Tag Archives: Construction

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Creating a sustainable organization through facilities management

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Sustainability and corporate social responsibility efforts are now significant factors for successful organizations as regulations and consumers drive change. Organizations that don’t take account of their environmental impacts face potential backlash from consumers who are increasingly sustainability minded.

While not previously top of mind, environmental and sustainability issues are more central to facilities management than at any point in the past. Facility managers are increasingly aware of this movement and are changing their values and how they respond to this change.

However, what steps are required to meet these challenges?

Sustainability in facility management

Going green is gone. Evergreen is now the full-scope approach. Sustainability is serious, so facility managers must capitalize on decisions to reduce any potential negative impact on the environment.

Sustainability efforts in these cases are more than reducing the amount of waste produced, using fewer resources, and developing new processes leading to sustainable initiatives.

Implementing sustainability measures

Sustainability efforts within a facility management environment must focus on carbon and energy management services. Doing so means creating a culture that can adequately respond to the commercial, social, and environmental impacts these can have on the environment. Therefore, any resources used or procured must consider all effects and benefits.

For example, regarding emissions, facility managers much understand that emissions mean costs. Reducing emissions reduces costs, which is the definition of a win-win scenario. Implementing an accredited carbon offset program means you can deliver environmental and social benefits.

By creating and implementing a sustainability strategy, an organization can remain up to date on environmental compliance.

The creation and rollout of sustainability programs may need support from outside experts and advisors. During these engagements, facility managers must learn how to minimize heating and lighting consumption, eliminate unneeded lighting, implement lower wattage technology components, and other technical outputs.

Other considerations include structuring the workforce to travel less, and analyzing sustainable water consumption, for example — through low-flush or no-flush toilets.

The point of this exercise is to allow facility managers the ability to carefully consider any potential emission drivers, waste, and inefficiencies. Facility managers also may create an approach for reducing emissions and cut waste wherever there is an opportunity.

Sustainability efforts can boost employee morale and motivate them to perform better than working in an unsustainable environment. The best, most environmentally progressive organizations attract the best employees. In this manner, facility managers drive the success of the organization in more than just the quality of the buildings.

Implementing a sustainable workplace means “things” are done differently than may have been in the past. Innovation is required. However, some buy-in is required of those throughout the organization. Without this buy-in, sustainability only can go so far.

Engagement is required across the board. Management must agree on the strategy, and the rest of the team must be and remain on board. If employees claim a sense of ownership in the program, they are far more likely to make sure it succeeds.

Measuring sustainability

Success benchmarks create a baseline for all future sustainability efforts, allowing for the establishment of targets and a framework to manage operations and report future results.

Most sustainability programs are usually achieved within three to five years over the course of stages. Return on investment and program costs must be measured to ensure resource outcomes. Data outcomes must be studied, too, rather than using generic figures that don’t lead to an accurate painting of the program or its requirements.

Achieving real sustainability must be more than lip service and goodwill. Effort is required, and metrics must be established to work toward its full impact. Ultimately, if the program is not measurable, it cannot be profitable and, therefore, is not sustainable.

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Designing intelligent interactive environments

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Integrating interactive technologies into interior environments is becoming increasingly common. So, too, is the use of interactive robots in nonindustrial settings.

What if you could combine the two to create an interior space that is itself an intelligent, interactive agent? That’s the goal of a project being developed at Cornell University’s Architectural Robotics Lab.

Today’s “smart” environments employ a variety of technologies that respond to, and in some cases anticipate, interactions with occupants. These include sensors, cameras, touch screens, and voice-activated devices linked together by the internet of things (IoT).

Some are passive and await commands submitted by the user either orally or through the use of some type of Wi-Fi-connected digital device. Others are programmed to respond proactively to particular triggers, such as someone entering a room or changes in sunlight during the day.

Over time, by collecting, storing and analyzing data, some of these devices or the computers they are connected to can “learn” to identify user preferences and adjust the environment accordingly when the user is present in the space.

Another way engineers and designers are exploring how technology can be employed to address human needs is robotics. In recent years, labs and companies have introduced a variety of interactive and responsive service robots designed to perform a range of functions, from independently vacuuming a room to providing information at shopping malls and airports, to serving as a home health aide and companion for the elderly and chronically ill.

