Editor's note: This article is part of Construction Dive's 50 States of Construction series, in which we talk with industry leaders across the U.S. about the business conditions in their market and their companies.
The construction market is strong in Indiana thanks to a business-friendly climate and a bustling economy, according to Jeff Lyness, vice president of Greendale, IN–based Maxwell Construction. The company, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year, has completed more than 3 billion square feet of design-built projects and is a leader in the region's commercial and industrial segments.
Though the state's industry is flourishing, Maxwell and others face challenges with the skilled labor gap. While the company is working to attract the next generation of Indiana construction workers, Maxwell — like many in the industry — is also increasingly turning its focus to the ways technology can help fill that gap.
Construction Dive spoke with Lyness about Indiana's booming construction market, how the Hoosier State is dealing with the labor shortage and technology's growing role in the industry.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
How do you think the construction industry in Indiana differs from other states?
LYNESS: The construction market in Indiana is very strong in the short-term and our backlog right now is as high as it's ever been as a company. Indiana has done a very good job of positioning itself and introducing some legislation and forward thinking to attract businesses and keep business here. I think that's the trick to the high demand that the construction industry is seeing in Indiana right now.
Businesses are investing in infrastructure and their physical plant capacities to satisfy the demand of the consumers, which then generates business [opportunities] for construction.
Which sectors are seeing the strongest growth? What’s driving that growth?
LYNESS: All the segments across Indiana are pretty strong. We're doing a lot of industrial projects, including a government project and schools. The total state of the economy in Indiana is clicking on all cylinders.
One of the other things that is happening is lot of county jail construction projects are coming up, some that are in the process right now. There are others that will continue to happen in the next few years. A few years ago, the legislature enacted a law that diverted low-level offenders from state prisons to county jails. So we're seeing a lot of the county jails now pick up on activity, which will spark county jail construction over the next few years.
What other legislation has had an impact on your business?
LYNESS: Another law that was enacted and favors the construction industry is House Enrolled Act 1196, which allowed for employment of construction managers as constructors for various state-funded projects. We've got a contract that we're completing as our first construction manager as constructor. I think that's a positive thing for contractors in the state.
How has the skilled labor shortage impacted Maxwell?
LYNESS: Everybody across the industry is saying the skilled worker trade is a problem. Across our workforce, it's tough to get good skilled laborers that want to be in the construction industry and work in the heat and cold every day.
It's also impacting our subcontractors. As a general contractor we rely heavily on our subcontractors and their workforce, so as their workforce continues to diminish the opportunity for them to perform work also diminishes. The end result is going to continue to drive construction prices higher in the long run.
What are you doing to get around those challenges?
LYNESS: One effort we’ve made is being more proactive in the schools to make kids aware that there are trade construction trade careers out there. We're a member of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), and they had a skills building program that they designed for 7th and 8th grade students to help open their eyes up to some different skilled trade opportunities in construction.
As an industry, it's going to be very important for us to come together to promote careers in the construction field. We're really trying to get young people interested in working for us, and trying to mix those young people in with the more experienced skilled trade people who can teach them and help them with the skills long-term to have a successful career in the industry.
What kinds of technology are you using?
LYNESS: We're going to need to look for more opportunities to bring technology into the construction marketplace. We invested in the Leica Geosystems BLK360 laser scanner unit after going through about two years of [researching and testing] the scanner and how it could help us as a company. When Leica introduced that unit it was a price point that made sense for us.
We try to stay ahead of technology and implement it inside of our company before the general masses have it. [The scanner] is one tool that has helped us, especially, with renovations. The amount of data that you can collect and convert into a 3-D model quickly has helped us on projects with owners and expediting projects from start to finish. It's also saved on labor.
One person can use that scanner to gather significant amounts of information on an existing building within hours, versus maybe multiple trips and one person having to go back to the computer and draw it. With the scanner, it's all done simultaneously with pictures and laser points and scans that are dimensionally accurate.
What other technology have you used or do you plan to implement in the near term?
LYNESS: We've also implemented drone technology. Some of the conceptual site work we're doing can be done with photogrammetry from the drone of getting some topographic information and site layout information very quickly. Instead of one or two people going to that site with a survey rod and spending a day out there to do that, we can do that in a half-hour or an hour with a drone.
I think technology is something the construction industry needs to keep embracing and keep developing to help [ease] the labor shortage.
How do you see today’s and the future’s construction climate in Indiana?
LYNESS: There have been material price increases and pressure on labor costs, and I think they will continue to creep upward. I feel like there will be a point where more owners will say "Hey, that's a little too expensive, we're going to hold off on that project." And at some point there will be a minor road bump and a pullback. When that is, I don't know, but I don't think it will be major. I think it will be off to the races again in another strong construction market after that.