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Keep Calm and Focus on the Facts

Jan. 8, 2020
EDITOR'S NOTE: To paraphrase Kipling, if we can keep our heads while all about us are losing theirs, then we just may survive and thrive in this already crazy year.

Try as I might, I can’t quite remember the last time I sat in front of this keyboard with emotions as mixed as they are right now about the state of the world and the state of our industry. 

As you’ll see in our January issue, that internal conflict comes through in many of the views expressed by many of you in a host of annual surveys and other research conducted by AHR Expo, Dodge Data & Analytics, the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, Associated General Contractors of America, the American Institute of Architects, the American Boiler Manufacturers Association, and more. By all accounts, the U.S. economy seems quite strong as we enter 2020, and yet… 

There is well-founded anxiety. After all, the economic expansion still fueling development is now in its record 11th year, still rebounding from the Great Recession of 2008- 09. Indeed, work is still so prevalent in so many markets that worker shortages remain the chief concern for many contractors and engineering firms heading into 2020. 

But how long can any boom cycle last before the inevitable bust? 

“There are some absolutes in life; one is that downturns in the economy are inevitable, and another is that economic recoveries and growth follow,” said economist Alan Beaulieu, the keynote speaker at ABMA’s annual meeting this month. Another comforting thought is that backlogs for many of you are said to be substantial enough to provide a soft landing of at least 12 to 18 months if the economy finally slows, as many predict, next fall. Says one manufacturer, “To be honest, I am more worried about 2021 than I am about 2020.” 

Of course, another inescapable source of anxiety entering 2020 has been the rancorous political situation in the U.S. and new fears of a hot war in the Middle East that could trigger, well, unpredictable consequences. 

But in times of crisis, what do engineers do? Well, they examine the evidence. 

With that in mind, I recommend the Dec. 28 Op-Ed article by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. A Pulitzer prize-winning journalist who has covered some of the world’s ugliest conflicts, he makes it a point to end every year with a reality check. Under the eye-catching headline, This Has Been the Best Year Ever, he wrote: 

In the long arc of human history, 2019 has been the best year ever… Every single day in recent years, another 325,000 people got their first access to electricity. Each day, more than 200,000 got piped water for the first time. 

Think about that. Our industry makes the world a better place. Every day. 

Similarly, my daughter last summer had an inspiring internship in Berlin with a group called Stifterverband, a consortium of 3,000 member firms promoting international cooperation on “education, science, and innovation.” The parting gift from her managers was a 2018 book that she says has changed her life… FACTFULNESS: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why.

Compiled by Swedish doctor and statistician Hans Rosling, the book boldly encourages readers to develop “the stress-relieving habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.” 

Sage advice, indeed, no matter where we work and live. So, stick to the facts, and soldier on this year. Plan wisely and remember, facts truly are our friends.

For previous Editor's Notes, visit our archives here.

To comment, or submit a letter to the editor, please contact Rob McManamy at [email protected]

About the Author

Rob McManamy | Editor in Chief

An industry reporter and editor since 1987, McManamy joined HPAC Engineering in September 2017, after three years with BuiltWorlds.com, a Chicago-based media startup focused on tech innovation in the built environment. He has been covering design and construction issues for more than 30 years, having started at Engineering News-Record (ENR) in New York, before becoming its Midwest Bureau Chief in 1990. In 1998, McManamy was named Editor-in-Chief of Design-Build magazine, where he served for four years. He subsequently worked as an editor and freelance writer for Building Design + Construction and Public Works magazines.

A native of Bronx, NY, he is a graduate of both the University of Virginia, and The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

Contact him at [email protected].