It’s not much of a stretch to envision “smart” environments that are designed to accommodate the use and movements of service robots in order to make them more supportive for occupants.

Several years ago, Rajesh Elara Mohan and his team at Singapore University of Technology and Design noted that more attention needed to be paid to the creation of barrier-free, robot-inclusive spaces using proven design best practices and principles, including lighting schemes, furniture choices and arrangement, wall and floor surfaces, and wayfinding. The challenge, as they see it, is to incorporate architectural and design features that optimize the performance of service robots but that also are aesthetically pleasing to human occupants.

Along similar lines, Keith Evan Green, a professor in the department of Design + Environmental Analysis (DEA) at Cornell University and author of “Architectural Robotics: Ecosystems of Bits, Bytes, and Biology,” established the Architectural Robotics Lab (ARL) to focus on “making our physical surroundings interactive and adaptive to help us do what we do: work, play, learn, roam, explore, create, interconnect, heal, and age.”

Combining design, robotics and psychology, projects developed at the lab create built environments embedded with robotics to support the activities they were designed for. One such project is the Animated Work Environment (AWE), a user-programmable, robotic work environment that can change shape to adapt the configuration for different work and play needs, such as collaborating, composing, presenting, viewing, lounging, and gaming.

Taking that concept a step further, Yixiao Wang, a DEA graduate student and member of ARL, is engaged in developing a prototype of an AI-enhanced, partially intelligent interactive environment in which the entire environment holistically serves to support the occupants. He refers to this environment as a “space agent,” one that that is perceived by users as having humanlike traits, such as one might attribute to a robot or voice agent, like Siri.

Because it is partially intelligent, the space agent can respond to movement, gestures, voice commands, and such not only to respond to the user but to assess and anticipate how the environment needs to be adapted at any time to best accommodate the current activity.

To help visualize his idea, Yixiao describes a scenario in which an interior designer arrives at her office and prepares to begin her day’s work. A ceiling-mounted flexible robotic environment, similar perhaps to the AWE, gently bends down and presents her with an interactive surface tablet, positioned according to her preprogrammed preferences.

When she finds her creativity blocked, the space agent notices she has stopped working and provides her with prompts and images to inspire her. As she recommences her work, the space agent collaborates with her, searching for relevant information and making suggestions. Later, some colleagues enter the room for a scheduled meeting, and the space agent proactively reconfigures the environment to create privacy and block out external noise.

Yixiao concedes there are many issues, both technical and psychological, that need to be worked out. His study will assess several trials involving interior designers to determine how users might react and prefer to interact with the space agent. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, those designers may be called upon to help design and implement space agents for their clients.

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3 steps for new employee success

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The honeymoon period for new employees provides a prime time to set the stage for unlimited success. While some employers unfortunately also call this the introductory period and try to use it as an evaluation window within which to weed out new hires, we should look at it as a litmus test for our own success and a chance to invest in the success of an employee.

Employees come in ready to make an impact, optimistic about the opportunity and eager to learn. Here are three steps to take to fan that flame of enthusiasm into a sustainable fire.

Check, please!

The only time more engaging than the start of the employee-employer relationship is the interview process. Each side comes with its own expectations, things are strategically said — or omitted — and the dance evolves until, ideally, an offer is extended and accepted.

Sometimes, however, there are misunderstandings. From salary to work environment, office space to office location, there can be misalignment between what was said and what was understood. To address this in the bud, before it blossoms into full blown disenchantment, we must schedule and keep to regular check-ins.

The check-in does not have to follow an outline, a time schedule or last for a minimum number of minutes. On the contrary, as long as it happens and happens consistently, the frequency and reliability of it will facilitate open communication and allow the smaller but important items to be addressed quickly.

You’re an open book.

The second step is to listen and note any questions new employees ask. Then, read between the lines.

What are their questions telling us about their experience from the first time they heard about the position through the time they showed up this morning? Is our culture reflected in their questions?

Remember they are new and may not be as likely to ask as openly as a longer-standing employee. As such, meet with them regularly as noted above. Instead of trying to immediately answer their question or defend a practice, figure out what had to happen for them to ask that question.

Keep asking what else, how so and other open-ended follow-ups to get as much clarity as possible. Even the simplest questions from the newest employees can provide insight into an organizations systems and culture.

