. President Donald Trump announced that Canada and Mexico would be temporarily exempt from the new tariffs, while NAFTA revisions are still being negotiated.
Despite the uncertainties, it appeared to be business as usual for exhibitors at the show.
When I dropped by exhibitor booths to check out the latest technologies, many of the manufacturers and suppliers of the asphalt world said that they were struggling to keep up with demand. Some of them even announced expansion plans at the show and were on the lookout for new people to add to their teams.
During one press event I attended, where a company was discussing the expansion of its manufacturing facilities, they stated that finding good, qualified people is always a challenge (This is something I hear fairly often when I speak with manufacturers and suppliers). What surprised me more is what came next. The company’s CEO then went on add that finding enough reliable, entry-level people they can train is an ongoing challenge – now that’s a sign of a local industry labour shortage. That said, it’s far from the worst problem to have.
Bottom line, at least from what I heard from attendees and exhibitors at the show, is that the construction sector in the U.S. and Canada is still going strong, and that they expect that trend to continue despite the talk of tariffs, unassigned infrastructure dollars and pipeline disputes overwhelming their news feeds.
In the world of asphalt, it’s business as usual.