By Mark Buckshon
Publisher, Ottawa Construction News
Last month, the US-headquartered Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) asked me to research a story about how COVID-19 is affecting the Canadian AEC community. SMPS represents marketers and business developers at architectural, engineering and construction practices – it has its sole international chapter in Toronto. With my writing skills, I’m often asked to help out with editorial projects.
The result of my research: Canadian design professionals and contractors are faring quite well, despite the pandemic. That doesn’t mean everything is perfect. Serious problems will likely occur in the fall, especially for subtrades, as they experience cash flow challenges from work stoppages at the pandemic’s height in April and May. These businesses are caught in a truly awkward place. Even with prompt payment rules, their cash flow and invoicing cycles are such they may be making “too much” money to truly take advantage of federal wage subsidy programs – and they will need the support just when the subsidies end. This could be a signpost for insolvency issues in the fall. As well, there are indications that the COVID-19-induced recession will continue until 2021.
But architects, engineers, designers and many contractors are doing quite well, having pivoted to work-from-home systems where possible, and – on jobsites – there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 infections, indicating that the industry’s safety protocols are working just the way they should.
Of course the world is truly different from where it was a few months ago. I recall concluding a seven-week vacation on a glass-bottom boat at the Great Barrier Reef in Carins, Australia on February 29, flying home a week later, just about a week before the world suddenly started shutting down. Now we can’t even think of taking a tourist trip to the US – and while it is certainly possible to travel domestically, I think the experience (even if you pay for a business class ticket) would be less than enjoyable.
But allowing for some real problems for businesses that fall into awkward places within the subsidy/support systems, I think we can be thankful about where we live and work. There certainly is ground for optimism for the future. While I never anticipated the current circumstances even a few months ago, I’m truly looking forward to the year ahead and future opportunities.
Mark Buckshon is president of the Construction News and Report Group of Companies. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at (888) 627-8717 ext 224.