Next steps

Finally, find a way to systemize the above steps into the orientation and onboarding processes. In other words, look at each new employee as an opportunity to get an unvarnished look at how the work environment is conveyed.

Transition the introductory period from the misunderstood free pass to fire someone into a valuable exchange of information, helping to ensure both sides are in lock step to move forward. Optimize it as a chance to level-set expectations from the hiring process and uncover any basic issues before they become systemic problems.

The bottom line is that the start of a new job provides a great opportunity to help employees build positive habits that will help them sustain their success while, of course, helping the organization.

If you would like to get that new employee feeling again, check out this article for tips on how to rekindle that enthusiasm.

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Homeowners opting for repairs over remodels

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By some measures, the home improvement industry is bustling. More homeowners are taking on more projects and spending more on those projects.

That has helped to sustain growth in remodeling services this year, but not as much as one might expect. Recent industry reports indicate that a large portion of homeowner spending is being directed toward repairs and routine maintenance rather than remodeling and renovation.

Results of the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI) Quarterly Project Sentiment Tracking Survey for the second quarter of 2019 show 75% of homeowners planned to undertake one or more projects in the coming three months, at an average of 4.3 projects per household. The report states that is the highest planning incidence recorded since HIRI began tracking project sentiment in 2012.

Of the 32 project areas the survey tracks, homeowners’ top priorities were improvements in the kitchen, windows, driveway, exterior paint, and roof. That’s good news for contractors.

A study conducted earlier this year by HIRI found that homeowners were more likely to hire or work with a professional when undertaking kitchen remodels, window replacements, and roof repairs or replacements. They also were more likely to spend more when working with a pro.

However, the study also found that nearly three-fourths of all projects involved some DIY participation on the part of the homeowner and that two-thirds of all projects were completely DIY. Often these are projects that require mostly time and manual labor than specific expertise, such as painting, lawn and garden care, or replacing hardware or appliances.

Remodelers are keeping busy but are seeing signs of deceleration in demand. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), during the economic recovery expenditures on home remodeling rose 44% between 2016 and the beginning of 2018, peaking in April 2018, but have since been in decline.

It recently reported expenditures in June were down by 0.5% from the previous month but have remained relatively stable at around $177 billion for the year. The association’s Kitchen and Bath Market Index (KBMI) for the second quarter posted a score of 65.7, compared to a score 71 in the previous quarter.

Although the latest index reading indicates continued growth, remodelers reported a slowdown in luxury projects and a notable shift toward lower-price-point projects. The association also said the weak market for resale homes has impacted demand for remodeling services.

Another sign of deceleration is a falling off in hiring. The NKBA reports K&B firms hired an additional 1,400 workers in June, only partially recovering a loss of 2,200 positions the previous month.

For all practical purposes, it says, employment growth among remodeling firms has stopped and total employment has stabilized for now. That is a somewhat surprising turn, given that earlier in the year project delays and backlogs were said to be due to labor shortages.

Despite the softening in demand, the NKBA stated its members are optimistic business activity will remain strong in the third quarter and is projecting an annual growth rate of 4.7%. That sentiment was recently echoed by the National Association of Home Builders, which affirmed remodelers’ confidence at the end of the second quarter remained positive.

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What does the future of housing look like?

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Larry Haines, the founder of Sunconomy, a company that produces 3-D-printed homes, and Dr. Robert Dietz, senior vice president and chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, discussed the future of housing on Aug. 8 at the 2019 Sunbelt Builders Show™, hosted by the Texas Association of Builders, at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine.

While giving separate presentations, both Haines and Dietz agreed that we are currently looking at a housing affordability crisis in the U.S.

Housing affordability

“We certainly saw the impacts of that last year when mortgage interest rates reached a 5% rate,” Dietz said. According to NAHB Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index, affordability peaked in 2012 when about 8 out of 10 new and existing home sales were affordable for a typical family.

In the post-recession period, there has been a housing deficit. During that time period, house rates have grown faster than incomes. Today, only 6 out of 10 new and existing home sales are affordable.

The trend for the Texas markets is the same that we see nationwide, Dietz said. Texas has been growing more than twice as fast as the country as a whole. Though the growth rate has been slowing, the bad news is that when you combine a growing population to a lack of affordable housing, the price of housing continues to increase.

