Industry News Briefs

March 27, 2008 Headlines

Opportunity Awaits as Nation Rebuilds its Infrastructure
Land Information Systems Transforming Community Development
Many Highway Plans On Hold
Cool Roofs Can Generate Healthy Energy Savings
Greening the Spec Office Market

Industry News

Opportunity Awaits as Nation Rebuilds its Infrastructure
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (03/15/08) Tellock, Glen E.; Woodworth, Lynne

Public investments into infrastructure improvements and overhauls only partly address U.S. infrastructure needs. As much of the construction workforce approaches the retirement age, there is a growing demand for skilled labor, creative engineers, and trusted safety inspectors, according to Association of Equipment Manufacturers Board Chairman Glen E. Tellock. Young people, their families, and their teachers need to be aware of employment opportunities that will open up as the construction industry creates a projected 1 million new jobs over the next five years, and Tellock cites the Construction Challenge student competition as an example of an outreach effort. "There is a growing demand for trained workers in the trades, such as equipment operators and machinists," the author notes. "These jobs require highly skilled people, some of whom may have to earn at least a two-year technical school degree." The Construction Challenge concentrates on introducing youth to rewarding careers and putting them in contact with potential employers. At the recent Construction Challenge finale at CONEXPO-CON/AGG, over 50 teams vied for prizes and scholarships and the opportunity to learn new skills and network with industry leaders.
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Land Information Systems Transforming Community Development
PRNewswire (03/19/08)

The latest Policy Focus Report, titled "Transforming Community Development with Land Information Systems," has been published by the Lincoln Institute think tank. Authored by Sarah Treuhaft and G. Thomas Kingsley, the report includes a synopsis of how parcel data systems and recent advanced applications have had a positive impact on community development efforts. It also contains case studies from such markets as Chicago, Cleveland, and Philadelphia that illustrate the use of new technology in facilitating revitalization, improving vacant lots, building on affordable housing programs, heading off foreclosures, or integrating neighborhood efforts into a larger regional framework. For instance, community groups in Chicago used Internet-based GIS tools to support planning for transit-oriented development and to target resources with parcel data so that low-income households could better maintain their homes. A Cleveland-based task force, meanwhile, used data on loan transactions to take action against property flippers; and, in the District of Columbia, an enhanced parcel data system was used to manage affordable properties and preserve Section 8 housing. Additionally, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society used a parcel data system to rehabilitate 150 acres of vacant lots into public parks and urban greenspace. Rosalind Greenstein, senior fellow and chair of the Department of Economic and Community Development at the Lincoln Institute, states, "There is vast potential in the use of technology in community development. Using geographic information systems and Web services truly facilitates the work of planning, developing and nurturing vibrant neighborhoods that meet the needs of today's residents."
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Many Highway Plans On Hold
Governing (03/08) Vol. 21, No. 6, P. 108; Patton, Zach

States and localities are postponing transportation infrastructure improvements amid rising construction costs and uncertainty about gasoline taxes and property-tax revenue. Officials for Connecticut's Metro-North rail system, for example, have pushed back a project to replace the wires that power the system for two years and added $100 million more to the effort's cost. Meanwhile, private toll roads may not offer the relief states have been banking on. A federal bipartisan study panel chaired by U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters concluded in January that more and higher tolls would be insufficient for underwriting the nation's road construction requirements. Georgia transportation commissioner Gena Abrahams, for one, has said her staff does not have adequate experience to parley and spearhead multibillion-dollar contracts with private toll companies, which could perhaps lead to the jettisoning of the state's private-toll program.
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Cool Roofs Can Generate Healthy Energy Savings
Building Operating Management (03/08) Millan, Naomi

An increasing number of building owners and managers are turning to cool roof systems to bring energy costs down and help improve the environment. Cool roofing materials include membranes, metal roofs, tile and even asphalt shingles. The two main properties that govern cool roofs are solar reflectance and thermal emittance. The former, which has a greater effect on a roof's coolness, refers to the ability of a material to bounce the sun's infrared wavelength back out before the rays can be absorbed as heat by the roof and transferred into a building's interior. The latter is the capacity of a material to release heat it has already absorbed back into the atmosphere before it is transferred by convection down into the building. Different geographic areas and accrediting bodies have different definitions for how reflective or emissive a cool roof system must be. For instance, the California Title 24 2005 standard for such roofs requires the product to have an initial thermal emittance of .75 and an initial solar reflectance of .70, while Chicago's Energy Conservation Code requires low-sloped roofs to have an initial reflectance of .25 on new roofs through 2008. Cool roof systems are known to have a positive impact on the climate outside of buildings, too, chiefly by mitigating the urban heat island effect.
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Greening the Spec Office Market
Building Design & Construction (03/08) Barista, Dave

