Coronavirus Impact Survey: Location determining factor in contractor outlook, 54% of Middle Atlantic respondents see decreases

*Survey conducted Apr. 10-15.

Editor’s Note: Make your voice heard in our next survey. How is coronavirus impacting your business? Click here to participate in the survey.

Because states have responded with varying methods of controlling the virus, location is significant determining factor whether or not contractors are working, as reflected by Week 3 of the Equipment World survey on COVID-19 coronavirus impacts.

The outlook is much gloomier in the Middle Atlantic region (which includes Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, and Virginia), where 54 percent said they expected project backlogs to either decrease or significantly decrease. This compares to the Mountain Region, where only 22 percent said the same.

“We are an asphalt paving company based in Delaware and work in Pennsylvania and Maryland,” said one respondent. “We’re currently working in Delaware only, due to the shut down in Pennsylvania and Maryland. The commercial side is steady, but the residential calls have significantly slowed down.”

One small Michigan roadbuilding contractor said: “We are desperately seeking to go back to work.”

Adds a Pennsylvania commercial builder: “Our state has been shut down. Waivers to work are denied even for “life-essential” projects. Current contracts are threatened to be cancelled because we are not permitted to be there.”

Work is still going on in other areas, but delays are occurring. “We’ve been the low bidder on two projects in the past month, but are still awaiting awards,” says a utility contractor in New Mexico. But there is a potential upside, he says: “Both projects were above the engineer’s estimates.”

Adds another New Mexico excavation contractor: “Once construction was deemed essential, all of our GCs were just go, go, go.”

In Week 3, respondents are remaining somewhat balanced about how their project backlogs have changed . Forty percent are reporting that they had decreased or decreased significantly project backlogs, up 5 percentage points from Week 1 of the survey.

On the other side of the ledger, however, 26 percent of the respondents said their project backlogs had either increased or increased significantly, up 7 percentage points from Week 1.

The largest change from Week 1 to Week 3 was in respondents who said project backlogs had stayed the same, showing a shift in the number of those that had seen little to no impact. Those answering “stayed the same” went down 9 percentage points, from 43 percent in Week 1 to 34 percent in Week 3.

(This survey, which had 177 respondents, is the third in a series of surveys that Equipment World and other Randall-Reilly brands are using each week to gauge market sentiment. To participate in the next survey, go here.)

Equipment management

The number of respondents who say they have cancelled equipment orders is inching upward, from 19 percent in Week 1 to 22 percent in Week 3.  Equipment purchases are still happening however, with 9 percent of respondents in Week 3 saying they had bought equipment.

“I bought some used equipment,” said a roadbuilding contractor in Indiana. “There are some good prices since a lot of equipment dealers are very slow.” This was echoed by a Michigan excavating contractor: “We’ve bought new and used equipment at fire sale prices from others who needed to sell.”

Another respondent points out logistic problems because of virus-related restrictions: “I’m unable to travel to New York to pick up an end dump trailer due to COVID-19. I’m making payments on it but I can’t even access it at this time.”

Rental patterns are mixed between the weekly surveys. During Week 1, 14 percent of respondents said they had rented less equipment; that number went up to 18 percent in Week 2 but dropped to 10 percent in Week 3.

“I’m making an effort to use company-owned equipment more before we rent,” said an Oregon road builder. “We will rent short term if needed,” said a Hawaiian excavating firm.

We added three new equipment-related questions to the Week 3 survey: if respondents had sold equipment at auction (3 percent); bought equipment at auction (2 percent) and whether they had asked an equipment lender for refinancing or other financial adjustments (14 percent).

Business changes

Respondents who said they had decreased their jobsite workforce have inched downward from Week 1, when 42 percent said they had done this, to Week 3, when 38 percent indicated this had happened.

Only 1 percent of respondents say they have increased their jobsite workforces, a number that has remained steady all three weeks.

Those decreasing their office workforce have seen some fluctuation, with 34 percent of respondents saying this had happened in Week 1, 23 percent in Week 2, and 28 percent in Week 3.

One respondent is using the current downtime to sharpen employee skills: “We have increased training to boost efficiency and meet unchanging customers deadlines in fewer hours of operation,” says a Colorado excavating contractor.

30-day outlook

When we asked respondents about what they expected to happen to their backlog within the next 30 days, the majority of respondents (40 percent) are casting their vote for “stay the same.” In Week 1, 31 percent of respondents chose this option.

There is clearly some worry as contractors see supporting agencies decrease their presence. “We have several proposed projects that seem to be on hold because the agencies can’t seem to gather to review proposals,” says a New Mexico utility contractor.

In our weekly surveys, we’ve asked contractors to rank their expectations for overall business conditions in the coming week. The 4.43 average is up over the previous two-week average of 3.88.