Editor's Log: Half-Full

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | February 2011, Vol. 66 No. 2

Money
As public works officials enter another year of flat or reduced budgets, many have settled into a siege mentality, fighting desperately to maintain systems and services against seemingly growing odds of failure. Indeed, a rather depressing scenario, but three years of cutting budgets, delaying projects and reducing staffs have a way of doing that to people.

However, in comparing comments from the previous year, one could also sense a spark of hope, even anticipation by city representatives that 2011, especially the back half of the year, could be different. They see budget projections not quite as dire and tax bases and revenue streams stabilizing.

Maybe it’s faith that the new political dynamic in Washington will begin to make progress on key issues impacting cities. Maybe it’s just New Year giddiness. But whatever the reason, city personnel are more hopeful than they’ve been in three years. That’s got to be a good thing – for all of us.

A closer look at the spending numbers gives credence to a positive market outlook. The overall spending numbers aren’t particularly impressive, projected to rise only slightly. Most financial outlooks we’ve reviewed and developed all speculate that it will take both 2011 and 2012 before the construction industry finally pulls out of its current funk in 2013.

But the key difference in 2011 is that the market is becoming self-sustaining again. It took billions in stimulus dollars (and creation of a new definition for the term ‘shovel-ready’ as it took almost three years for the funds to be fully dispersed), to artificially prop up the market. In 2011, the dollars are real, generated by the industry itself.

We cannot underestimate the significance of that fact. It represents an industry finally rising off the floor and, at least in 2011, getting back on its knees. In 2012, the industry should stand and in 2013 begin taking serious steps to recovery, growth and, at long-last, a healthy market.