Construction Industry Braces for COVID-19 Supply Chain Impact, Not Yet Detectable

By KERRY SMITH, EDITOR, ST. LOUIS CONSTRUCTION NEWS AND REVIEW MAGAZINE

As St. Louis’ construction industry braces for an anticipated supply chain disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, lenders, contractors and materials vendors say so far it is not being readily felt.

“I think it’s very early on in terms of any supply chain impact at this point,” said Enterprise Bank & Trust Regional President Steve Albart. “Construction companies had already been storing up reserves due to tariff-related concerns. What I have heard of is that those who have bought pieces of equipment to run in their shops are having trouble finding experts to install it due to the current travel restrictions.”

Supplier Negwer Materials isn’t seeing any significant supply chain impairments yet either, according to Seth Joy, vice president of sales.

“So far it has been business as usual with one interesting exception,” said Joy. “On certain projects, customers are asking us to provide delivery services at different times or to accelerate them…one customer requested a Saturday delivery. We are seeing more and more requests for higher levels of service based on some immediate construction needs – particularly for projects specific to hospitals and schools. Projects that normally couldn’t move forward until summertime are now able to move ahead (because the facilities are not occupied).”

A supplier of door systems, engineered steel products, metals, acoustical ceilings, fasteners, thermal and moisture finishes and more, Negwer wasn’t grappling with a shortage of materials as of March 19.

“Are we going to see some sort of slowdown effect? Probably,” Joy said. “But it’s too early to tell at this point. We’ll need to see what the next few months bring. There are some hot pockets (in terms of supply chain constraints) going on around the country right now, but here in the Midwest, every vendor I’ve talked to has spoken of keeping production at current levels or possibly stepping it up.”

Joy cited California-based CEMCO, one of the largest steel framing makers in the US, as an example of a manufacturer that faced a recent COVID-19-related shutdown but was later able to remain in production. “Very quickly the city of San Francisco and surrounding municipalities determined that the manufacturer was providing necessary building products for critical projects,” said Joy. “The government provided CEMCO with an exemption and they’re back in production.”

Associated General Contractors of Missouri President Leonard Toenjes says he’s not hearing of many members whose construction materials supply chains are being impacted at this time. However, says Toenjes, he is aware of a scarcity of personal protective equipment or PPE.

“Respirators, ventilators, safety gloves and other personal protective equipment is in short supply,” Toenjes said. “In some confined spaces where craft workers are required to have that respiratory protection, it’s not available and there are wait times of weeks or even months. Workers can’t get into a tunnel or into demolition areas – or areas where there’s heavy dust and other materials – without PPE. Health and safety are paramount, always. These individuals are our life blood.”

 

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