“Housing affordability conditions in local Texas markets are relatively competitive with much of the country. And the population gains are slowing down. But I think we have to keep an eye on some of those cost considerations,” Dietz said.

“Affordable housing is becoming more difficult for people to own,” Haines said. That was the thought behind the creation of Sunconomy. According to Haines, 42.4% of U.S. workers don’t make enough money to build, buy or rent a one-bedroom house. “It’s a $10 trillion problem around the world,” Haines said.

Haines said that since the Great Recession started in 2006, there has been an undersupply of about 330,000 units a year. Adding onto that are the 400,000 or so houses that were damaged or destroyed by recent hurricanes and wildfires.

What is 3-D printing?

ASTM defines 3-D printing as “fabrication of objects through the deposition of material using a print head, nozzle or other printing technology.” In the case of 3-D-printed construction, the ink is a GeoPolymer concrete and the paper is the software and substrate. “We’re printing on insulation and we are using as a kind of inkjet, as opposed to an additive layer,” Haines said.

The two biggest questions Haines gets regarding 3-D-printing are, “Have you built one yet?” and, “Can I get permits?” Haines answers “yes,” to both. He is already building in Texas. “Texas has eight of the top 15 fastest growing counties in the country,” Haines said.

According to Haines’ website, www.weprinthouses.com, “We Print Houses is an industry-changing all-in-one 3-D printed home technology system that can be licensed by builders and contractors across the country. The system, which is the first permitted 3-D home printing system in the US, includes a mobile platform and all the corresponding mechanics needed to construct 3-D printed homes that are exponentially more time efficient, waste reducing and disaster resistant than traditionally built homes.”

Larry Haines

Haines explained that 3-D printing can be a solution for increasing affordable housing because it allows builders to build faster, stronger and cheaper.

“Typically, on a house that is … 1,000, 1,200, 1,500 square feet … it’s going to take somewhere between 10 and 14 days to build the structure,” Haines said. “It’s also much stronger. We build to withstand 200 mile-an-hour wind loads, 8-plus earthquakes, storm surge … and our GeoPolymer concrete can actual repels water because it’s hydrophobic.” Haines said by using curved walls and buttressed ends to sunken roof lines,these homes are built to last centuries — not decades.

The 3-D process is much cheaper, Haines said, because it eliminates a lot of the expenses that go along with traditional building. “We’re essentially eliminating carpenters, sheetrockers, roofings, etc.” By eliminating or improving these processes and others, Haines believes they can save about 10% of the cost of construction.

The state of the overall economy

“2018 was a pretty good year,” Dietz said, pointing out that the U.S. reached about a 2.8% growth rates. Tax reform and tax cuts did accelerate the economy. However, the forecast shows a slowing growth rate going forward.

Dietz said we are projected to end the year at about 2.5%. But looking ahead to 2020 and 2021, Dietz said we may be looking at some slow quarters — though not a full-blown recession.

Labor shortage

Labor shortage is one of the top two issues that negatively affects the ability to build economically, according to Haines. Haines is working to use grants for workforce development programs to teach veterans how to build using the 3-D process.

“In addition to trade wars and any kind of international conflict, the biggest macro risk is the tight labor market,” Dietz said. “The labor market is in really good shape. But the bad news is the job openings rate.”

The number of jobs that are open and unfilled continues to rise. You could take every unemployed person in the U.S. and give them jobs, and you would still have open jobs in the U.S. economy. “The construction labor shortage has been in place for the last four or five years,” said Dietz. We’re currently short about 370,000 workers in the construction industry.”

“Obviously, some of the immigration things have hurt us,” Dietz said. “There needs to be to be an acceptable quota for construction workers.” There is a declining share — despite the slowdown in immigration — of domestic-born workers in the construction industry. The industry has a real challenge of trying to bring people in.

State and national associations need to work with trade schools and community colleges to get people the skills training they need to get them into the industry to fill the demand, according to Dietz.

Part of the reason for the labor shortage is demographic. As baby boomers get older and leave the workforce, there aren’t enough young workers filling those jobs. “We have got to raise worker productively in the sector in order to build more with less,” according to Dietz.

In the first half of 2019, single-family housing construction is down about 5% from the first half of 2018. The forecast is projecting about 900,000 single-family units nationwide in 2019. The NAHB thinks the market will require about 1 million or 1.1 million single-family units per year.

