Each year Oxford selects the word or phrase of the year, and the term typically conveys the zeitgeist and a critical turning point for the country that year. In 2019 it was “climate emergency,” and in 2016, it was “post-truth.” It may also be a new word that suddenly comes into trendy use or a word that encapsulates a critical moment. For example, in 2013, the word was “selfie,” as our practice of taking and posting self-portraits reached a fever pitch. If the selection is based on the frequency of usage, the words for 2020 will almost certainly be “social distance.” A word cloud for 2020 might look something like this:


As we adapt to the new reality post-COVID19, social distancing is likely to be with us for some time. The key to “distance” is “space”. The only way to create or modify space is through construction. As companies, health care organizations, and schools come to terms with getting back to work in a safe format, one thing they will likely need is more space or alterations to existing space.

Top 10 Reasons Construction is Essential to Recovery

1. Physical Distance. Distance requires space, and space requires construction (new or alterations). According to Steelcase, “the reinvented office must be designed with an even deeper commitment to the well-being of people, recognizing that their physical, cognitive, and emotional states are inherently linked to their safety.”

2. Vulnerability in Healthcare. The Healthcare industry will likely need to reinvent itself and its spaces in the wake of this crisis. To be better prepared, hospitals will look to flexibility, convertible and expandable rooms, advanced air-filtration systems, built-in storage spaces, wider hallways, and virtual compatibility, among other improvements.

3. Economic Fallout. Social and demographic trends from Pew Research Center states, “more than four-in-ten adults say they or someone in their household has lost a job or taken a pay cut due to COVID-19.” Families who have suffered losses due to the health care crisis cannot afford for the affordable housing crisis to worsen.

4. Talent & Labor Shortages. The longer construction is idle, the more likely that highly skilled, difficult to replace workers leave the industry, the state, or retire. That puts Washington at a disadvantage during the recovery and next growth cycle. Data shows that in 2015 following the Great Recession there were 1.4 million fewer people employed in construction in the US than there were in 2007. Construction laborers and senior architects leaving the industry during the last downturn led to the current labor shortages. Having talent readily available in the workforce is key to rapid mobilization during a crisis and the recovery.

5. Employment. Construction supports a vast ecosystem of professionals, including on-site labor, management, architects, engineers, appraisers, and bankers; material sales and suppliers; transportation, equipment, logistics firms; and city/state jurisdictional staff.

6. Economic. The interconnected fates of real estate brokers, financial institutions, developers, the mortgage industry, and pension funds they support, etc. During the housing market crash, the debt bubble’s implosion turned into a financial crisis affecting all the above.

7. Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Data shows construction makes up a significant portion (historically 3-5%) of Washington state GDP. The chart below indicates that WA State has achieved the highest GDP growth rate in the nation.

8. Revenue. Much needed city and state revenue in the form of taxes and fees: Construction contributes to sales tax, property tax, transactional taxes, and jurisdictional development and permitting fees. According to The Seattle Times, “unofficial numbers show $7 billion hit to Washington state revenue through 2023 from coronavirus downturn.”

9. City & State Pride. Humans have ties to the growth and development of their beloved communities and region. Construction is one of the most visible, tangible signs of social and economic progress. We can recall the haunting images of boarded-up, unfinished construction projects from the 2008 housing crisis. In contrast, many of us feel proud that Seattle has been one of the top cities in the country based on crane count, as claimed by the Puget Sound Business Journal. More importantly, our new buildings add beautiful indoor and outdoor public spaces to enable social interactions with friends, family, community, and nature, leaving us feeling inspired.

10. Connected Experience. The reason I got into the industry, the built environment is the facilitator and backdrop for our lives. We need supportive, well designed, and abundant indoor and outdoor spaces now more than ever. Mr. Nicholas de Monchaux, the incoming head of architecture at MIT, opines that our shared economy depends mostly on what happens in between.

We believe the construction industry is essential to our physical, mental, social, and economic wellbeing. Let us know if you think of other ways in which construction is essential to the recovery. We’d love to hear from you!