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Los Angeles Event Focuses on Construction Trends, Green Building Viability

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While Hollywood celebrities strutted down the red carpet on Sunday night in Los Angeles for the Oscars, many stars of the construction industry waited until Monday to make an appearance at the 2010 Construction Trends Conference: “Insights, Connections, Opportunities,” held at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown.

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Presented by the San Diego-based law firm, Allen Matkins, the first annual event brought more than 200 of California’s top general contractors, architects, engineers, developers, owners and other industry professionals together for an afternoon discussion on the state of the state’s construction industry, including topics such as high-speed rail, green building, public private partnerships, stimulus funding, an economic forecast and more.

The conference was highlighted by the release of the fourth annual Green Building Survey, conducted by Allen Matkins, Constructive Technologies Group (CTG), and the Green Building Insider.

Completed by more than 1,600 design and construction professionals, the survey gathered information on current attitudes toward green building, including its risks, costs, certification process and trends.

Bryan Jackson, editor of Green Building Update and a partner at Allen Matkins, told the audience that despite the recession, a large majority of survey respondents (92.3%) continue to support green building. The study found that “saving energy and other operating expenses” was the number one reason for building green.

Jackson says he expects green building to remain popular, but was surprised to find support for LEED certification waning.

“Because of the economy right now, a lot of people are looking at cost-cutting wherever they can, so they say, ‘hey, it costs money to get LEED certified; we think it’s worth it in the marketplace to get LEED, but maybe not to go all the way and get certified,” says Jackson.

He says another possible reason for LEED certification’s falling approval is the emergence of government programs such as CalGreen, which is giving state builders more options.

The conference began with keynote speaker Curt Pringle, mayor of Anaheim and chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Pringle talked about the future of high speed rail in the state and also about Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC).

The $200 million ARTIC project, currently in environmental clearance, will serve as a transportation hub for buses and rail in Orange County and the region. ARTIC, which will break ground and take two years to complete, will also accommodate California’s $40-billion proposed high-speed rail project, from Anaheim to San Francisco, that Pringle said would break ground in next couple years.

“Ten years ago this was pie-in-the-sky, but now it is reality,” says Pringle.

Another highlight of the event was the panel discussion featuring Jes Pedersen, vice president of Webcor Builders; Eric Lamb, executive vice president of DPR Construction; Laurence Pelosi, director of Royal Bank of Canada Capital Markets; Richard Keating, managing principal for Architecture and Design at Jacobs; and Jill Sideman, vice president CH2M Hill.

Moderated by Chris Gruwell, president of Platinum Advisors, the panel discussed, among other things, challenges facing the construction industry, the differences between private and public projects, and stimulus funding.

Sideman says one of the biggest challenges she sees facing construction firms right now is competition on projects, where some companies are coming in with bids 25% below the lowest expected bids.

Pedersen, when asked about the transition between private and public projects, says all parties involved are essentially the same once you get to know them. “On the private side, a lot of it is relationships, and on the public side a lot of it is rules, and when you get to understand the rules they are really not that drastically different,” says Pedersen.

Lamb says a good thing about the public sector is they usually “pay their bills on time.” When asked about public-private-partnerships and who might be opposed to expanding them, Pelosi and Lamb hinted towards public unions.

The conference also featured Jerry Nickelsburg, senior economist with UCLA Anderson Forecast, who broke down the construction numbers over the last couple years and predicted an upswing by next year.

The event was sponsored by Platinum Advisors, Aconex, CTG, DPR Construction, KCS West, Arcadis, CH2MHill, Hathaway Dinwiddie, Navigant Consulting, UCLA Anderson Forecast, RBC Capital Markets, Webcor Builders and Whiting-Turner.

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