Construction more robust, but no 'hallelujah' shout


Tribune Business Editor


The Bahamian construction industry is more robust than 2017 first quarter figures suggest, although a leading contractor conceded: "Let's not shout 'hallelujah' yet."

Leonard Sands, the Bahamian Contractors Association's (BCA) president, told Tribune Business that the market was "not as sluggish" as suggested by Department of Statistics data because contractors were finding it difficult to find skilled labour.

Speaking after the Central Bank revealed private sector construction starts fell by 36.2 per cent year-over-year for the 2017 first quarter, Mr Sands suggested the figures had been temporarily impacted by the after-effects of Hurricane Matthew.

He added that Bahamian contractors were waiting "with bated breath" for "another jolt", given that Desmond Bannister, minister of works, had suggested at last month's BCA luncheon that the Government is seeking to redevelop the Post Office building and Clarence A. Bain Building.

And Mr Sands praised the Minnis administration for "raising the bar" on the criteria for bidders on government contracts, requiring that they provide certification showing their qualifications in the relevant fields.

"There's reasons for the data that's been reported," the BCA president said of the Central Bank figures. "If you consider the end of 2016, you would have been faced with Hurricane Matthew.

"That would have affected anyone's ability to start construction in the 2016 fourth quarter and 2017 first quarter. I can't argue against the numbers stated; they sound logical to me. But, while the market is sluggish, it's not as sluggish as indicated by that report."

Mr Sands explained: "It's incredibly hard to find skilled tradespersons available right now in electrics, plumbing and carpentry. When we see that, it tells us they're engaged in work or busy on projects already.

"Right now, I'm aggressively searching for skilled carpenters on the island, which suggests they are engaged in work whether on New Providence, Grand Bahama or Abaco. They are not available in numbers like they were last year."

Mr Sands said this showed construction activity was "better than what was reported", with business volumes generally above 2016 comparatives.

"I have a buddy in Abaco running four projects, coming to Nassau for carpenters, and he can't find any," he told Tribune Business. "It's as busy as he's been in the past three years, with four jobs all over $1 million.

"That's the second home market in Abaco picking up. It's a good sign when you have good numbers, and contractors are finding it difficult to staff a job. Mr Myers, too, at Caribbean Landscaping; he doesn't have a challenge finding the work, he has a challenge supplying the work with labour.

"Things are a little better than we thought," Mr Sands continued. "Government has to add to that with some level of capital expenditure, and balance opportunities for local contractors.

"It's not the most robust, but it's better compared to 2016."

Mr Sands said Bahamian contractors were looking forward to "another jolt" if the Government followed through on Mr Bannister's suggestions that it will seek to redevelop the Post Office building on East Hill Street, and the Clarence A. Bain building that once housed the Road Traffic Department and other agencies.

"We're hopeful this will be the thing that gets us over the hump," he added. "We're looking forward to this with bated breath."

The BCA president also praised the Minnis administration's efforts to pre-qualify bidders by requiring them to present evidence of their qualifications to do the job, such as certificates of industrial cleaning for a hospital cleaning contract.

"They're raising the bar on expectations to qualify for bids," he told Tribune Business. "It's good for our industry.......

"Things are looking up, but let's not shout 'hallelujah' yet. We're progressing, but ultimately we don't want to things are great yet. It's better than this period in 2016, but it could be better yet."


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