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Construction industry poised for greatness in the decade ahead

By |  November 24, 2021
Will Pierce

Pierce

Another year is about gone, and the construction materials industry is positioned stronger than ever.

President Biden signed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act into law midway through November. The bill comes on the heels of a barn burner year.

The pandemic receded in the first half of 2021, only to ramp up to a crescendo at midsummer with a variant that wreaked havoc on what many hoped would be a return to normalcy.

In the midst of the COVID crisis, another was brewing: burgeoning inflation, after years of relative stagnation, coupled with supply chain disruptions that have economists from macro to micro to Big Macs wondering when they will end.

Supply chain perspective

If you’ve had to buy something lately from a store, an industrial supply house, your favorite local sales representative or directly from a manufacturer, you’ve probably encountered a common thread among all of those sources: a distinct lack of product availability and longer lead times across the board.

The problem is not unique to any particular industry, nor are the solutions simple.

Many manufacturers diversified their supply chain across the world over the past several decades – and for a variety of reasons. Cost is often cited as a reason for off-shoring, where labor or raw materials may bear a lower cost than in the country a manufacturer calls home. Other times, expertise may be the reason for spreading a supply chain out beyond your backyard.

Despite near-term issues in the global supply chain, Schurco Slurry’s Will Pierce says the newly signed infrastructure bill presents an opportunity for the U.S. to exhibit tremendous strength in the coming years on the world stage. Photo: Narvikk/E+ Getty Images

Despite near-term issues in the global supply chain, Schurco Slurry’s Will Pierce says the newly signed infrastructure bill presents an opportunity for the U.S. to exhibit tremendous strength in the coming years on the world stage. Photo: Narvikk/E+ Getty Images

For example, as a country, South Africa is the leading producer of chromium and ferrochrome in the world. As a result, it has some of the highest quality and specialized chromium iron and specialty steel alloy foundries in the world. If you want the finest cuts of meat, you go to the butcher.

This style of sourcing put most manufacturers around the world in a difficult position of late. But the genesis of the global supply chain issues cannot be isolated to any single source.

COVID, obviously, played a major role in this debacle, but there are a number of factors at play that have resulted in longer lead times and increased costs for everyone involved.

There is an exodus from this crisis, though. Backlogs are dropping steadily toward normal levels, and a new generation of logistical support resources is being readied and entering the workforce in the form of truckers, shippers, train operators and others.

At the end of the day, manufacturers are getting back to work around the world – and especially here at home.

Bringing it home

All of this ties back to the newly signed infrastructure bill, which funds improvements in U.S. roadways, rail, ports, electrical grids and broadband capabilities. Each of these has been a bottleneck in the current supply chain crunch, but with determination, hope and a few billion federal dollars, we may launch ourselves out of this crisis and into the next decade prepared to show the world what Americans can do when we set our minds to something and work hard together.


Will Pierce is vice president of engineering at Schurco Slurry, which is based in Jacksonville, Florida.


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