by Lisa Balschunat
Elated about New York state’s relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions as it proceeds with reopening the economy in phases, Tom Albrecht, president of Hilltop Construction Co., said “I’m digging holes again and playing in the dirt.”
His company ran a bare-bones crew on a few jobs deemed essential businesses by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office during the state’s Pause. But Hilltop and other area builders are moving on with projects that came to a halt due to the pandemic.
“Hilltop had a few essential jobs, so we were able to continue working on some projects,” Albrecht said. “During the Pause we signed over $3 million worth of work. This year we are booked with contracts. Next year, I think the economic impact will be felt. I am an optimist, but also a realist. When the dust settles, our region will be affected. Some businesses won’t open long term or at all. The impact will be great.”
Based in Hudson Falls, Albrecht’s family owned business has been operating for 46 years and presently employs 30 people. The company builds residential and commercial structures with concentrations in Springs, Glens Falls, Lake George, Hudson Falls and Schroon Lake for establishments including Stewart’s Shops, Hudson Headwaters, Six Flags, Glens Falls National Bank and Community, Work and Independence, Inc. (CWI).
Albrecht said his team “helps fulfill peoples’ dreams” by building their future businesses.
In early March, MLB Construction Services, based in Ballston Spa, moved quickly to set up so employees could work from home.
“We got our teams set up remotely, but still had our executive vice president and accountant at the office,” said James Dawsey, president of the company. “My son and his family live and work in New York City, so he was [providing] me with information early on. We immediately put in place a COVID-19 team … We were ahead of the curve.”
Dawsey said MLB has a “wide spectrum of jobs—essential and non-essential—that kept the company in good shape.” However, he did have to furlough six of 75 employees. He was able to bring them back in stages.
“Luckily, we were able to use the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act (PPP),” he said.
“We have complied with all of the CDC requirements and New York state guidelines,” he said. “We had eight projects going, but had to shutdown the Saratoga Springs City Hall and Capital Repertory Theatre site for two months.”
“We have to think a little differently to make it happen, but we’re doing it,” said Dawsey. In the coming weeks, MLB will be wrapping up three projects at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), including a new concession building and pavilion.
While MLB is in good shape for 2020, Dawsey said he is concerned about the financial prospects for 2021. He said hotels might alter their building plans and higher education campuses might offer more on-line classes, reducing the need for new or expanded buildings. If an autumn wave of COVID-19 surfaces he foresees a “financial trickle down, with an 18- to 24-month recovery.”
If there are silver linings to COVID-19, Dawsey said one is how people have “stepped up” to do what they could for others in the community that found themselves in dire straits. MLB employees helped at the Saratoga Food Pantry and raised funds for the Capital City Rescue Mission.
Jesse Boucher, president of Kodiak Construction in Wilton, had one person at job sites during the shutdown, as required, which “slowed projects down” by several days. But since Kodiak’s jobs are single-family residences, he was able to stagger his workers accordingly. He quickly put the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements into place for the safety of workers and clients. Most of his crew worked on and off during the Pause.
“We’ve had to push start dates back eight weeks, in some cases, and had to hold off on work at school sites … We were fortunate,” Boucher said. “Most of our projects were under roof. We could continue the jobs under the guidelines with one guy working on site.”
Kodiak recently completed a six-lot subdivision in Saratoga Springs and is working on a 20-lot subdivision in Greenfield. He said he anticipates a busy summer, but if a second wave of COVID-19 strikes in the fall, he expects a slowdown.
He added, “March to November is the construction industry’s time to work. We’ve lost two months, but we’ll figure it out and keep moving forward.” Now in its 16th year, Kodiak recently shifted from a mix of commercial and residential projects, to specifically residential. The company recently purchased its own subdivision in Greenfield, with a model home underway.
Eric and Eric Construction’s experience with COVID-19 became an employment challenge.
“Originally, a few guys had to leave work to care for family members who were at risk,” said Eric Isachsen, company president. “Some aren’t returning yet” because they get significant unemployment and stimulus incentives. The company was looking to hire full-time, year-round workers to fill slots.
“We have 40 projects on the docket,” Isachsen said. “We’ve scheduled one person on the job site, as required. We’re working with our clients now to push out some projects, but should round out the year alright.”
He said he is optimistic about 2021 and has several projects already on the books.
At one time Eric and Eric employed 30 people, but downsized over the past decade, and retooled its business plan to specializes in remodeling. He lost several employees over the years due to attrition and currently employs seven.
Large or small, construction company owners are in agreement that COVID-19 has made it uniquely difficult to predict short- or long-term trends in the industry for the remainder of this year and next, but are cautiously optimistic.