“The labor challenge is the No. 1 issue limiting the ability to increase and reduce cost going forward.”

Future trends in construction

There has been a lot of discussion about panelized construction. While Dietz does believe there will be growth in this market, panelized construction made up just 2% of single-family construction starts in 2017.

Modular construction — including 3-D printed construction — made up 1.6% of single-family starts.

Another market is single-family built-for-rent. There have been reports that this area is exploding. But, according to Dietz, “That’s not really what the data says.” The market share was less that 5% in 2018. While this market is growing, it is still at a slow rate.

Townhouse construction, however, is expanding. The market share for these types of homes is about 14%. And in 2018, the townhome construction market was up 15%. Dietz this market share will continue to trend up over the next five years.

But Dietz points out that bulk of millennials, a very large portion of the population, are currently in their 20s. The median age of first-time home buyers in this population is 31-32 years old. “The underlying demand for single-family construction is going to grow and grow and grow,” Dietz said.

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How Milan’s airports are handling the temporary closure of Linate

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Closing one of a country’s busiest airports for three months in the summer period might sound like a recipe for disaster, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Milan as Linate Airport has ceased flights to undertake essential upgrades.

Linate closed on July 27 following the final departure to Palermo late the previous evening. Work has now commenced on a string of upgrades to the airport — the most notable of which is the complete resurfacing of main runway 18/36.

Other works planned include reconstructing the baggage reclaim areas and the terminal façade to bring the building in line with current standards. It is expected to reopen on October 27.

Currently Italy’s fifth-busiest airport, Linate is considered Milan’s more convenient gateway and its located only six miles from the center of the city. As a result, it is particularly popular for business travelers.

Linate handled some 9.2 million passengers last year, and logic would assume that these passengers will need to go somewhere over the next three months. This could pose a problem for Malpensa, which is now becoming overstretched during busy periods.

Both airports are operated by the SEA Group, who is working to minimize disruption for passengers during the works. While many flights are likely to be consolidated where there is repetition, particularly on thinner routes, and domestic services which operate multiple times per day from both airports, the extra footfall is going to be a challenge for Malpensa. So how will it cope?

“We are investing around €18 million to adapt Malpensa’s infrastructure and operating systems to welcome additional traffic from Linate,” explained SEA VP of Aviation Business Development Andrea Tucci. The check-in, Schengen gates and baggage sorting areas are being adapted to accommodate the surge in traffic, with a taxiway also being temporarily converted to an apron.

He added: “MXP is going to host in its peak season a 30% increase in capacity that, once the flights return to Linate, can easily be replaced by new carriers and flights thanks to the residual hub capacity in Milan that is not easy to find at many other European gateways.”

Another airport hoping to benefit from Linate’s closure is Bergamo Airport — often seen as the third gateway to Milan, and currently Italy’s third busiest. It will become the closest airport to the city during the closure and has reportedly been building relations with airlines and customers to encourage them to use it. This comes at an interesting time for Bergamo, which has been growing its domestic network through airlines like AlbaStar and Volotea and will also add a new route to London Gatwick with British Airways later this summer.

The three-month closure at Linate will see the essential and large-scale works completed, but this is not the end of the upgrades at the airport.

Once it reopens, work will continue on further interior improvements, including more e-gates for passenger processing, new shops and concessions, and light-filled spaces. It will also see a new connection to the Milan underground system’s M4 line opening in December 2022, further improving access to the city.

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Smaller and new are the prevailing trends in luxury homes

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Changing customer lifestyles and preferences are realigning the market for luxury homes. Sales are declining in some areas long considered to be havens for the wealthy and are rising in desirable suburbs and city centers.

As younger, affluent buyers and relocating baby boomers opt for simplicity and convenience over opulence, the demand for smaller and new, move-in-ready homes is growing.

In the second quarter of this year, sales of luxury homes increased somewhat compared to the previous quarter but remain well below those of last year.

According to the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing, total sales of all luxury residential properties in the U.S. and Canada dropped by 348 units in June as compared with May. The median list price was up $15,000, but the median actual sales price decreased by $28,000.

Web-based real estate brokerage Redfin reports that in the 1,000 U.S. cities it tracks, sales of homes priced at $1.5 million or higher declined in the second quarter by 4.6% year-over-year. The average sales price among those cities rose by 1% during the quarter, following a 1.7% drop in the first quarter.

