New Yorkers didn’t vote for Trump just as Londoners didn’t vote for Brexit, but whatever their misgivings the business of doing business goes on
“It’s been awful. People have been very down and unsure of what the future will bring.” This view from a construction professional in New York the week after Donald Trump swept to victory is a common one. In fact, when our reporter visited the city it was hard to find anyone who openly supported the president-elect or would admit to having voted for him. Emotions among liberal New Yorkers were still running high, with daily street protests outside Trump Tower, and some even comparing the mood to that after 9/11; it does seem that parts of the US are going through a period of genuine grief.
Those that do feel a sense of loss at the election result may not be reassured this week by Trump’s latest antics on Twitter, where he has continued to announce policy seemingly on the hoof. His provocative tweets criticising China after he caused a diplomatic rift by speaking to the Taiwanese president have understandably alarmed international experts. Closer to home he has also taken to Twitter to issue a tax threat to companies selling products inside the US that move operations overseas. Add to this his already stated policy of slapping tariffs on foreign imports, including Chinese steel, and you can understand why it’s not just New Yorkers who are worried about Trump’s wild unpredictability.
These concerns notwithstanding, some construction professionals in New York are beginning to adjust to the new reality. To take up the language of grief once more, they are moving beyond disbelief and anger to acceptance. They may not like what Trump stands for on a number of fronts, but they concede that his New York roots and construction background could be good for the city. It’s an irony pointed out by many commentators that while Trump’s support in the election came from America’s rust belt, he’s made his fortune as a New York property mogul.
While Trump is undoubtedly a highly divisive character, the truth is that we won’t know the construction impact of his policies on New York or elsewhere for some time to come
Among the optimists are those who have done business with him in the past, have seen him negotiate and think he’s got a winner’s mentality. Others feel he will bring a fresh approach to growing America’s economy. His de-regulation stance and pro-business attitude are welcomed by many in the industry, while his $1tn Infrastructure First programme in particular has set pulses racing. With signs that the next president will seek to leverage more private investment to pay for his ambitious plans, UK consultants in the US – such as Turner & Townsend and Gardiner & Theobald – are well positioned to offer expertise on private-public partnerships.
While Trump is undoubtedly a highly divisive character, the truth is that we won’t know the construction impact of his policies on New York or elsewhere for some time to come. The president-elect has confounded political norms so far, in winning the election in the first place and now announcing his policies through Twitter, but once in power his infrastructure package will have to go through Congress, with some Republican senators already voicing opposition to the amount of public funds needed. And even if he does overcome those political hurdles, construction work won’t begin until 2018 at the earliest.
So New Yorkers are left with a “wait and see” approach, similar in some ways to how Londoners – the majority of whom voted to remain in the EU – have been coping with the Brexit vote.
And while there is no definite end point to the uncertainty for either city, there are two important events in January 2017 that will indicate the direction of travel a little more: Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States and the Supreme Court’s expected ruling on whether the UK government has the authority to trigger article 50 to exit the EU. The consequences that then flow will undoubtedly affect the construction sector both sides of the pond – and the only pragmatic business response, whatever your personal views, is frankly to just deal with it.
Chloë McCulloch, managing editor