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An interesting year — What now?

An interesting year — What now?

By Donald Croysdale

Sept. 10, 2002

Donald Croysdale
Executive Director
ASA of Greater Milwaukee

It’s hard not to reflect on what’s happened in the past year. Whether you are optimistic about what’s next or concerned about the recent past may say more about the observer than it does about the observed.

As tragic as the 9/11 events were, much positive has since occurred. The construction industry has played a leading role in helping our country to heal and move forward. Residential construction has been one of the strongest sectors for economic growth. Nonresidential construction has suffered recessionary pains, though probably not as deep or as lengthy as, for example, manufacturing or the travel sectors.

One construction project, in particular, symbolizes the American spirit of construction tradespeople. In a remarkable display of teamwork, initiative, creativity and determination, the damage to the Pentagon was restored and rebuilt in less than 11 months. Leaders for the Department of Defense and the construction industry established a 12-month goal and achieved it. According to a Sept. 2 Engineering News-Record report, this Phoenix Project — a 400,000-square-foot reconstruction — was a handshake deal. One observer noted that "everyone left their egos in the parking lot." Shop drawings were responded to in a day or two rather than weeks. Requests of information were handled in hours rather than days. There were few, if any, written contracts.

This is not to say that rebuilding a major section of the Pentagon was an easy project. It wasn’t. There were significant structural and security issues to resolve. What should make the construction industry proud is that a myriad of skills were brought together to achieve a positive result. Lines of communication were continuously open. Team members had a common goal. And the project came through ahead of time and, quite likely, within budget.

Teamwork all around

More and more construction projects in our area are demonstrating this same type of teamwork. The recently reopened Sixth Street Viaduct is another magnificent Milwaukee structure, which adds to the brilliance of Milwaukee’s folio of progressive, first-class structures. Moreover, this project opens the way for a decade or more of new construction opportunities in the Menomonee Valley.

On the north side of downtown Milwaukee, the Park East Freeway is coming down to open up still more construction opportunities in the next decade. And the granddaddy of construction projects — the reconstruction of the Marquette Interchange — is to commence within the next year.

So in the whole scheme of things, as interesting and eventful as the past year has been, construction opportunities — particularly in the downtown Milwaukee area — are about to accelerate. As an industry, we should salute our colleagues who rebuilt the Pentagon and emulate their teamwork, creativity and resourcefulness here.

Mentioned in this Article

American Subcontractors Association

American Subcontractors Association – Milwaukee Chapter

Engineering News-Record (ENR)

U.S. Department of Defense

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Certain issues can and should be proactively resolved to help pave the way. Industry leaders agree that retainge percentages can and should be reduced. We now need to work with our el
ected leaders to assure that this impediment to cash flows is reduced to an absolute minimum. Similarly, simplifying the sales-tax rules for material purchases for tax-exempt entities is a must. I’m rather sure the Pentagon’s Phoenix Project was not burdened with archaic rules that Wisconsin still adheres to. Whoever is elected our next governor must be informed fairly and firmly that our current sales-tax rules do not bring in more tax dollars. Rather, these rules force contractors and public entities to waste considerable time and taxpayer money, which could be better spent getting projects done on time and with lower construction costs.

Impact on insurance industry

Finally, the events of 9/11 have exacerbated the troubles of the insurance and surety markets — as has Enron, Global Crossing, the airline industry and numerous other troubling financial situations. Add in the escalating number and magnitude of mold-remediation lawsuits. These factors should make clear that construction team members must accept responsibility for their own actions. We should not, through contractual legalese, attempt to shift one’s own risks onto someone else. If there is a lesson of the past 12 months, it’s that personal and corporate responsibility and accountability is essential for long-term success. Our industry here in Wisconsin can lead the way toward establishing limits on risk-shifting clauses.

So as we acknowledge the events of this past year, let’s build on the positive actions our industry shown both in Washington, D.C., and here in Milwaukee. This next year — and decade — can be a great one. Let’s make it happen.

Donald Croysdale is executive director for the American Subcontractors Association of Greater Milwaukee. For more information on ASA, call the Greater Milwaukee Chapter at 414-276-1743 or visit the Web site. The kickoff chapter dinner meeting is Sept. 24 and features a general contractor forum with The Jansen Group Inc.

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