The green building movement has seen rapid U.S. growth, but that has largely involved large Fortune 500 or multinational firms and environment-related companies and organizations. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification has drawn less interest from most companies in the market for Class A office space, but a number of projects have found ways to make green marketable to prospective tenants. In Boise, Idaho, green building helped attract smaller tenants to the 11-story Banner Bank Building, where the need to stay within market-rate cost required integrated design in which additional costs allocated by one system or approach had to be offset elsewhere. In Lenexa, Kan., the EcoWorks at Southlake Technology Park project has seen a second wave of tenants heavily attracted by its green buildings, with new tenants like TradeWind Energy seeking out EcoWorks specifically. Tenants at the Navy League Building in Arlington, Va., see green largely as an amenity that hasn't led to premium lease rates, meaning that the building has had to achieve LEED Silver while keeping lease rates competitive and with most end users not yet identified when it was designed. Tampa's Prime Meridian Center has attracted companies interested in a sustainable live-work-play employee environment by serving as the central business district's first major green Class A office space. In Denver, the Signature Centre was able to achieve a 100 percent leased rate before opening, in part because its LEED Platinum status enabled the developer to offer lower utility costs alongside market rate leases. The Two MarketPointe building in Bloomington, Minn., serves as the area's only Class A office space with underfloor air distribution, floor-to-ceiling glass, direct/indirect/pendant lighting, and 10-foot ceiling heights; the underfloor air distribution is particularly attractive to tenants because employees can control their environment. Finally, Plano, Texas's Wilcox 190 Center has received a great deal of backing from city officials because it is the city's first LEED-certified office space, and brokers are beginning to see LEED's benefits for tenants as well.
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Rising Costs, Uncertain Demand Squeeze Nonresidential Construction
Associated General Contractors of America (03/18/08)

Commenting on the release of February's figures for producer price indexes (PPIs) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and housing permits from the Census Bureau, Associated General Contractors of America Chief Economist Ken Simonson notes that construction costs are continuing to increase at a faster rate than general inflation while demand is decreasing for some nonresidential construction sectors. "The PPI for inputs to construction industries—materials used in all types of construction plus items consumed by contractors, such as diesel fuel—climbed 0.6 percent in February, compared to 0.2 percent for the PPI for finished goods and 0.3 percent for the consumer price index (CPI), before seasonal adjustment," says Simonson. "That huge gap is especially troublesome for contractors on public projects. Public agencies often rely on the CPI to project future costs but they are coming up short of the dollars needed to award contracts. The problem is most acute with highway projects, where the huge run–ups in diesel, asphalt, concrete and steel costs have pushed up the PPI by 50 percent since December 2003." These climbing costs have contributed to a fall in demand within the multi-unit residential, office, hotel, and retail construction sectors as well. "Nevertheless, I do expect continued strength for hospital, university, power, energy and communication construction," says Simonson. "There is ongoing demand for these facilities, and their financing is generally more secure than for projects that depend on short–term rents."
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For Architects, a Downturn Is in the Designs
Wall Street Journal (03/19/08) P. C12; Hudson, Kris

According to the American Institute of Architects (AIA), its Architecture Billings Index (ABI) for February dipped to 41.8--its lowest monthly reading since the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Any reading below 50 signals that billings for the industry declined. Jan Hatzius, chief U.S. economist at Goldman Sachs Group, reports that the ABI's decline indicates that the nation's economic slump has now had negative ramifications on commercial construction as well residential and is further confirmation that the broader economy is in recession. AIA researchers, meanwhile, say the index's drop means commercial construction will remain under pressure through at least this year and 2009 as the credit crunch will likely continue. Some industries continue to generate strong demand for architects' services. Among those are expanding hospitals, universities and office parks near military bases. Hospital systems, in particular, continue to expand as health-care needs increase for aging Baby Boomers and others. Universities, meanwhile, are less susceptible to economic cycles than private industry. Some are in the early stages of drafting comprehensive plans for their campuses.

Software Helps Managers Predict Costs, Benefits of Building Projects
Federal Times (03/17/08) Vol. 44, No. 5, P. 10; Mabeus, Courtney

The National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) uses its Office of Applied Economics' Cost Effectiveness Software Tool to evaluate the long-term costs and benefits of building renovation projects. Factors the tool computes include the potential for natural or man-made hazards, recovery costs, and price fluctuations for energy, construction materials and other variables. NIST economist Robert Chapman and NIST Building Environment Division chief Hunter Fanney say the tool could help usher in a revolution in the way agencies and industries ascertain whether long-term savings can compensate for upfront renovation expenses. The software was created three years ago to gauge the cost of security upgrades in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, according to Chapman. Given the enormous savings projected to result from a presidential directive for agencies to slash energy use by as much as 70 percent within the next seven years, building security managers at other agencies besides NIST are training to use the software tool. The software will help improve building security managers' decision-making, says Interagency Security Committee executive director Austin Smith.

