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    Build Boston 2008

    by Evan H. Shu, FAIA

    The 2008 Build Boston convention and trade show seemed, on the surface, to be its usual hustling, bustling, active marketplace of hundreds of educational workshops, dozens of receptions and affiliated conferences, and a convention floor full of product booths centered around the design and construction industry.

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    But there was no escaping the two-ton elephant at the show — the pervasive cloud of the free-falling economy that seemed to hover over every discussion and add an air of anxiety for all attendees.

    Economic Gloom

    Emblematic of this anxious atmosphere was the annual keynote presentation of the U.S. economic forecast for the building industry, given by Robert A. Murray, chief economist for McGraw-Hill Construction. Past years have found this presentation made in a festive ballroom, served along with a scrumptious catered lunch.

    This year, it had a brown-bag feeling instead, organized as simply a regular workshop with attendees crowded into a typical seminar room. Murray himself acknowledged the change, saying, "I don't remember the anxiety level ever being so high." The weak points of the industry are being exposed, he added, quoting Warren Buffet: "You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out."

    Murray's numbers have the construction industry looking at a very tough 2009 and a prolonged wait-and-see period. McGraw-Hill is forecasting an overall seven-percent decline in the leading economic indicator of construction starts for 2009, on top of the 20-percent decline already experienced over the last two years. The forecast indicated drops in all sectors, some (manufacturing, and electric utilities) experiencing a 30-percent decline.   >>>

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    More than 17,000 people attended the 2008 Build Boston convention and trade show, hosted by the Boston Society of Architects.
    Photo: Scarpetta Photography Extra Large Image

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    Over 350 exhibitors pitched at the expo.
    Photo: Scarpetta Photography Extra Large Image

     

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