It may take engineering markets years to recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, a panel of experts said this week.
During the third virtual roundtable series sponsored by the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Research Institute, titled “Funding in the New Normal,” economic and policy experts said the recent surge in cases in the U.S. has added more uncertainty in projecting federal, state and local finances and future of project funding.
The four panelists included Rosemarie Andolino, former chairman of MAG USA and CEO of International Development, Manchester Airport Group in the United Kingdom; Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group, an economic and policy consulting firm; Jeff Davis, senior fellow with the Eno Center for Transportation and the editor of the Eno Transportation Weekly; and David Zipper, a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Taubman Center for State and Local Government.
“It’s really a risky moment in our economic history,” Basu said, “and that uncertainty will likely continue through the end of the year. We have shattered government finances, state and local. Empty storefronts, shuttered restaurants, vacated office suites. We have a commercial real estate sector that is in deep recession and will take years to recover.”
Zipper added that the lack of clarity at the federal level influences the lower levels of government. “It forces transit agencies to become very concerned or cities to become very concerned about future cash support, which leads them to make decisions now about future planning,” he said.
Similarly, Davis noted that while the federal side of spending for projects hasn’t been affected just yet, “there is also uncertainty in the ability of many state and local governments’ to produce matching funds.”
Once a vaccine is discovered, additional federal stimulus funding will still be needed to boost post-pandemic recovery of various markets, the panelists agreed.
“There must be an infusion of federal dollars,” Zipper said, noting “that it’s going to take a long time for office construction and urban transportation to recover.”
Andolino said a similar slow recovery is expected for the airline industry. “It’s going to be awhile. Everybody is in a cost containment mode now,” she said. “We still need to see what the new demands will be, what will be key to making passengers feel more comfortable, what will be key to getting business travelers back?”