U.S. compliance sector strong in 2012

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment
business chart showing success

U.S. compliance sector showing strong performance in 2012 (Photo credit: s_falkow)

The annual conference of the American Cultural Resources Association (ACRA) was held a few days ago in Seattle, Washington. ACRA is the trade association for the heritage compliance sector in the United States. While the ACRA program is filled with valuable business topics, the real benefit of attending is gained from talking with company owners and senior employees in the hallways and at the many social events. People often say things about their businesses that they probably shouldn’t and one always comes away from the meeting with a wealth of information about competitors and the compliance sector as a whole.

My back hallway sample, probably representative although not statistical, indicated that the compliance sector in the United States is strong. Most companies reported that 2012 has been a good year for business, with more than a few companies reporting that this year will be their strongest year since the recession of 2008/2009–some reporting their best year ever. Strength is primarily coming from activity in the mining, electrical transmission, alternative energy, and oil/gas client sectors. This pattern of strong performance appears to be geographically uniform, although there are some areas of the country doing better than others due to geographical factors (e.g. locations of oil fields and mineral resources). There are, however, a few gaps in the compliance sector’s overall strong business performance. A few firms reported that they are still having difficult times and have yet to really rebound from the recession four years ago. What is interesting about this is that a few of these firms are well known firms that have been market-share leaders in the past.

Is Western Australia’s heritage compliance boom suddenly over?

September 2, 2012 1 comment

To Boom or not to boom, that is the question.

Australia’s Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson declared on 23 August 2012 that the country’s mining boom was over. This was one day after the world’s biggest miner BHP Billiton shelved two expansion plans – the Olypmic Dam open cut mine expansion in South Australia and the Port Hedland outer harbour expansion in Western Australia’s Pilbara region – each project valued at around $320 billion.

Archaeological salvage excavation at an iron mine site in the Pilbara (Photo: Guadalupe Cincunegui, ACHM).

These statements prompted some immediate flak from the mining and resources sector, while the Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett repeated his mantra that there never was a “boom”, it was just that his State has a healthy, expanding economy!Minister Ferguson and other senior Labor Government figures rapidly clarified his statement, saying that he was referring to the commodities boom being over, particularly with the international iron ore and coal prices dropping, while tens of billions of dollars in ongoing mining and energy development projects in Australia would continue on track.This is the point at which Australian heritage consultants could stop holding their breath and quaking every time they looked at a media financial report for more news of impending doom.

Heritage consulting in Australia is predominantly tied up with mining and energy developments and regional infrastructure development projects – which in turn are responses to growth through mining and energy developments. Minister Ferguson’s original announcement, coupled with BHP Billiton’s announcement and the resulting media blitz caused considerable angst among consulting firms still taking on new staff to push for bigger shares of mining-related heritage survey and impact-mitigation work – and for the growing numbers of local archaeology and anthropology graduates, as well as international ones on holiday-working visas, who are looking for work in the industry.

There has been some drop in available project work – cancellation of the BHP Billiton projects and some slowdowns in other companies’ projects due to credit and cost recalculations in the face of lower commodity prices. This has hit Queensland’s coal industry, though coal-seam gas projects so far seem unaffected. Overall though, everyone still seems to be maintaining their work flow on current projects. However, heritage services for development projects represent a finite block of work, and to maintain momentum, heritage consultancies need a constant flow of new projects. So while there appears to be enough work at the moment, we will still be all watching China in particular and the financial news in general, to see if the past continues to have a commercial future in Australia.

Australia’s “export resources” boom leads the economy and supports heritage consulting

Perth Airport’s plan for the $500 million upgrade that will integrate international and domestic terminals and provide for the rapidly expanding FIFO requirements of the Pilbara mining industry (photo credit Australian Business Traveller)

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia (CME) described the Australian domestic outlook as “cautiously optimistic”in its quarterly WA Resources and Economics Report (with KPMG) in March 2012. The export resources sector, which is providing a sustained boom for the heritage consulting segment, still leads the national economy.

Western Australia continues to benefit from the surging resources sector. The March 2012 ABS Investment Survey shows that resource investment has grown to be larger than investment in all other Australian business sectors combined. According to the survey, 86 per cent of this investment goes to Western Australia and Queensland, and there could be a further 62 per cent increase in total resource sector investment in 2012/13.

The report also noted that the high level of investment is maintaining record levels of employment in Western Australia, with February 2012 unemployment for the State at four percent, and forecast to remain this low for the next few years.

