May-June 2020

We are now three months into our COVID reality. While much of the economy begins to fire back up and develop their start-up procedures and practices, we in construction, after developing many of our changes on-the-fly, have found our “new normal”; though-be-it a “normal” that we have no idea how long it will last. In the history of road building, highway construction practices have continually progressed. However, no short three-month block of time has ever seen the changes like have recently been experienced. Admittedly, many of the actions undertaken have temporarily brought work to a crawl, if not a stand-still. However, according to the reports ODOT has shared with me, the active project delays and suspensions have been eliminated and work is moving forward for nearly all projects where contracts have been awarded.

The industry efforts that have been put forth to maintain activity on nearly all of our state’s work sites have been something to behold. As I stated in the video issued in the dark days of mid-March, we are an industrious and imaginative industry and ways have been found to maintain work production through these times. The ingenuity we have seen is remarkable. I’ve seen more variations on hand washing stations than I ever thought possible. Members have practiced major activities in their construction yards prior to undertaking the task on-site so that the work could be choreographed in order to maintain safe social distancing. We have moved forward by leaps and bounds in the areas of e-construction and virtual communications. Frequent personnel health screenings are now the order-of-the-day. Change has not only impacted job site practices, but office practices as well. I have been told that this singular event has advanced the practice of telecommuting or work-from-home by nearly a decade. Through the technologies that are now in the place today, the viability for remote work and communication are unlike anything envisioned just three short months ago.

While OCA was not considered an “essential business,” we have changed as demanded by the times we are working in. The ever increasing project oversight and changing work rule mandates have resulted in a deluge of communications from sources that are attempting to keep their clientele up-to-date. Information has become an even more valuable commodity as new means of communication are expanded and introduced, and operating mandates are shifted to emphasize breaking the chain of COVID infection. In response, OCA has increased our electronic member outreach with additional bulletins, webinars and other virtual contacts. Yet, recognizing that many sources have been pushing information your way, we have been selective in what we have distributed. Our hope is to make every outreach effort relevant to what you need, placing priority information before you and creating unique content that relates to Ohio’s heavy/highway marketplace. In a recent poll taken during our virtual State-of-the-Association event, 97% of the respondents indicated the messaging coming from OCA was appropriate in content and volume with only 3% indicating too much was being distributed. No one responded that too little was being shared.

As much as OCA’s members are feeling better about the progress of work today, there remains worrisome clouds on the horizon. Much of the private sector work, including oil & gas and site development, has come to a stand-still because of low oil prices, reduced demand, COVID infection fears and a slowing economy. The trickle-down effect results in lower income and sales tax collections for local and state governments leading to delayed or cancelled projects. Reduced vehicle miles traveled has less motor fuel tax revenue being available thereby negatively impacting highway and bridge construction programs at the federal, state and local government levels. While highway work is up-and-running today and should remain consistent through the end of 2020, the prospects for new work in 2021 will be dampened due to fewer available dollars. The magnitude of that impact remains unknown as receipts to governmental agencies lag two months behind when it is collected. Though the negative impact of reduced revenue due to COVID is already being offset by slowly increasing traffic volumes.

In the uncertain times that lie ahead, your OCA will continue to monitor and advocate for a business climate that works to the advantage of our members and the highway users in Ohio. The heavy/highway construction industry has pulled together to demonstrate a need for the essential business services that OCA members provided during these initial months of the pandemic outbreak. As society readjusts itself to regain activity within the confines of living with the coronavirus, heavy/highway construction must continue as the major economic stimulus it has always been recognized to be and a serve as a leading driver in keeping society, literally, moving through the challenges that lay ahead.