The cup is half full and half empty when it comes to the nation’s economy and the construction outlook. “If you’re busy now, you’ll stay busy for the foreseeable future,” said Anirban Basu, economist, chairman, and CEO of the Sage Policy Group. But many events could conspire to make the future outlook more questionable.

Basu spoke at the American Society of Concrete Contractors’ Concrete Executive Leadership Forum (CELF), which was held at Bluffton, S.C. July 20-23.

“Momentum should see us through 2017, but tighter monetary policy combined with political intrigue could render 2018 far different. By this time in 2019, the economy could be in a far difference place, and likely will be,” Basu said. He foresees a recession in 2019-20. The current economic expansion will be 10 years old in 2019. “Recoveries don’t last past 10 years,” he said.

The U.S. economy will grow 2.1% this year. “We took 3% for granted as we grew up,” he said, adding he also sees a “much slower global economy.” Basu expects the economy will be “stuck” at 2% growth “until the president gets his pro-growth agenda passed, and he may never get it passed.”

The nation’s demographics point upward for the construction industry, as younger people age, form families, and buy homes. There are more 25-year-olds than any other age in the U.S. Basu recently spoke at a caterers association, which told him business was strong. The reason: there is a surge in weddings, a precursor to people having children. This should lead to stronger single-family home sales, but a drop in multi-family home sales. “Single-family homebuilding will come back, but not as strong as pre-recession,” he said.

New infrastructure and stimulus spending will go a long way in strengthening the economy and the construction industry. Basu urges President Trump and Congress to “take the loss” on health care reform and next try corporate tax reform to reinvigorate the U.S. economy. He also suggests pairing infrastructure spending with vocation training. “Why is there shame and stigma to that,” he asked.

Basu also said public-private partnerships should pay for new infrastructure spending. “Finance it without taking on more public debt,” he said.

Finding employees

Attracting employees to construction was on everyone’s mind at the conference. “The pool is drying up a little bit. Many of you are feeling it dramatically,” said Ron Magnus, managing director, FMI Center for Strategic Leadership. One way to get workers is to strengthen your brand to make your company more attractive to jobseekers. Ask yourself, “What is your brand in your local market to attract young workers.”

Once you hire someone, you have 90 days to make a positive impression. About one-half of employees are not engaged, and these employees are four times more likely to leave for another job.

Baby boomer bosses must understand that employees who are millennials have different needs. Baby boomers usually left their personal lives at home; millennials do not. “For many, this has been the biggest transition to make,” said Magnus. “Everyone wants to be understood, and they want their boss to understand who they are.”

Give younger workers regular feedback; only 4% of millennials want feedback only during an annual review. “Young people want feedback,” he said. “They want to know that you care about them.”

Disney concrete

Many millennials visited a Disney theme park in their youth and they may not have noticed all of the decorative concrete in the surroundings. Rich Rhoades, construction manager for Disney Imagineering, discussed what contractors face when working with the famous entertainment company. “We’re a different animal and people who work with us would agree,” he said.

Disney’s contractors often must supply 12 samples to Disney before getting final approval on a project, which may last one year, said Rhoades, who spent two and half years in Shanghai preparing Disney’s park there.

Disney looks at its contractors as partners. “We make sure they understand everything we create so they can be a part of the process,” Rhoades said.

Disney is not immune to the labor shortage. “We’re short of contractors, especially in Florida,” Rhoades said. “We need people.”