RFID+4D CAD for Progress Management of Structural Steel Works in High-Rise Buildings
Journal of Computing in Civil Engineering (04/01/08) Vol. 22, No. 2, P. 74; Chin, Sangyoon; Yoon, Suwon; Choi, Cheolho

Sangyoon Chin et. al. present research offering a strategy and information system to manage the logistics and progress control of structural steel works under the integrated environment of radio frequency identification (RFID) and four-dimensional computer-aided design (4D CAD). The research takes into account the characteristics of the manufacturing and erection processes of structural steel works in high-rise building construction from a practical perspective and has devised an approach to support application of these two technologies, along with an information system to support the logistics and progress management based on this strategy. The work's results have been confirmed via real-world applications in a pair of high-rise building construction projects considering realistic constraints, while a time study has been performed to verify the proposed information system's efficiency. The RFID application strategy was founded on three aspects--technological availability, domain applicability, and information management strategy--and participants realized throughout the deployments that RFID's application in the structural steel work yielded more precise logistics and progress management, which could lower risk by identifying production and delivery information in advance and by monitoring the erection process on a steel member unit basis. The time study indicated that the information system was more efficient than the existing process in terms of process time and stockyard duration. Factors that affect the successful operation of the information system include user education on the use of RFID-based systems, instructions for RFID tag attachment and its operation, usage techniques for the collected data based on the relevant participants' perspectives, and computerization levels of suppliers and subcontractors. The researchers acknowledge that system refinement is necessary, specifically for the integration of RFID with the manufacturer's existing management system to boost the effectiveness of the supply chain management between manufacture and constructor.

Prototype Technologies Set for Real-World Tests
Innovator (U.S. FHWA) (03/01/08) No. 5,

Under the Highways for LIFE Technology Partnerships Program, the Federal Highway Administration offered grants of $200,000 to $500,000 to companies with prototype technologies that will help meet the goals of improving safety and reducing congestion. 3M Company designed a pavement marking system to help drivers see better in bad weather conditions and intends to use its grant to make the system cost-effective enough for temporary use in work zones. Haskell Lemon Construction Company is working on an asphalt compaction analyzer that will allow companies to make repairs during the paving process. Another pavement technology is the asphalt binder cracking device by EZ Asphalt Technology LLC which can help agencies stop asphalt from cracking at low temperatures. Pine Instrument Company developed an imaging system that makes measuring aggregate characteristics automatic. Stay Alert Safety Services is also hoping to reduce construction time with its automated pavement marker replacement system. "Now that we've made the awards to the companies, we're looking for additional agencies interested in participating in testing and evaluating these new technologies," says Technology Partnerships Coordinator Julie Zirlin.
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Survey Says Commercial Real Estate Headed for Turbulence
Commercial Property News (03/17/08) Murray, Barbra

The nation's commercial real estate sector is cooling down as the economy loses steams and the lending market grows tighter, reports the First Quarter 2008 PricewaterhouseCoopers Korpacz Real Estate Investor Survey. Development in suburban office markets, especially speculative projects, continues despite recent declines in leasing activity. The regional retail markets, meanwhile, are suffering as consumers pull back on spending. Susan Smith, PwC Korpacz survey editor-in-chief, remarks, "I think we're going to see more job loss as a lot of banks and financial institutions are going to have layoffs in the next few months." However, the future may not be as grim as some researchers fear. In the office market, overall absorption in numerous central business districts nationwide remains positive. Meanwhile, the retail sector remains strong in areas with rapidly booming populations, such as Southern California, San Francisco and Seattle. Thanks to continued growth in the high-tech industry and soaring office rents, the flex/R&D market is also experiencing high demand. Finally, with the turmoil in the housing markets, the apartment sector is benefiting from the vast pool of previous homeowners now seeking rentals. Smith concludes, "The industry has learned from past mistakes. So with the relative balance of supply and demand, we're hopeful that commercial real estate will persevere and pull out of the recession relatively quickly."

OSHA's Amended PPE Rule May Cost Employers $85 Million
Electrical Apparatus (03/08) Vol. 61, No. 3, P. 33; Elsberry, Richard B.

