Although EMCOR has grown its business by acquiring specialty shops in key markets nationwide, Guzzi downplays the chance that a sour market will produce sweet opportunities to buy struggling shops in the New York area.
“We’re pretty well represented in this market,” he adds. “We have diversity in our customer base. On the electrical side, we serve industrial, transportation, the municipalities, the commercial market, the data center market. On the mechanical side, we have great sheet metal coverage and piping coverage in New York and New Jersey. We do HVAC work well. We have a big service operation in the market. It would be hard to make more of a dent in the New York market.”
Although many believe the market has yet to bottom out for specialty contractors, some are already concerned about the long-term impact that could be felt following a rebound. John Rapaport, general counsel and director of operations at Component Assembly Systems in Pelham, N.Y., says that specialty contractors could be so focused on cash flow that they ignore necessary investment. Rapaport says he sees the downtime created by a slow market as an opportunity to gain proficiency in areas such as building information modeling.
Although many firms in the New York area have been slow to adopt BIM, the trend has gained momentum throughout much of the rest of the country and large national general contractors will begin to mandate it on New York jobs in the coming years.
“Firms like Turner Construction are very interested in widespread use of BIM,” he says. “On some jobs, they are bringing in subs early for design assist to do modeling. If someone like Turner is starting to expect that, you can’t ignore it just because times are tough now. You have to do it anyway because in a few years, you won’t have a choice.”
Perhaps the greatest long-term impact of the recession is the permanent loss of a large portion of the area’s skilled tradesmen. Lou Colleti, president and chief executive officer of the Building Trades Employer’s Association, says that when the market saw its last significant downturn in the 1990s, the industry lost roughly 15% of its capacity and struggled to regain those tradesmen.
“History shows that once we lose capacity, it doesn’t come back,” he adds.
Considering the widespread impact of the current economic downturn, Colleti says history could repeat itself.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “I don’t see this market even beginning to turn around until 2012. That will cause a lot of pain.”