Demand for luxury homes varies widely among traditional markets as buyer needs and attitudes toward luxury change. In high-tech, high-growth hubs with a lot of new money, such as San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Portland, competition for housing is keeping prices and demand high. Other top markets include so-called second-tier cities, such as Nashville and Denver, considered by younger buyers wanting an alternative to mega-urban living to be highly livable and a good value.

Also highly sought-after are new luxury condos in downtown cores, which appeal to those preferring a live/work/play lifestyle and to downsizing boomers wanting to keep active in retirement.

Real estate news portal The Real Deal relates that while sales of homes priced at over $1 million in the Chicago metro area were down 11% year-over-year in the second quarter (up from a 22% decline in the first quarter), sales were up for “uber-luxury” condos priced at around $4 million. Sarasota magazine cites a report that local sales of properties priced at $3 million or more in the first quarter nearly matched those of all of 2018, including luxury penthouses and bayfront homes.

In growing numbers, buyers are moving away from large luxury estates and seeking smaller, new, move-in-ready homes or condos with integrated smart technologies and luxury amenities.

In an interview with the Paradise Valley, Arizona, Independent, local real estate agent Greg Hague said he’s seen a notable shift away from multi-acre mansions to smaller, more manageable patio-style homes. “People want all the amenities, no maintenance, fresh and brand new,” he added. “And they are willing to pay top dollar for it.”

“Bigger is not always better,” says Anthony Cutugno, with luxury real estate brokerage Houlihan Lawrence, speaking with The Daily Voice.

Sales of luxury homes in Westchester County, New York; Greenwich, Connecticut; and similar communities that feature large estates have declined for three quarters in a row and are down notably from a year ago, according to the firm’s most recent sales report. Markets also have softened in New York City, the Hamptons and Miami.

Cutugno also is seeing the trend toward smaller and new. “Renovating or restoring a period home is the desire of a scant few,” he says. “Though this shift is in its early stages, its impact is tangible.”

Clearly, this trend has implications for residential designers, who could experience lessening demand for their services as wealthy buyers seek to avoid upgrading and renovating existing luxury properties and choose to buy new.

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How technology manufacturing fuels the US-China trade war

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It’s official: the trade war with China is heating up. On Aug. 5, after President Trump announced increased tariffs on Chinese imports, China devalued the yuan. The New York Times said it was the “worst day of the year” for Wall Street, with the S&P 500 closing down nearly 3%.

There’s no consensus on what’s happening here. China’s recent plans to move from cheap to high-value tech goods manufacturing, like those used by militaries, plays a major role in President Trump’s tariff increase on Chinese imports and the no-deal climate between the countries.

After rounds of failed trade negotiations, the Treasury Department calls the yuan devaluation “currency manipulation,” while China is retaliating by suspending U.S. crop imports, which could turn the American farmer voting demographic against Trump. Many economists report the American worker, including the farmer, will get hurt because global economies are interdependent.

In the China-U.S. case, that’s interdependence with a subtext of military might, as the two major economic powers eye each other’s technology manufacturing progress.

Regarding manufacturing, the global Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) gauges monthly sales, pricing, employment and purchasing. The PMI’s 15-month decline began “with the initial U.S.-China tariffs implemented at the end of March 2018.”

Amidst this general manufacturing decline, the U.S. added 164,000 jobs last month, with 16,000 reportedly in the manufacturing sector. Before we do cartwheels, though, imagine that an average of 22,000 manufacturing jobs added monthly is more common. Also recall that many of these jobs are not union and are less stable with decreased or nonexistent benefits.

Is a smaller overall number here the new normal for downscaled U.S. manufacturing that so many have warned about? Hits like Boeing production reductions and Brexit add to this climate of economic insecurity, making it unclear how to summarize current manufacturing conditions.

What we do know is that workers and consumers get hit hard by the trade war because higher imported goods’ tariffs need to be compensated for by raising product prices. Smaller businesses can be harmed here, as they cannot afford price fluctuations like big firms can: worker layoffs could be a longer-term result if the conflict persists.

