Alex Carrick was the final speaker at the 2016 CanaData construction industry forecast conference, held on Sept. 22 in Toronto.
Carrick touched on several points affecting the global and Canadian economy, including a still rising China, deeply confused electorates, and aging populations.
China, though growth is slowing, is a force in the world, Carrick said, with Chinese money not only invested in domestic projects but also wordwide. China is also cracking down on corruption, which means the stream of money (some illegitimate) leaving the country will likely slow.
A deeply confused electorate, he said, is prioritizing "saving the planet" over saving jobs. Carrick said he feels both problem have to be examine equally.
Carrick also pointed to "rock star" central bankers as people who are actually known by the general public...but have reached the end of what they can do to shift the economy. Negative interest rates and a cashless society are exacerbating this condition.
Technology is having an impact, Carrick added. He pointed to streaming replacing traditional broadcast, as well as VR and artificial intelligence looming to change the state of the entertainment industry.
In terms of construction, technology is also having an impact. Micro power generation, self-healing materials and driverless vehicles will all have (and in some cases are already having) an impact on the construction industry.
Logistics "rule," Carrick said. Logistics concerns the movement of goods, services and people, which he said is the purpose behind building infrastructure. All of that is towards productivity enhancement, so it becomes a virtuous circle, he said.
Logistics is being affected by technology through drones, driverless cars and other automated systems. But soft infrastructure such as schools and other institutions provide the "brains" to keep these systems going.
Labour markets have shifted due to shifting export needs. Newfoundland and Alberta have seen theire energy exports dip 30 per cent, with Saskatchewan's energy exports dropping 50 per cent. By contrast, Ontario automobile exports have risen.
Carrick pointed to warehouse construction starts as a good indicator of the overall health of the economy, because of all the other factors that spin out of storing goods. But those starts are flattening, Carrick said. Manufacturing construction starts have fared even worse, dipping down and continuing to drop. This is about the economy, but it's also about the rise of robotics, Carrick said, which replaces jobs that won't come back.
The current stalemate on pipelines is very frustrating, Carrick said. Energy East should go ahead, he said because all it does from Alberta to Ontario is convert an existing pipeline to transport new material. The approvals and the hardware are already in place. The problem, he said, is getting it through Quebec (specifically Montreal) and off to the east coast. The hurdles getting pipelines to the west coast are even more arduous, Carrick noted.
Owners contemplating investment should weigh use of new square footage vs use of the internet and other high tech trends. There is almost no industry that can't be moved in some form onto the internet, Carrick said, which might be the reason the economy isn't growing as fast as it might. Even physically, single family homes are moving towards multi-family dwellings and prisons are being replaced by ankle bracelets.
If you're against globalization, Carrick said, your answer is irrelevant. Globalization is here whether we want it to be or not. If a country opts for protectionism, it provokes retaliation by other nations, and it introduces inefficiencies.