On August 30, 2017 Robinson+Cole’s Construction Practice Group held its annual Retreat at the newly completed Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford. The Retreat featured an Industry Leaders Roundtable discussion session with representatives from many  of the major Connecticut construction industry organizations. The discussion was moderated by Construction Group Chair Greg Faulkner and led to a lively discussion on various issues affecting the construction industry. Here are some of the highlights:

The first topic of discussion focused on what attendees viewed as the most significant challenges facing design and construction service providers in the immediate future. All in attendance agreed that the shortage of young professionals and tradespeople embarking on careers in the construction and design industries was an issue of serious concern. It was pointed out that Connecticut is unique among many of our neighboring states in that it provides options to young people considering a career in the construction industry through trade schools, which feature an academic curriculum in addition to skills education, and the fact that public high schools are increasingly adding trade-skills-based education back into their regular curricula. This was viewed as good news by all. On a related note, those in attendance reported positively on the increased presence of women in the construction and design industries, particularly the trend of more women entering the industries as young professionals and advancing in seniority to managerial roles.

The group also discussed their preferences as to the most productive means of different dispute resolution. Most expressed a preference for arbitration, if the matter had to proceed to binding dispute resolution. Most expressed a preference that the parties continue to come up with creative ways of resolving disputes outside of binding dispute resolution. Many also noted that the role of arbitrators was changing from what it had been even only 10-15 years ago. Where arbitrators once allowed the parties to the arbitration wide latitude to engage in extensive discovery and motions practice, modern arbitrators are focusing on keeping the parties to the arbitration focused on achieving a just resolution and taking into account concerns of limiting time and cost. This was viewed as a positive development.

With the discussion taking place in Connecticut, the group also spoke at length regarding economic and business-related issues particular to the State and its municipalities. Almost all in attendance agreed that given the lack of a State budget and other financial challenges facing public owners, the industry needs to make adjustments in how public projects are delivered and maintained. One potential budget solution, highway tolling, was raised, and was given a predictably mixed reception. Private-public partnerships were discussed favorably, and all expressed a hope that the City of Hartford will be able to resolve its unique financial issues without resorting to the options of “bankruptcy or bailout.”

Overall, the group discussed whether certain markets remained most lucrative and primed for growth.  Not surprisingly, infrastructure was high on the list, as all states continue to struggle with aging and poorly maintained roads, bridges, and rails. Healthcare and education remain areas of growth as well.

The Roundtable concluded with a discussion as to what Robinson+Cole’s Construction Group and the other practices at Robinson+Cole could do to better serve the needs of the members of the industry groups in attendance. All agreed that lawyers are uniquely situated to help steer the construction and design industries toward acting more collaboratively and with a more project-centric attitude, particularly with the rise in popularity of project delivery systems such as design-build and integrated project delivery. With that suggestion in mind, Robinson+Cole hopes to have more Industry Leader Roundtable discussions going forward, and would like to thank all of those who attended for joining in what proved to be an interesting and informative afternoon. Until next time!