Back to Reality
Conexpo 2023 will likely go down as the most talked-about industry event of the year. That’s due, in part, to the fact that there were so many people there—more than 139,000 according to the organizers’ figures. The turnout certainly to bring smiles to exhibitors faces, as well as those dependent on Las Vegas’s hospitality and entertainment economy, which is regaining its post-pandemic footing.
Indeed, Conexpo surpassed both of the city’s traditional top-2 megashows—last fall’s Specialty Equipment Market Association event, and this past January’s Consumer Electronic Show. (True, those are annual events, compared with Conexpo’s three-year cycle. But why no let construction enjoy its well-earned Las Vegas trade show bragging rights while it can.)
As all those Conexpo attendees packed up their product data sheets, exhibitor trinkets, and memories for the trip home, the only regrets were likely that they didn’t get to see everything, or missed the opportunity to return to an already crowded exhibitor’s booth. It’s hard to imagine there not being an industry product not represented at Conexpo—from the most massive crane to the smallest pocket tool. There literally and figuratively was something for everyone.
And for many, there was good news waiting when they got home, with new government data indicating the addition of 24,000 employees to construction sector payrolls this past February, completing a 3.2% industry-wide increase over the past 12 months.
Of course, there remains a sizeable gap between demand and supply when it comes to construction labor, and the disparity is most acute in locations where skilled workers are needed most. And the past year’s increase has come literally at a price—namely a 6.1% increase in average hourly earnings (to $33.57) for production and nonsupervisory workers (i.e., hourly craft workers), according to the Associated General Contractors. How that affects a contractor’s balance sheet—also taking into consideration continued increases in the cost of key materials, fuel, and other resources—is a matter best left to each business owner and his or her accountant.
Then there’s the looming challenge, as pointed out by AGC’s analysis, of recruiting new people to the industry to offset the gradual erosion of aging Baby Boomers (and, soon, the smaller pool of Generation Xers) from the industry, who take both skills and experience with them when they hang up their hardhats and safety vests for the final time.
It’s not for a lack of trying. It’s hard to find a construction or engineering firm that doesn’t participate in mentoring and STEM programs aimed at lighting a spark of interest among students, or will it into a flame of a potential career choice through vocational and trade-based training programs.
Higher pay will help fan those flames of interest, as will those high-tech machines and tools that lined Conexpo’s crowded aisles. But those effects may prove as short-term as the dent this winter’s record snowfall in the western US put in the region’s overburdened water supply.
Conexpo 2023 suggests the industry has some welcome momentum. Can it be sustained? We’ll have a better idea when the construction event calendar flips to Conexpo 2026.
Jim Parsons, Senior Editor