2014: An opportunity for transformation

While economic conditions remain challenging, competition invites innovation & efficiency

The local business community should feel confident that 2014 will be a good year for business – including for those of us in the building and contracting community.

Nationally, employment is growing at a rate of 1.7 percent. Here in Clark County, employment is expected to grow at a rate of two-and-a-half to three percent through 2014, outpacing the nation due to its above-average population growth.

More good news for the region is that employment in manufacturing in Clark County is up this year by three percent over the last year, or 400 jobs, according to the State of Washington Employment Security Department. Moreover, the county’s construction industry has had a particularly good year, adding 800 jobs, a nine percent growth rate over the 12 months between October, 2012 and October, 2013.

This news is encouraging. The market and economic trends established in 2013 will likely continue, and while economic conditions remain challenging, competition invites more innovative and efficient approaches to doing business.

Skanska views 2014 as an opportunity for transformation. Even with ever-present unknowns in the market, it is clear that businesses are looking for collaboration on construction projects, which will unlock new possibilities. At Skanska, the question we ask is, “What can we achieve together?”

Companies that want to grow and to be competitive in 2014 should consider diversifying business, utilizing Lean technologies and emphasizing sustainable practices.

Business diversification is key to maintaining and growing market share. In the construction and building industry, we’ve learned that lesson. Christensen Shipyards in Vancouver presents a strong example. At the height of the recession in 2009, the 30-year-old yacht manufacturer went from 500 employees to just 67. They embraced diversification strategies and found ways to transition their fiberglass composite materials beyond the marine industry. They created a renewable energy enterprise for composite materials, focusing on small scale, vertical-axis wind turbines, hydro power and other highly-engineered applications. By 2012, Christensen had added more than 120 new jobs, was running at full capacity and had a total employee count of 300.

Even with these approaches, it’s vital that we all look at the ways we work as much as we examine the things we work on.

For example, Lean manufacturing and other practices that embrace efficiency are critical to remaining competitive. There is no incentive to stick with “business as usual” when we can offer better value to customers by adopting newer, more efficient practices. Technology is a huge driver of value and efficiency (i.e., new smartphone apps and digital resources), but simply stepping back and finding opportunities for streamlining processes is also key. There is no reason for a construction team to take a day to do something that can be done in a few minutes. It just takes a new approach to work and focusing on how it can benefit our clients.

Sustainable practices, too, will continue to be a driver. Skanska will pursue methods that support conserving energy, reducing waste and approaching opportunities in the built environment through the lens of clear, well thought out LEED principles. That means employing methods that aren’t just good for the environment, but that can deliver a real bottom-line benefit for facility owners.

Southwest Washington businesses that plan to survive and thrive should anticipate what is coming next in green building and sustainability practices and should be investing in and planning for this now.

Looking ahead, 2014 affords confidence, but it involves breaking the status quo. The market is more competitive than it has been, offering the opportunity to examine future plans for growth now. Businesses that take these steps, the construction industry included, will transform the way business is conducted in 2014 and beyond.

Ross Vroman is the executive vice president, general manager for Skanska USA Building.