The Western Australian resources industry supports heritage industry employment (archaeologists, anthropologists, GIS specialists, etc) not just in Western Australia, but throughout the country. Most of the mining and energy project development is in remote areas such as the Pilbara and mid-north regions, so that heritage consultants join the flood of fly in-fly out (FIFO) workers for these projects from around the country. Most heritage consulting firms engaged in heritage survey and management work in this sector source both permanent and casual staff from around the country, who fly in via Perth to regional airports around the country, sometimes followed by hours of four-wheel-drive travel to reach the work sites. Read more…

Decrease in Irish archaeology for the first half of 2012

Charles Mount has published some numbers on excavation licenses for Irish archaeology during the first two quarters of 2012–and the news is not good. You can see the full numbers in his post:

Indicators suggest that archaeological activity in Ireland continued to decline in the first half of 2012.

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The cost-benefit of building rehabs… beneficial both environmentally and economically

June 12, 2012 1 comment
Preservation Hall

Rehabilitation makes environmental and economic sense (Photo credit: JWSherman)

A recent study published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation titled, The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse, has inspired a great deal of discussion. One discussion in particular, an article by Blythe Lawrence published in The Seattle Times (Seattle, WA USA), provided a follow-up comparison of the environmental value and the economic value of rehabilitating an existing building versus constructing a new one. The study looked at the effects a building has on the environment (such as runoff) and the use of nonrenewable resources (like fossil fuels) as well as energy and and resource extraction, and found that “even the most energy efficient new buildings have to stand as long as 80 years before their energy savings offset the negative impacts of constructing them,” as summarized in The Seattle Times article. The article continued to note that, “from an environmental perspective [building reuse is] a no brainer.”

Going one step further, the article noted that if an existing building has a good envelope the cost of rehab is about the same as the cost of new construction for a similar-sized building. If an existing building needs to be demolished as part of a new construction project, in order to clear the property for a replacement building, the economic and environmental costs increase exponentially. Though many, including developers, are often reluctant to accept or acknowledge the viability of rehab projects, the article sums up the reality of the situation stating that “development is about obtaining the maximum return from a piece of property. You don’t have to build a new building to make money.”

Canadian archaeology and the age of austerity

June 5, 2012 2 comments
Canadian maple leaf 2

A withering maple leaf? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is an essential tension that exists between industry and government:  they regulate us and sometimes they compete with us.  When you ask many business professionals about government, even in Canada, the usual response is that there is too much of it.

There is truth to this. It seems that the only cap on the growth of bureaucracy is taxpayers, and therefore, recent promises by the Federal and some provincial governments to reduce the size of government seemed at best, too little and too late.  However, while in age of austerity you can really make smart strategic cuts in expenditures, governments are inevitably drawn to the stupid.

The Government of Canada is cutting ten percent off the top of most departments, and a few percentage points more off ones they really don’t like (like the public broadcaster, the CBC). All departments have been asked to declare positions as redundant and thousands of letters have gone out: “your position has been classified as surplus, have a nice day.” This will be followed by a drawn out period of horse trading, interdepartmental moves, and such, with the result that the actual number of positions lost will not be known for some time.

Somewhat to the surprise of the heritage movement, given the federal government attention to promoting the historic battles of 1812, is that government has decided that it really does not like conservators and archaeologists and has decided to close all of the regional labs across the country. As one comment on the Canadian Archaeological Association Facebook page notes “There (will be) more people employed in a single Tim Hortons than are employed by Parks Canada nationally to preserve and care for millions of archeological historic objects in storage and on display.” Read more…

Ireland’s historic environment worth 40,000 jobs and 1.5 billion Euro

English: The Euro symbol (€) printed and in ha...

The Euro  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Heritage Council of Ireland, a statutory body established under the Heritage Act, 1995, has released a report on the Economic Value of Ireland’s Historic Environment conducted by Ecorys and Fitzpatrick Associates. As defined by the report, Ireland’s historic environment consists of two World Heritage Sites, Bru na Boinne in Co Meath and Skellig Michael off Co Kerry, more than 20 Historic National Properties, 38,000 protected structures and more than 120,000 monuments protected under the National Monuments Act. These resources were used as the basis for the economic analyses.

Some of the highlights are:

  • The historic environment is a highly significant contributor to Ireland’s national economy, directly
    supporting almost 25,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs.
  • Including indirect and induced effects, it is estimated that the historic environment sector supports
    approximately 40,000 FTE employment positions in Ireland.
  • Within the context of Ireland’s economy, it is estimated that the historic environment’s contribution to the
    national economy is equivalent to one percent of total Irish Gross Value Added (GVA), and two percent of overall employment.
  • Ireland’s built historic environment constitutes an invaluable educational resource, and at all stages of
    the lifelong learning spectrum. For example, not only are Ireland’s flagship heritage sites a major
    source of school educational visits, they are also a focus of academic research and conference
    activities.
  • The role of Ireland’s historic environment in attracting private sector investment into Irish towns and
    cities, and its contribution to enhancing quality of life/livability in these localities.

There are more benefits as well that can be seen in the report.

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