“From what I can see, 2010 and the first half of 2011 are going to be tough,” says Jack Knox, president, R.F. Knox Co., Inc., Smyrna, GA. The company has three divisions: commercial and industrial HVAC, and architectural metals. Knox — a new Sheet Metal Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA) board member, and president of his local SMACNA chapter — says both union and non-union shops in his region have seen a 30% drop in sheet metal employment.

R.F. Knox has completed five Building Information Modeling (BIM) projects. Knox says BIM provides tremendous advantages for contractors and building owners, including zero change orders (ideally), collision-free projects, and less jobsite clutter, therefore a safer jobsite environment.

“If contractors aren't taking advantage of that technology, they'll be sitting on the sidelines watching the other contractors do the work. And, obviously, companies that are taking advantage of coil lines and plasma machines also have an advantage,” he says.

According to Knox, the Southeast has a large influx of inexperienced residential and light commercial contractors taking on larger projects, projects they're not prepared to handle properly. As a result, market profitability suffers.

Knox says ductwork cleanliness and Indoor Air Quality are areas in which the most professional contractors can make a difference, through methods that include cleaning and capping all ductwork that leaves the shop.

Steve Doonan, president, DeKalb Mechanical, DeKalb, IL, and a SMACNA board member, says the company had a large backlog of projects going into 2009, and through most of the year, which made 2009 a growth year for DeKalb.

DeKalb's niche market is the public sector, such as schools, municipal buildings, libraries, and other more recession-proof projects. “It takes longer for public sector work to slow down, if they slow down at all,” Doonan says.

DeKalb ventured into 3D modeling software in 2009. “We generate 3D shop drawings and then the information is sent directly to the shop machinery. That's going to be the next level of increased productivity we're going to see,” he says.

Doonan adds that SMACNA sees the demand for construction services declining nationally in 2010, with recovery in the 2011-2013 timeframe. Profitability won't come for yet another year on top of that.

“As the amount of work declines, contractors start shaving margins and foregoing profit in order to continue working,” Doonan explains. “Jobs get cheaper, to the point where they don't have any money in them anymore. It takes an additional year until there's enough work, and people start building profit back into their work.”