A roundtable of economic and policy experts said that even after a COVID-19 vaccine is discovered, it could take many engineering markets years to recover from the pandemic’s impact.
“Funding in the New Normal” is the third of a virtual roundtable series sponsored by the ACEC Research Institute. More than 160 participants from throughout the nation tuned in as four policy experts offered their views on post-pandemic markets and future government funding.
Panelists included Rosemarie Andolino, former Chairman of MAG USA and CEO of International Development, Manchester Airport Group in the UK; Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group an economic and policy consulting firm; Jeff Davis, senior fellow with the Eno Center for Transportation and the editor of the Eno Transportation Weekly; and David Zipper, a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Taubman Center for State and Local Government. Joseph Bates, ACEC Research Institute, was moderator.
The panel acknowledged that the recent pandemic surge in the U.S. has added greater uncertainty in projecting federal, state, and local finances and future project funding.
“It’s really a risky moment in our economic history,” said Basu, “and that uncertainty will likely continue through the end of the year. We have shattered government finances, state, and local. Empty storefronts, shuttered restaurants, vacated office suites. We have a commercial real estate sector that is in deep recession and will take years to recover.”
Zipper added the lack of clarity at the federal level filters down. “It forces transit agencies to become very concerned or cities to become very concerned about future cash support, which leads them to make decisions now about future planning,” he said.
Similarly, Davis noted that while the federal side of spending for projects hasn’t been affected just yet, “there is also uncertainty in the ability of many state and local governments’ to produce matching funds.”
Panelists agreed that once a vaccine is discovered, another major infusion of federal stimulus funding will still be needed to boost post-pandemic recovery of various markets.
“There must be an infusion of federal dollars,” Zipper said, and noted, “that it’s going to take a long time for office construction and urban transportation to recover.”
Andolino said a similar slow recovery is expected for the airline industry. “It’s going to be awhile. Everybody is in a cost containment mode now,” she said. “We still need to see what the new demands will be, what will be key to making passengers feel more comfortable, what will be key to getting business travelers back?”