By Michael Copp, Executive Vice President
After a challenging 2020, the plumbing-heating-cooling industry is looking forward to renewed prosperity with the hope that COVID-19 will fade into the background with the introduction of multiple vaccines and hence, encouraging the public to work, shop, dine and travel the way it did in pre-pandemic times. In fact, some economists are predicting the economy will return to normal by this fall. The recovery, however, will not be without its share of challenges.
The PHCC Board of Directors reviewed PHCC’s strategic plan in January and an environmental scan. Directors noted several important trends affecting our industry as well as opportunities where we can actively support our PHCC members for the coming year:
- The Biden administration is expected to keep Trump’s China tariffs in place, at least for the short term, and is expected to resume trade talks with the EU.
- The Biden administration plans on proposing an eight-year long pathway to citizenship for immigrants, which may increase the availability of construction workers.
- Infrastructure spending will again be at the forefront of the agenda. The Biden Administration is looking at surface transportation, aviation, waterfront, civil works, flood control, clean drinking water, renewable energy, and K-12 school construction.
- A push for a $15 minimum wage could increase labor costs across the board.
- Power in Congress has shifted to the Democrats with a slim majority in the House of Representatives and a 50:50 split in the Senate.
- Residential single-family construction is expected to drop 11% in 2021, while multi-family construction is expected to decline 17%, according to FMI.
- Conversely, the National Association of Realtors reports housing inventory is at an historic low and median home prices up 12.9%.
- Economy will resume an overall growth rate of 3.4 percent in 2021, according to The Conference Board.
- Non-residential construction is forecast to drop across the board, with the largest declines in lodging and office construction.
- The Federal Reserve will keep its benchmark interest rate near zero and added “progress on vaccinations” to its watchlist.
- National unemployment rate forecast to be 6.2% in 2021.
- Homeownership rate was at a relatively high 67.4 percent in September 2020 but is expected to decrease to 64.5 percent this year.
- COVID-related stay at home orders and social distancing have had corporations reevaluating how much office space they need in central business districts and may alter the office building market long term.
- Telecommuting is accelerating “de-urbanization” trends. Those working from home are looking for houses with spaces that can be used as offices and “Zoom rooms.”
- Baby Boomers over age 60 make up a substantial portion of the population and are predicted to downsize to smaller homes. Gen X, which is in its prime home buying and child rearing age, is smaller in number than either Boomers or Millennials. Construction and sales of three and four+ bedroom homes are expected to decline.
- COVID-19 has created market opportunities for air and water filtration and purification and IAQ markets, including UV and bi-polar ionization.
- COVID-19 workarounds such as virtual or contactless service calls may have long-term appeal for customers.
- The smart home market expects revenue at $28.864 million in 2021, with a compound annual growth rate of 12.8 percent.
- We’ll see more digital controls (e.g., digital mixing valves), artificial intelligence and software as a service, e.g., scheduling apps that overlay service management systems, and cloud-based services for contractors.
- Connected and communicating controls will be used for service management and diagnosis.
For your business:
- New mobile apps from tool makers not only track and control tools but also feature reference material and calculators.
- Cloud computing tool can record entire service call and send a link to the customer with the video, the technician’s audio narration of the service call and a text transcript of the tech’s narration.
- Cloud-based solutions can store a customer’s service history as well as library of service manuals and videos.
- A variety of mobile apps facilitate audits, forms, inspections, estimates, work orders, walkthroughs, safety inspections, insurance claims, checklists, drawings, daily logs, RFIs, specifications, inspections, deficiency lists, and timecards.
- GPS tracks trucks, heavy equipment and tools, but also can be used to track employees for hours worked, overtime pay and mileage.
Other noteworthy trends that arose during the January Board of Directors’ discussions included the importance of diversity and inclusion; the impact of natural gas bans on our industry; the rise of digital technology; increasing threats to eliminate professional licensure requirements; and the value of strong partnerships with industry and association partners. In addition, an ongoing worker shortage continues to plague the industry, particularly in light of COVID-19 protocols that limit the number of employees allowed to work near each other in manufacturing, wholesaling and on contractors’ jobsites.
As you know, trends these days can change quickly. For example, the status of COVID-19 and its impact on the economy is different from what it was two months ago and seemingly changes from week to week. PHCC will keep a sharp eye on those trends that impact PHCC contractors and develop programs and services to help them navigate any challenges. As the 2021 environmental scan document concluded: “PHCC never wavers — even in a pandemic — from promoting professionalism in our industry and protecting our members’ best interests.”