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IMPACT!

June 10, 2020
This “pandemic”, regardless of its origins, is an event that only science fiction authors could contemplate.

By the time you read this, it will be June of 2020 and the full brunt of the Corona virus and our country’s response will have been felt by everyone. Even though this is being written in early May, we can make certain assumptions about what is next. Before continuing, I want to make this disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, NOT the editors, publisher or owners of CONTRACTOR Magazine

This “pandemic”, regardless of its origins, is an event that only science fiction authors could contemplate. The impact on this nation, and in fact the entire world, is almost too difficult to imagine, but we are right in the middle of it.

With lock downs and draconian “safety” measures in place, severely enforced by fiat (not force of law), it is almost impossible to gauge their effectiveness, except to say that many, if not most, Americans are chafing at the restrictions that have stolen their abilities to earn income, provide for themselves and their families and, generally, enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  Who can blame them? Rights enshrined in our founding documents are being cast aside without so much as a “by your leave,” and nonsensical measures are being instituted by elected officials without consistency or regard to the consequences of their actions all in the name of “flattening the curve.” Lives and livelihoods are being wiped out, businesses shuttered (some will never reopen) and the economy that was the envy of the world has been left in shambles.

While I have read articles, in this magazine and in other trade publications, by trade and professional associations, that basically demanded states shut down construction for fear of this virus, their reasons, in my opinion, are spurious and driven by a media machine, or politics, that seems hell bent on sowing fear and panic into our population. Ferreting out real facts has become an exercise in patience and persistence. Without hard, provable, peer reviewed facts, we and our leaders cannot properly assess the true impact of this pandemic and how we can, reasonably, respond in the long term. That said, I am happy to report that, according to the best information available now, construction activity is one of the only bright spots, employment-wise, in an otherwise bleak economic picture.

The government’s stimulus packages are helping, but this is a short-term solution to a longer-term problem. I notice that the “big guys” are touting huge infrastructure projects and the like. That’s all well and good, but the people being hurt the most by the economic disaster befalling our country are not the trade associations or the larger, well-established shops. Oh, those will suffer economic hardships, no doubt, but in the long term, there will be programs designed to assist those companies through lending institutions and government grant programs and new federal spending on infrastructure, where the multi-million dollar contracts will be offered for bid.

The folks who are being hurt the most by the present situation are the small shops, the one-, two- and three-man operations who, for reasons known only to the bureaucracy, are finding it difficult to tap into the federal trough. These businesses represent people’s lives, not statistics. They represent your relatives, friends and neighbors. These are not the faceless “they” we so readily speak of in every day conversation.

It’s easy to sit back in the corner office and opine about where you’ll be in the third or fourth quarter. It’s quite another to eat hot dogs and beans at the kitchen table while trying to figure out where your mortgage or truck payment is going to come from. This is not an abstract concept, nor one designed for shock value. It is a fact, and it is still happening as you read this.

Plumbing, HVAC and electrical work has been deemed “essential” (although every job is essential to the person holding it!) by the powers that be, so getting out and working is not an issue. I cannot say that the problems facing the smaller shops are nationwide, but if my canvass of the greater Phoenix market (4th or 5th largest metropolitan area in the country) is indicative, it probably is. Other than true emergencies like stoppages, broken water or gas lines, HVAC going down (Phoenix temps this time of year are 100°F plus), folks are simply not willing to spend the money on remodels and the like, cutting out a large portion of the bread and butter of the service shops.

Our industry has a high mortality rate for new businesses. Nine out of ten new starts will not be in business in three years. If you can make it through the three years, it’s a safe bet you’ll be successful, under normal circumstances. While the many obstacles to personal and business success are daunting to begin with, adding in a mandated national closure will, more than likely, be the final nail in the coffin of most budding entrepreneurs, and drive the failure rate up.

How will this all end? There is one thing I am certain of, and that is the resilience and drive of the American entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, while many will fail and drop out of business in these times of crisis, more will seize the opportunities presented and create new successes. The very definition of success is “getting up one more time than you get knocked down,” and most of the people who opt to go into business are pretty tough.

In the meantime, the personal losses will need to be dealt with compassionately and forthrightly by our elected and business officials of all stripes from the local officials all the way up to the President. We will prevail. We will come back. We are united.

The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born author is a third-generation master plumber. He founded Sunflower Plumbing & Heating in Shirley, N.Y., in 1975 and A Professional Commercial Plumbing Inc. in Phoenix in 1980. He holds residential, commercial, industrial and solar plumbing licenses and is certified in welding, clean rooms, polypropylene gas fusion and medical gas piping. He can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author

Al Schwartz | Founder

The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born author is a retired third generation master plumber. He founded Sunflower Plumbing & Heating in Shirley, N.Y., in 1975 and A Professional Commercial Plumbing Inc. in Phoenix in 1980. He holds residential, commercial, industrial and solar plumbing licenses and is certified in welding, clean rooms, polypropylene gas fusion and medical gas piping.

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