By Mike Elmendorf | April 28, 2020


New York’s construction industry is a powerful economic engine during normal times.  Each $1 billion invested in non-residential construction spending adds about $3.4 billion to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), about $1.1 billion to personal earnings and creates or sustains 28,500 jobs.  As Governor Cuomo takes steps to begin to “unpause” New York, the construction industry is primed and ready to continue working safely and play a crucial role in our State’s economic recovery and resurgence through “NY Forward.”

Construction has been broadly deemed “essential” in New York throughout the COVID-19 crisis under Governor Cuomo’s “New York on Pause” Executive Orders.  Our industry—which already had significant experience working safely in hazardous conditions and applying rigorous protocols and utilizing personal protective equipment (PPE) to mitigate exposure to pathogens and other health and safety risks—has developed and honed best practices to mitigate health risks to construction workers and others as construction work has continued across New York during this pandemic.

And, our industry has been hard at work during this difficult time, continuing to deliver existing transportation, building and infrastructure projects across New York.  Most importantly, AGC NYS members have stepped up to help construct facilities to help New Yorkers meet this challenge like emergency hospital facilities needed to meet the rush of COVID-19 patients.

Governor Cuomo this week identified construction as one of the industries that will be part of phase one of his move to “unpause” New York and restart the economy.  The construction industry, informed by our experience continuing significant amounts of work during this unprecedented public health crisis, and driven by our abiding commitment to safety, is exceptionally well prepared for a broader reopening of construction activity that will put more people back to work and help prime and sustain economic recovery.

The Associated General Contractors of New York State (AGC NYS), New York’s leading statewide construction industry organization, representing the full breadth of our industry, building and highway, union and open shop, in every region of our State, has prepared a comprehensive list of safety procedures and policy recommendations for the safe and effective resumption of construction activity.  You can read the full AGC NYS “NY Forward” Plan at this link.

The AGC NYS plan is focused, first and foremost, on safety.  The construction industry, like all industries, will need to continue to adapt to the new reality of COVID-19 for as long as it poses a threat to the health of our workers and the public.  Our team has developed a wide-ranging, common sense strategy for procedures and best practice to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission on construction sites.

Our blueprint for a return to work also includes a call for liability protections for contractors.  The construction industry has taken extraordinary steps to protect the health and safety of workers, but despite our best efforts, COVID-19 knows no boundaries.  It is an invisible enemy that does not heed warning signs at the workplace, at home, on transportation systems, and in our communities.  Daily briefings from medical experts continue to warn the public that the virus will be with us for possibly several cycles or until there is enough testing, contact tracing, and a vaccine to stamp it out.  The reopening of the economy will unavoidably pose additional health risks and open contractors to the possibility of significant legal liability for potential workplace COVID-19 related labor and employment claims.  New York State must recognize the significant legal liability posed by COVID-19 and protect responsible contractors acting in good faith and following applicable statutes, rules, executive orders, and approved sector-specific restart plans.  This is a call that I suspect will be echoed by other essential industries who have continued working—or those who will be among the first to remobilize.

However, our industry cannot return to work if there is no work.  The economic upheaval wrought by this virus and the shuttering of much of our economy is almost incalculable.  Boston Consulting Group recently conducted an economic analysis on behalf of the State of New York—and the results are staggering.  They project an economic impact to the State that erases 14% of our GDP, totaling more than $240 billion through a recession they don’t see us recovering from until the first quarter of 2023.  The impact is more severe and longer lasting than both the post-9/11 Recession and the Great Recession of 2008.

That’s a sobering, if not startling, outlook for all of us—but especially so for the construction industry.  Our industry rides the waves of the economy, and an economic gut punch like this has potentially devastating implications for both public and private construction markets.

For these reasons, AGC NYS is calling on Washington to focus on infrastructure in the next round of COVID-19 legislation— the “Phase 4” emergency relief and economic recovery package.  AGC NYS has called on the New York Congressional Delegation to push for an immediate infusion of $4B for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.   We are pushing for $50B in flexible federal funding to offset the potential loss in state transportation revenues and a multi-billion infrastructure package to rebuild New York’s transportation and building infrastructure and reinvigorate our economy.  We are also urging Congress to provide financial assistance for cash-strapped local governments, dealing with the double-hits of massive, unbudgeted costs to deal with the COVID-19 crisis and an economy in freefall.  The federal government also must take action to shore up the municipal bond market, critical to financing public construction projects, which is currently flat on its back.

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed serious, perhaps even existential, threats to our population and economy that were inconceivable to most just a few months ago.  Nearly twenty years ago, I served in the Governor’s Office when New York was again the epicenter of an unexpected crisis that took the lives of many New Yorkers, changed those of the rest of us and countless others throughout the world, and upended our economy.  At the time, I wondered if life would ever again remotely resemble what it was before that terrible morning.  It is easy and quite understandable to feel that way now, but like we did then, New York—and New Yorkers, famous for their resilience—will come back.

Governor Cuomo and his Administration have worked tirelessly to meet this unprecedented threat to our State and its people.  I thank and commend them for their herculean efforts.  Now, at long last, when we are able to hopefully begin the process of re-opening New York and our economy, the construction industry stands ready and eager to do its part.

After all, the construction industry, quite literally, built New York.  Wherever you’re going, unless it is someone’s house—and however you get there—it was probably built by AGC NYS members.  We remain prepared to resume and continue the work of New York’s rebuilding and recovery.

Mike Elmendorf is President and CEO Associated General Contractors New York State.