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Opinion: Community needs construction industry during COVID-19

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Many people have been working remotely from home for weeks, while other essential businesses continue to go into their version of the office each day. Both essential and nonessential workers are feeling the stress of fear and thankfulness for their silver lining.

Essential workers fear contracting the virus and bringing it home after work, while they also have gratitude for a continued paycheck. Nonessential workers have the stress of working from home or not having a paycheck and waiting for unemployment. Parents have confused children who don’t understand why they can’t go to school or play with their friends. Employers fear not having enough work to keep their staff employed.

While businesses try to weigh emotional decisions with what is practical for their business in the long-run, tensions are running high.

We have amazing leaders in Springfield and Greene County who have been forced to make difficult decisions in recent weeks, and various levels of government and local organizations are coming together to distribute correct information as quickly as possible. Business owners also are making hard decisions to lay off employees or to keep them working if they are an essential business. We all have similar goals: keep people safe, support those working in the health care system and support local businesses to keep our economy as steady as possible after the peak of the coronavirus.

Even before the coronavirus, the construction industry was experiencing a shortage of manpower, and developers were beginning to feel the impact on bids. The industry has survived and even thrived through the uncertainty of tariffs, notably on steel. We have worked together to build the Ozarks through issue after issue, but nothing could have prepared us for the pandemic we are facing. Contractors are facing the same struggles other businesses are facing: Keep workers safe, while meeting deadlines to keep businesses running long-term.

Keeping construction workers active is beneficial for the community’s infrastructure needs. Infrastructure is a broad term in construction that covers roads, electricity, telecommunication and more. With people working from home and spending more time indoors, people are using resources, such as home appliances, more often. From tune-ups on air conditioners in the spring to plumbers to fix leaks, residential consumers need access to workers from the trades. Hospitals and other medical facilities need access to the industry to repair and expand facilities as needed. Springtime in the Ozarks means severe storms and often tornadoes, so it is important to have roofers and other contractors available on short notice as well.

Businesses that utilize a local supply chain are less impacted than those relying on global suppliers. U.S. based suppliers are being impacted but not to the same scale as components coming from China or other countries that were hit hard early on.

As we adjust to manufacture high-need items like personal protective equipment and respirators in America, we may open the doors to continue supporting more local supply chains after the crisis is over.

There has been an outcry to support local businesses now in whatever way you can. We should be supporting local companies as often as possible in our everyday lives, both in and out of times of economic stress. If you hire an out-of-town roofing contractor because they were easy to find after a storm, they will not be accessible if there is a warranty issue or you need someone to look at your roof after the next big storm to ensure there is no damage. If you build a relationship with a local contractor, they are there for you during the good and the bad. Saving a few dollars because someone says they’ll find a way for you to not be out your deductible may lead to you paying for it down the road.

The bottom line is we need to continue to work together as a community – from afar. We are all working toward the same goals, so we need to continue to have grace for one another. There will be a new normal when the crisis of the pandemic is past.

Let us learn to support local businesses in the good times and the bad.

Megan Short is executive director of the Springfield Contractors Association. She can be reached at megan@springfieldcontractors.org.

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