Consigli Construction’s Laura Bush wasn’t born in New York City.
In fact, the self-described “Brit with the former first lady’s name” grew up in Manchester, U.K., and didn’t arrive in Manhattan until early 2001, just months before 9/11.
But working in construction in the city in the aftermath of the attacks made her a New Yorker through and through.
“It just kind of solidified my belief that some of the best people work in the construction industry,” Bush said. “People volunteered, went down there and helped with the recovery and rebuilding effort, including some of the most notable leaders in the industry.”
Here, Construction Dive talks with Bush, who recently took the reins as Consigli’s director of operations for the New York City metro region, to talk about her priorities in her new role, the outlook for the city’s building market and working as a woman in construction.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: Congratulations on the promotion. What do you want to focus on as director of operations for the NYC region?
LAURA BUSH: My position here is really to hone our strategy as a business in New York City and Long Island. First and foremost, that means having a focus on our people. Making sure they have a career path and ensuring they feel valued and connected with leadership is extremely important, especially coming out of COVID.
We have people working on jobsites, working in the office, working remotely. Given what everybody is going through, an important focus for me is making sure that everybody feels part of the business and part of this group.
To me, that means going out to our construction sites. I don’t just want to sit at my desk all day.
Another aspect is safety. I want to go home to my family every day, and I want to make sure that everybody who works on our sites does as well.
But it’s important for the business as well. I strongly believe safety goes hand in hand with the quality of the build. If you have a safe project, you have a high quality project, and vice versa.
What are some notable NYC projects Consigli is working on now?
We have a project that's in the foundation right now in the Washington Heights area that's going to be a rental residential project. Then we have an affordable housing building in the Bronx that is currently in foundation as well.
We also have a project at the Bronx High School of Science which is an extension of the existing facility. It’s a $16 million 11,000-square-foot project called the Stanley Manne ’52 Science Institute. It will provide a new research facility for life sciences where advanced students can carry out long term personal research projects under the direction of a faculty advisor.
And we actually did an internship program there with students at the high school or are potentially interested in a career in construction.
Some of our other projects include life sciences of various scales, and healthcare for anything from $5 million to $100 million right now. We have a project at Bellevue Hospital that is well underway. We have some smaller health care projects out on Long Island, with some of the bigger players, like Northwell Health and NYU.
NYC and the Northeast in general have been hit hard by the pandemic. What’s your outlook for the NYC construction market going forward?
I think the outlook is very optimistic. We certainly have a very attractive workload. But you’ve got to be mindful coming out of a pandemic. There are obviously other challenges in the world that are just making some people a little bit cautious. There are still lingering issues, I would say, with the supply chain.
In certain trades, we're seeing pretty high pricing, such as electrical work, which is kind of pushing up overall costs from a construction perspective. But I think that will calm down.
The shift has been in sectors. You’ve seen a shift from high-end residential into more affordable rentals, and life science and health care. I definitely see a lot of health care coming in all geographies over the city.
What about office?
I think that's probably where we're still seeing a slow pace, and I wonder if that's going to change.
We’re actually moving our office at the end of this month, and I was just walking through with our landlord here a short time ago. I asked him what the interest was like for the building where we currently have our office, and he said there wasn't a lot of interest right now.
But I also know that during our own office search in the last six months, we noticed the difference in terms of when we initially started looking, versus getting close to making the deal for the new space that we're moving to, and there was more demand. So I think it will pick up.
I think it will come down to what happens with remote working. [New York City] Mayor Eric Adams is kind of pushing for all city workers to come back in person. If he makes that more of a mandate for the city workers, the question is then will that result in a lot more corporations making that a requirement, too. We'll see.
Just 11% of people working in construction are women, compared to 47% in the overall workforce. What’s your perspective on being a woman in the construction industry?
Well, I didn’t do it alone. I was given a tremendous amount of opportunity by other people.
But I think what's important is making sure that you're paying that forward, and you're giving other people the same opportunities that you were afforded.
And for me, it's also about minorities. It's not just about women. My mother-in-law is from Trinidad, so my children are a mixed race. And it's important to me that we're opening this up for everybody, not just for women, but also for all minorities.
Any words of advice to women or minorities working in construction?
I think you have to accept the fact that you are the minority, but you have to not let it overshadow what you want to be able to do. No matter what career you choose, there will always be challenges. I think the biggest piece of advice I give to people is don't jeopardize relationships, don't burn any bridges.
The industry is a very small industry, and it's really important that people remember how you treated them. For me, that doesn't come down to your gender or your race. It comes down to just the way you are as person.
You have to put that other stuff behind you. There are certainly days when it’s challenging to do that. Just yesterday evening, I had a meeting with people who made the assumption that I was working for the other person I was with.
So, you’ve got to be assertive. I had to introduce myself as the director of operations for a construction management company. I think a lot of women are not inherently comfortable doing that, but once you do, it changes the nature of the conversation.