Back to Business
Learning how to conduct business in a reality where high demand, material shortages are exacerbated by a tenuous labor market
October 8, 2021
We went back to GlassBuild America in September, and what a show it was. Energy ran high all three days in the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, as more than 5,000 registrants explored new technologies, equipment, products and services from over 300 exhibitors.
The energy was palpable and, even behind face masks, I could tell people were smiling—myself included. The event served as a solid reminder to all of us what a resilient industry we are.
Part of that resiliency is learning how to live, play and conduct business in a new reality shaped by the evolving COVID pandemic. Economists say the U.S. economy is poised for continued recovery, but not without some bumps in the road.
During the virtual Home Improvement Research Institute summit in September, presenters agreed COVID strains are likely to remain for a long time. “The economy will need to adapt to growing during a time of COVID,” said James Bohnaker, director, U.S. macro & consumer economics, IHS Markit.
He and other presenters agreed housing likely reached its peak but will remain at strong levels because of low mortgage rates and wealth gains. Additionally, the early stages of the pandemic encouraged companies to adopt remote or hybrid work policies that are now becoming permanent. Many workers are now free to move to homes outside their work radius, further strengthening the housing market.
“It’s not a bursting bubble,” said Connor Lokar, senior forecaster for ITR Economics, during his economic presentation during the Glazing Executives Forum, held in conjunction with GlassBuild. “We’re just seeing sanity returning to single-family in 2022. Home sales are already markedly decelerating. Inventories are starting to tick up.”
Higher material costs and reduced material availability, however, are likely to erode housing affordability, said Robert Dietz, NAHB chief economist, during the HIRI Summit. Windows and doors, in fact, ranked no. 5 on a list of the most significant material shortages (preceded by appliances, framing lumber, OSB and plywood), said Dietz. “It is the supply side that is limiting the growth of the industry,” he said.
Labor is the other major hindrance to industry growth, and what Dietz says will be the top issue as we emerge from supply challenges. He estimated in any given month, the industry has a deficit of 300,000 to 400,000 construction workers. Further, he said it will be necessary to bring nearly 800,000 additional workers into the home building and remodeling space over the next decade.
Bohnaker said the mismatch of skills, location and wages will negatively impact the labor force going forward. “It’s a struggle to find the right people with the right skills at the right wages,” he said. Employees in the leisure, retail and hospitality sector lost the most jobs during the pandemic. Employment demand, however, lies largely in the manufacturing and logistics side, categories that Bohnaker says many unemployed people likely aren’t qualified for. It will take time, education and training to develop those skillsets.
These challenges will undoubtedly change the way we do business going forward, which is part of what makes events like GlassBuild so important to the industry. The tradeshow creates an opportunity to build partnerships, share ideas and invent solutions for conducting business in the current and future climate. “Emmegi sees the event as an invaluable tool for education and innovative ideas,” Sandro Cestaro, general manager of exhibiting company Emmegi North America, states, noting that the company is “proud to have been a part of the NGA GlassBuild Show for the past years.” On a positive note, he adds, “GlassBuild allowed Emmegi to see that the industry is strong and rising to challenges of today’s business environment.”