Big-box retailers also face higher consumer costs. Consider how dependent U.S. retail is on Chinese imports: “Walmart imports 26% of its merchandise from China…while Target imports 34% of its products from China. Other companies, including sporting goods, auto parts and furniture sellers, have an even greater exposure to China. Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS), for example, imports 51% of its merchandise from China, while Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) imports 53% of its goods from China…”

Chinese workers can also be harmed, per Bloomberg: “A mid-2015 devaluation spurred capital outflows and destabilized global markets, though tighter capital controls this time around should help prevent another exodus.”

While capital controls may help, China now faces export challenges, and successful implementation of its own long-term manufacturing strategy — Made in China 2025. This is a plan to shift from quintessentially cheap Chinese consumer goods (shoes, clothes, electronics, etc.) toward higher value-added goods production, such as “robotics, aerospace and energy-saving vehicles.”

The Chinese goal to rebrand its manufacturing output threatens U.S. tech market stability. Some suggest this is what drives Trump’s escalating trade war rhetoric: he knows China is not content making iPhones and sporting goods gear for Americans.

Further, he knows China’s intellectual might could clear historic hurdles to compete in tech manufacturing, which results in military power. (In 2017, China received more AI funding than the U.S.)

Made in China 2025 has introduced new complexities into the trade war dynamics. For example, it has spurred paranoia that China is stealing U.S. technology (5G, AI, cybersecurity) secrets, hence the Huawei issue.

It is important to note that new technologies are: “key technologies for military hegemony for another decade,” per Jack Rasmus of CounterPunch.

Rasmus summarizes links between trade, tech, and military hostilities: “The technology war dimension between the two has already begun, albeit still in early stages. What appears on the surface as a trade war is to a significant extent the cover for a more fundamental technology war beneath the surface, and a broader economic war over technology that will fundamentally characterize US-China relations in the 2020s.”

While we hear all about the trade war, these perspectives serve as a reminder that higher tariffs and the devalued yuan can hurt U.S. and Chinese workers, who are also consumers.

Then there’s that hefty military budget that also steals from the lining of workers’ pockets. The current total level of U.S. military spending (from October 2019 to September 2020) is estimated at $989 billion, and these massive numbers reveal a foreign policy built on dominance.

China’s looming presence in high-tech manufacturing threatens this dominance, and any talk of a trade war should adjust to the military realities that motivate backroom dynamics away from the media spotlight.

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How to role model good choices for your employees

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I am not advocating parenting your employees. But some of your employees may not have had the best role models in their life, so they have undeveloped critical judgment skills and poor decision-making with an inability to predict the consequences of their behavior.

Have you ever had an employee where you thought:

  • she’s a good worker — when she shows up for work.
  • this guy is perfect except that he cannot get himself to work on time.
  • why would she get drunk on a weeknight and then call in sick with a hangover, over and over again.
  • this staffer is personable, and the customers love him, but geez, he’s so darned lazy.
  • how can that employee be so blinded to take another job for 50 cents more per hour, but 20 hours less per week? Doesn’t he realize he’s taking a pay cut?

I worked with a young lady once who had barely been on the job for one week before asking for a day off to go shopping with her mother. That judgment is bad enough, but she confided to me that her mother had advised her to simply call in sick and not risk asking for the day off! Clearly, she wasn’t getting responsible career advice from her mother!

And that reminded me of the employee who couldn’t resist getting drunk during the workweek. I learned that her boyfriend had a drinking problem; her mother had a drinking problem, and her friends did, too. She wasn’t about to learn responsible behavior from any of those role models.

Long ago, I worked with another young lady. It was her first job ever and had been given a position of trust and was promoted.

Shortly after her promotion, she developed an attitude of entitlement and rebellion. One day, she simply walked off the job in the middle of her shift, angrily complaining that her boss had asked her to do a task within her job description, and like a rebellious teenager, “nobody is going to tell me what to do.” Lousy judgment, right?

Walking off your very first job ever because your boss told you to do some task? Fast forward four years, and she had not been able to get another job. Who would want to hire a young person with few skills and who had walked off her first job?

She did beg her former boss (after several years) for her old job back, and while he accepted her apology, he wouldn’t rehire her. After all, you can accept an apology, but it doesn’t undo the transgression. She had burned her bridge, and he wasn’t going to take another chance on her.Maybe she learned a tough love lesson?

Sure, the easy way out is to simply label these people “losers,” discipline them and/or fire them. But is that the smartest approach?

Most of those employees, I submit, often have other redeeming qualities that might justify “salvaging” them as your employee, especially when finding dependable, motivated employees is an employer’s ever-present concern.

