We live in a stuff-based society. Stuff is the fuel of our economy. Buying and selling that stuff—whether it’s cars and houses or clothes and iPods—is the engine that makes it go. Without consumers like you and me purchasing goods and services, the whole machine grinds to a halt.
In times of financial turmoil, people spend less and the buying and selling of stuff slows down. It’s a negative feedback loop that amplifies already existing conditions. In the same way, crazed overspending amplifies economic conditions in the good times and creates over-inflated, unsustainable bubbles like the one we had a few years ago. I’ve had front row seats for two notable boom/bust times in the recent past; I worked for a technology publication in the late 90s during the dotcom boom/bust and right here in construction publishing for the more recent housing boom/bust. In both cases, severely restricted consumer spending in the aftermath slowed the momentum of recovery.
History does repeat itself and I am fully confident we will bounce back from this downturn, just like we have all the others. I am equally confident that businesses and consumers will be back to their spending, stuff-wanting ways soon enough. Whenever people tell me that they fear that the housing market will never bounce back, I simply remind them of the basic fact that, economy or no, people have to live somewhere. The population keeps growing and the projected number of households is going up in a big way in the next decade. That means there will be movement in housing. Period.
That doesn’t mean things will go back to exactly the way they were. The era of McMansions and sprawl is over. The future of housing may include more retrofit and renovation, more multifamily, multiuse living solutions and greater urban density. The important point is that, whatever the new normal looks like, it means the construction industry is going back to work.
Because the fuel of our economy is stuff, this same reasoning can be applied to retail construction. Yes, it’s taken some lumps in the past couple of years and yes, the post-recovery retail landscape will be affected by online stores and changing demographics. However, the simple fact is that Americans like buying and having stuff. Ergo, there will be stores. Stores mean retail new construction, renovation and retrofit.
The new wave in retail may include more stores that are intertwined with their surroundings, rather than duplicated boxes dropped in different places. A good example can be found in metalmag’s “Featured Project,” p. 24. A new Whole Foods grocery store in Chicago’s Lincoln Park reflects and accentuates its neighborhood, becoming truly a part of its community. More great examples of metal in retail can be found in “Projects,” p. 30. Resource conservation and sustainable construction also will continue to be part of the construction conversation going forward, which is great for the metal industry. In “Building Green,” p. 40, learn about ways metal can help projects achieve sustainability goals and earn LEED points.
Our industry happens to make great stuff and we have a lot to offer on the road ahead. The more owners, developers and designers see what can be accomplished, the busier we’ll be. We’ve got a lot of stuff to do.