Nearly every major industry — and many smaller ones — have been adversely affected by the coronavirus and the efforts put in place to “flatten the curve.” But according to Chad Collins, owner of Collins Design Build, the construction industry is in good shape to weather the storm.
Has he had to change his strategy to accommodate for COVID-19?
“No,” said Collins, who formed the company in 1997. “Really, every economic recession or downturn seems to affect certain industries. This one is really hurting the hospitality and food industry, but not so much mine. As far as construction, we’re still doing things as we normally would, with the exception of paying attention to how many subcontractors or how many craftsman are on the site. In other words, we’re trying to limit the fast-builds and have one crew at a time at the site kind. Many construction trades live paycheck to paycheck. Shutting down the entire thing would be a problem, not only that, there’s contracts, leases and mortgages. A lot of things are tied into closing dates and finishing projects. Construction is a big customer to a lot of manufacturing all over the world. We buy a lot of parts and materials. I don’t want to say construction drives the economy, but it is a huge part of the economy. So completely shutting us down would not be a good thing.”
Staggering work crews is one change Collins has implemented. Several others have involved boosting availabilities for worksite sanitation.
“We have implemented new safety procedures,” Collins said. “We have better signage; we’re making sure that everyone is equally informed, across the board. We’re making sure everybody has the sanitation needs made available to them at the site. When you think about a job site, or a home site, you think about no running water, no power — it’s just a port-john sitting out there. That’s not very sanitary for something like this that we’re facing. So, we’ve had to install wash stations and implement better guidance and signage for hygiene.”
While construction is still considered an essential activity by the rules set forth by N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, real estate sales is not. Collins’ wife, Emilee, is a Realtor. As a stipulation of the shelter-in-place order, home showings are not allowed in Durham County. In Orange County, property can be shown by virtual technology. There are exceptions to the rule, depending on if a homeowner has to move within a certain number of days.
One area of Collins’ award-winning small business that is seeing a total shutdown is remodeling and renovations.
“There is no activity in owner-occupied homes,” Collins said. “We haven’t been ordered to do that, but it’s the right thing to do. Those people who have been told to shelter in place can’t really do so if we’re coming in and bringing workers into their homes.”
Not that it’s stopped sheltered homeowners from taking on their own projects.
“The Home Depots, the Lowe’s and all the big department stores are slammed right now,” Collins said. “You can’t even find a parking spot in those places. Everyone is doing springtime maintenance to their home. Some are getting ready to sell their homes and some are doing the ‘honey-do’ list.”
Collins, who is also President of the Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber of Commerce, is optimistic that his company will be busier than ever once restrictions are lifted, although he admits he has no idea when that will be.
“I have no fear about construction,” he said. “My client — even though the stock market went down — is still doing designing, engineering, so when this thing is over, we hit the go button.
“I employ a lot of people. More than 300 people rely on Collins Design Build for work. I can’t shut them down. We’re doing everything we can to keep them going. If this thing (COVID-19) peaks in two weeks, like so many say it will, at least we know there’s going to be an end. It’s a lot like sitting around waiting on a hurricane,” Collins said. “You don’t know how bad it’s going to be, but you know it’s going to be over. And that’s the hard part.”