So, what can you, as an employer of this type of person, reasonably do to role model the kind of responsible judgment that they are lacking in their personal lives?

Here are some possible solutions, none of which are guaranteed. After all, some of these problem employees are adults, not teenagers, who have spent their lives choosing one poor decision after another:

  • Spend some days to work alongside the lazy employee in his job role, demonstrating a solid work ethic in getting the job done.
  • Assign a stellar co-worker to act as a willing mentor.
  • Use break time to discuss your off-work entertainment activities that did not involve drugs or alcohol to show that there are fun options as a sober person.
  • By your own behavior as boss, show that you do not take shortcuts in your job role and that you’re willing to go the extra mile, that your position does not give you the right to “goof-off.”
  • Share your own experiences of the consequences of poor decisions you’ve made in the past and how those consequences taught you to be wiser in your decision-making.
  • Use opportunities to teach economics to the employee who can’t figure out the math in his next job or understand where and how his paycheck is calculated.

I realize that some of these suggestions might sound pie-in-the-sky and worthy of mockery. But at what point do you write off someone as a permanent loser?

You, the employer, have an unparalleled opportunity to not only positively affect a problem employee’s future career, but also change the course of someone’s life. I think it’s worth a shot.

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US economy adds 164,000 new hires; unemployment rate stays at 3.7%

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In July, U.S. payrolls added 164,000 workers versus job gains of 224,000 in June, as the unemployment rate stayed at 3.7%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There were 6.1 million unemployed workers in July, close to the same number as June.

The jobless rates for men, women, blacks, Hispanics, whites, adults and teens changed little in July from June. The rate of unemployment for Asians rose from 2.1% in June to 2.8% in July.

The number of long-term unemployed persons decreased 248,000 in July from June. The employment-to-population ratio rate stayed nearly the same in July versus June, the BLS reported.

For workers on nonfarm private payrolls, the weekly hours of work in July dipped to 34.3 hours compared with June’s 34.4 hours. In July, the manufacturing sector’s average workweek declined 0.3 of an hour to 40.4 hours, while overtime dropped 0.2 of an hour to 3.2 hours.

Wages rose. “Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 3.2 percent,” the BLS reported. “In July, average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees rose by 4 cents to $23.46.”

Small business hiring (payrolls of 1-49 employees) rose 11,000 in July after falling by 23,000 in June, according to the ADP National Employment Report.

Midsize employers (50-499 employees) hired 67,000 new workers in July after adding 60,000 employees in June. Hiring at large firms (500 or more workers) led the way in July with employers adding 78,000 workers versus 65,000 in June.

The ADP National Employment Report comes from ADP’s nonfarm private sector payroll data representing 411,000 U.S. clients and nearly 24 million employees (out of a 157 million in the labor force), published in alliance with Moody’s Analytics.

According to the ADP/Moody’s report, the service-providing sector hired 146,000 new workers in July versus 117,000 in June. Payrolls in the goods-producing sector gained 9,000 jobs in July after losing 15,000 jobs in June. Manufacturing firms gained 1,000 new hires in July after adding 7,000 in June.

Mark Zandi is chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “Small businesses are suffering the brunt of the slowdown,” he said in a statement, “Hampering job growth are labor shortages, layoffs at bricks-and-mortar retailers, and fallout from weaker global trade.”

The trade war between China and the U.S. is a headwind on economic growth. For example, U.S. gross domestic product growth, a comprehensive measure of economic activity, fell to 2.1% for the second quarter of 2019 versus 3.1% for the first quarter of the year.

In response to the slowing GDP gains, the Federal Reserve Bank cut short-term interest rates by a quarter-point on July 31. Decreasing the price to borrow can spur economic growth.

Craig Allen, president of the U.S.-China Business Council, weighed in on the 12th round of U.S.-China bilateral trade negotiations in Shanghai that recently ended.

“We hope the negotiators will continue to take a pragmatic and realistic approach to compromise and reach a conclusion that leads to greater market access for foreign companies,” he said in a statement, “improves the protection and enforcement of intellectual property, and ultimately levels the playing field for foreign companies operating in the market.”

Later, President Trump threatened via Twitter to impose new tariffs on Chinese goods. These new levies could take effect on Sept. 1.

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