Contractors will be digging deeper into their pockets when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration begins enforcing a new rule on employer/employee responsibilities for payment of personal protective equipment (PPE) on May 15. The new rule orders employers to pay for 100 percent of the PPE required by OSHA's general industry, construction, and maritime standards. This is expected to cost employers a total of around $85 million. While the rule increases employer spending, it should decrease employee illnesses and deaths, lowering injuries per year by about 21,000. No new requirements as to what PPEs employers must provide are included in the new rule, however certain exceptions are explicitly listed. These include a variety of clothing items used to keep clean such as overalls, coveralls, and aprons as well as everyday work gloves. How often employers must replace PPE is also not clearly stated in the rule, though it is up to the employer to replace old or broken PPE to maintain OSHA standards. Employers, however, are not responsible for PPE lost or intentionally damaged by an employee and do not have to compensate employees who choose to wear PPE that they personally own and paid for. The employer's ultimate responsibility is to make sure all employees have proper PPE.

States' Battles Over Energy Grow Fiercer With U.S. in a Policy Gridlock
New York Times (03/20/08) P. A18; Barringer, Felicity

More and more states are attempting to establish energy policies in the absence of nationwide emissions rules. State officials in Kansas and Washington state have attempted to block individual power plant projects. California is mulling ways to limit carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and needs to determine who would pay and how much. Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota are considering proposed renewable energy mandates to determine how much and what kind of power would be generated. At present, coal is used to generate the bulk of electricity in 25 states. Eighteen states now want to place restrictions on CO2 emissions for industry, while 25 states favor mandates for renewable energy. There are also three multi-state pacts designed to curb emissions and enable the trading of carbon allowances. The governors of 10 Midwestern states, including Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, signed on to such an agreement last autumn.
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Rugged Electronic Chips Could Help Boost Domestic Gas Supply
American Gas (03/08) Vol. 90, No. 2, P. 9

U.S. domestic gas supply could be buoyed by rugged electronic chips developed by a Department of Energy research program. The DOE's Deep Trek research and development program was established six years ago to develop high-tech drilling tools and components. The DOE expects rugged electronic chips and pressure- and heat-drilling "smart" components to aid in the drilling of very deep wells with natural gas reserves estimated to hold between 169 trillion and 187 trillion CF of natural gas. Gas in these wells are mined with silicon-on-insulator technology designed to handle extremely high temperatures in deep wells. The Deep Trek program is helping to expedite well drilling and other research projects, including drilling performance, developing smart communication systems, instrumentation, novel drill bits and fluids, and pipe systems that can weather extreme pressures in deep formations and temperatures of 400 degrees and more.

Buildings, Traffic Next Frontiers for Microsoft
CNet (03/12/08) Kanellos, Michael

Microsoft is looking to capitalize on the rapidly growing energy-efficiency market. To this end, the company is eyeing opportunities to produce software itself for building control systems, traffic management systems, or even the software that gets used by water quality management districts. Climate change and rising power prices are forcing more and more corporations to seek out ways to curb energy consumption. Research has shown that approximately 50 percent of the electricity produced does not get used for a productive purpose, and building management and water control systems have not done enough to stay on the cutting edge. For instance, many companies still use closed, proprietary systems for controlling heating, air conditioning, interior lighting and so forth. Rob Bernard, Microsoft's chief environmental strategist, remarks, "I am highly familiar with the massive opportunity for software and intelligence to optimize energy control systems. I think that buildings account for something like 37 percent of greenhouse gases around the globe. If you look at the big sectors--transportation, buildings and building management, deforestation, electrical grid, and utilities--in every one of those we are looking at how software can enable innovation."
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The Realization of Intelligent Buildings
Buildings (03/08) Vol. 102, No. 3, P. 38; Madsen, Jana J.

Intelligent buildings, designed to integrate building systems for better performance and efficiency, are transforming the real estate industry. In such a building, every system is connected to the same cabling infrastructure so that they are all accessible through a single Web browser. "Anything you can do in a building now, you can do all from one interface," said Cory Hildebrand, director of IT for BPG Properties in Philadelphia. Systems are not required to be the same brand in order for everything to work together because they function using a standard communication protocol. Increasing the efficiency of a building also is friendlier to the environment and lowers operating costs by eliminating redundant technology. "Intelligent buildings use technology for increased asset utilization and better use of capital. We've eliminated some hardware and appliances through software and other technology," says Rob Murchison, co-founder of IntelligentBuildings in Charlotte, N.C. Integrated systems track how much energy a tenant uses and bills them for that exact amount, eliminating the power company's role of installing and monitoring individual meters. They also reduce maintenance work as crews can adjust valves or take pressure readings just by using the network. An intelligent building will ultimately help attract and retain tenants as most allow them to file work orders on the Web, offer wired and wireless high-speed Internet, and enhance safety and security.
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