Recently, while researching information for the 2012 Southeast construction outlook, and follow-up blog post, I came across Associated General Contractor of America's national report on the coming year's prospects. The report, based on a survey of 1,300 construction firms and entitled "The 2012 Construction Hiring and Business Outlook," said, in summary, that the coming year would be a "mixed" outlook for contractors. More specifically, it stated: "The industry is not likely to experience a recovery until at least 2013 despite some growing positive trends."

That statement led me to wonder: If it's not "growing positive trends," then just what is "recovery" anyway?

Now, as an editor type, one of the things that drives me most mad is when people debate the meaning of a word. That's because, well, most words have formal definitions. So, I looked up "recovery" on, and here are the definitions provided there.

1. An act of recovering.
2. The regaining of or possibility of regaining something lost or taken away.
3. Restoration or return to health from sickness.
4. Restoration or return to any former and better state or condition.
5. Time required for recovering.

Of course, construction economists and experts likely have their own vision or understanding of what "recovery" means. But I've yet to see it formally defined; instead it seems to be indicated as simply some kind of elusive ideal. 

Of the definitions above, I believe #2 and #4 are the most relevant. "The regaining of or possibility of regaining something lost or taken away" sounds a little like what's happening now, at least in some parts of the Southeast. South Florida's construction economy is picking up plenty of steam, contractors say, and definitely appears to be in full-blown recovery. And isn't overall recovery likely to come city by city, state by state?

The fourth definition--"restoration or return to any former and better state or condition"--also seems relevant. This appears to imply some sort of process. On the other hand, for the construction industry at least, the precise "former condition" of unsustainable construction markets built at least partly on fast, easy money would seem to be some past aberration, and not something likely to be seen again anytime soon.

So, I ask you, What is recovery?

Is it a process, or a destination? Is the industry experiencing "recovery" now, or will it happen suddenly sometime? What will it look like? Will it be showcased by some growing positive trends here and there? Or will it burst upon the entire nation at once?

What will the construction markets look like when "recovery" occurs? Will they look like they used to, driven by mad money handed down by Wall Street? Will we see sharp upturns, or slow and steady growth?

I ask these questions with all sincerity. I honestly want to know what folks in the construction industry think when they think of the word "recovery"? How do you define it? As I said, debating the meaning of a word usually drives me a bit crazy. However, since "recovery" for the construction industry really has not been defined, let the debate begin!