Writer: Felipe Rivas
2 min read May 2021 — The decade leading up to 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic was a booming era for Charlotte. Anchored by the region’s reputation as a banking hub, access to talent and business-friendly climate, developers, construction leaders and investors fueled the growth of Charlotte proper and the surrounding counties to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding market.
In 2020, deeming the construction industry as essential was a key victory for the sector as projects under construction and in the planning stages saw unprecedented challenges as a result of the coronavirus. Leaders in the construction and development sectors prioritized health and safety in the face of the pandemic while embracing innovation, factors that are set to influence the industry well into the future. A year into the pandemic landscape and with the vaccine providing ever greater hope for optimism, the construction and development sectors are expected to fuel the recovery process this time around, much like it did for the Queen City in the decade following the Great Recession.
Safety, already a major factor in the construction sector, has been the No. 1 priority during the COVID era. “The world of construction changed dramatically in March 2020, as did everything else. Projects under construction were hit with various challenges. The main challenge was understanding COVID-19 and navigating what that meant for our company and projects,” Brasfield & Gorrie Charlotte Regional Vice President and Division Manager Michael Byrd told Invest:. For Brasfield & Gorrie, the national firm’s safety team worked to develop and share best practices to promote hygiene and follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines at job sites and offices. The scrupulous focus on health and safety significantly lowered the injury rate, Byrd pointed out. “Despite all the challenges, we achieved our lowest recordable injury rate on record, and we are grateful to our field teams for their incredible dedication and hard work,” he said.
As far as innovation, the past year has led Brasfield & Gorrie to reinforce its use of prefabricated parts. “We’ve also increased our use of prefabrication. We prefabricate as many elements as we can in a controlled environment, which improves jobsite safety and minimizes the number of people who must come to a construction site,” Byrd said.
For DPR Construction, another national commercial general contractor and construction management firm, investing in the next generation of diverse industry talent will be key for the sector moving forward. Access to talent, a prevalent industry challenge prior to COVID-19, was further exacerbated by the pandemic. In the Charlotte market, DPR Construction has been keen on developing relations with local nonprofits to align those interested in a career in construction with apprenticeship and career development programs. “The outlook in the labor market continues to be tied to workforce diversity and development,” DPR Construction Business Unit Leader Zach Pannier told Invest:. “We have partnered with Goodwill, She Built This City, The ROC, Potions & Pixels and other nonprofits to match their apprenticeship programs with opportunities for careers in construction. This is an intentional effort to grow our workforce.”
After nearly a decade of work on Facebook’s Forest City data center campus, DPR Construction opened its Charlotte office in 2015 and is keen on deepening its community involvement strategy in the Queen City. “We are also working strategically to expand our community impact with customers like Atrium Health. We just leased a large warehouse between the main campus of the Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg International Airport for localized pre-fabrication purposes. And, particularly rewarding is how we are reaching younger females and teaching them about construction while they are in grade school,” Pannier said.
Nurturing talent in the face of disruption is equally important for architects and designers. The pandemic shed light on the importance of collaboration and communication as design firms moved to the remote environment. “This is such a great industry to be in because there are so many opportunities for young, talented designers to pursue their passions and make a positive impact. I believe that the skills we’re looking for today are the same ones we sought prior to the pandemic — a desire to be part of a team, to work hard and contribute,” Progressive AE Managing Principal of the Charlotte Regional Office Wes Jones told Invest:. “The challenge now is how to provide young designers and professionals with appropriate mentoring to grow their skill set in a remote-work environment? Design is truly a team sport. Every voice matters and being able to listen to your team, but also speak up when needed, is key. This past year, because it has looked different, we’ve been more intentional about connecting with new or young staff members and making sure they’re staying engaged and have the resources they need to be successful. Mentorship and growth are what younger folks are hungry for and I think that’s why they will continue to want to work in the office as the situation continues to evolve,” Jones said.
The construction and development sector is ripe for industry changes and innovations fostered by the COVID-related disruption as well as sound principles. Byrd, Pannier and Jones will mull the future of the industry during the panel, “How pandemic-born innovation is reshaping and influencing real estate development” at this year’s Invest: Charlotte 2021 launch conference. Moderated by Judy Wishnek, Charlotte Market Executive for Truliant Federal Credit Union, the launch conference is happening on May 12 at 11 a.m. via Zoom. Click here to register.
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