After each recession in the past two decades, we were doomed to a pitiful stagnation-or, at best, a slow-growth economy-until a major catalyst kicked in and unprecedented levels of prosperity resulted. Clearly, what we need is another major catalyst, and I think I know exactly what it will be.



Figure 1. Harken-Reidar rendering of expansions at the VA Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke declared on September 15 that the recession is probably over. Tell that to the land development community, which has been decimated in every category. Surveyors were among the first to be hit, followed by the designers, the firms they work for and ultimately the contractors and builders.

Unfortunately, what Bernanke meant is that the technical definition of the recession being over-that is, two consecutive quarters of negative growth in real gross domestic product-has been achieved. So this could be it-the economic world we now must live in. There is no coming boom; it isn’t “coming back” any more than it has now. We have all cut staff, closed offices and become more lean and mean, and I am sorry to say that this is the new world order. We must learn to make money and thrive in this economy as it now exists.

But wait! I see a major catalyst on the horizon that could actually turn the economy around and lift it to a level of prosperity that may mimic what we had several years ago. Check recent history. In the 1991 recession, which also devastated the design/surveying business, the U.S. economy was catapulted out of its doldrums by the dot-com boom. The rapid development of e-commerce revolutionized the world. New value was created out of nothing. The country capitalized on it, and prosperity thrived.

Of course, that boom created a bubble that eventually burst and led the nation into another recession in 2000 with the double whammy of the 9/11 attacks. Again, our country sank into the doldrums. What pulled us out of that situation was another major catalyst-the building boom funded by subprime mortgages. As we now know, this irresponsible folly caused a worldwide recession because of the greed involved.

The point is that in each recession, we were doomed to a pitiful stagnation-or, at best, a slow-growth economy-until these major catalysts kicked in and unprecedented levels of prosperity resulted. Clearly, what we need is another major catalyst, and I think I know exactly what it will be: health care reform.

Think about it. The idea of health care reform is to insure all Americans. This insurance will allow the estimated 40 million people who are currently uninsured to receive health care, and that care will extend to wellness programs, prescription medications, doctor visits and clinic visits. As a result, there will be enormous growth in the design and construction of clinics, hospital expansions, new hospitals, new doctors' offices, expanded medical waste facilities and new pharmacies. Additionally, the need for more doctors will also cause medical schools to expand rapidly, which will increase the need for new college buildings and a variety of new support facilities.

Every one of these facilities will require new parking lots, new and expanded utilities, new zoning and new surveys.

So, my recommendation is that firms and their respective staffs should prepare now to become experts in the medical construction field. Identify what this industry requires, and provide it. Be among the first to market to this segment, and become known as a knowledgeable service provider.

If anyone doubts my thinking just consider: “When has the government ever done anything efficiently?” Never, and this is no exception. The medical field will grow to unprecedented levels, and the need for engineering and surveying services will grow with it. You heard it here first!


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