When sitting down to write our final Builders Bulletin Editorial for the year, my father or I are inclined to cast our minds forward, to contemplate where the world is heading and how we can make a difference. We look to the good, the positive, the opportunities a New Year represents. Twelve months ago dad wrote in this manner: about the hopes of a new decade and the plans we had for our business. The tumultuous year we have (all) gone through was beyond our wildest imagination.

Prior to Christmas 2019 did anyone predict the early signs of a coronavirus, already present deep in China, would so spectacularly change our world? At the start of March I was in Germany, then England, looking at timber yards, travelling on buses and trains. While the murmurings of a potential problem had begun a few weeks prior, the threat felt benign. Even so, we were being told to wash our hands at regular intervals. I mostly refrained, as I didn’t think the hand sanitiser was good for my skin!

The experience of returning through Tullamarine on 8 March was no different to any previous occasion, apart from a 3 question form asking if I had been to Iran, China or Korea. Only two weeks on it felt like the world was about to end.

So here I am, once again casting my mind forward. Bowens & Timbertruss have so much to look forward to. Our investments in an amazing prefabrication plant, an incredible showroom and a new timber yard in Geelong are complete and operating well. Our eCommerce offer, two years in the making, is on the verge of release, with many updates already planned. It is time to make the most of these significant projects, while continuing to plan for others. An important store rebuild and a new timber yard lie ahead, they will have been completed and open within the next 12 months. We can’t help ourselves; the excitement is building.

Even so, with the experience of 2020 now banked, looking ahead comes with a tinge of nervousness. Is there another coronavirus or GFC waiting in the shadows, or will the recovery be painful and take many years? Nup, I can’t think like that. After the year we’ve had it is time to get positive.

Let me share my unfounded theories and ambitions, starting with this simple proposition: Along with New Zealand, Australia has emerged as one of the best places to live on earth. We should confidently argue our performance in controlling COVID-19 is vastly superior to any other democratic nation. Our country is where people will want to live and visit. Should we not expect greatly increased economic activity and living conditions now our barriers to living a normal life are reducing?

In ‘ordinary times’ Australians invest billions of dollars more on overseas adventures than what is spent by inbound tourists. For the short term this money will be disbursed within our shores, hopefully much of it will be invested in our homes.

For many Victorians, it has never been a better time to build or renovate. For schoolteachers, police, those working in various tiers of government, banking service employees, health care workers, food producers, the industries supporting infrastructure projects, online retailers and food retailing … 2020 has been a busier year than most. Interest rates are at record lows, government stimulus is at record highs, home lending restrictions are loosening, builders are offering discounted deals and tax incentives have either been brought forward or new plans introduced. For the many Victorians whose employment has remained uninterrupted, now is the time to capitalise on their good fortune.

For those Victorians whose employment has been affected over the course of 2020, in industries such as travel, hospitality, bricks & mortar retail and the higher education sector, I’d like to think feelings of hope are growing in the lead-up to Christmas. Job Keeper filled some holes through a horrible period, most industries are emerging from their slumber and Government support continues unabated, including the opportunity to defer (some) loans and taxes.

The State Budget, released in mid-November, announced large scale investments in infrastructure and services to assist our recovery from the impact of COVID-19.

Central to this platform is the announcement of $5.3 billion to be invested in new social housing initiatives. In addition, there is a focus on training and skills development to assist people to return to work. In terms of housing there is a further commitment to a shared equity program for homebuyers and stamp duty adjustments (for new residential builds up to $1 million, a 50 per cent waiver).

Through winter there was a delay in getting smaller, renovation work completed, or even begun. Bowens has seen these jobs rebound well through October, with a continuing surge expected beyond Christmas.

In addition to the hopeful outlook for detached housing, other infrastructure announcements were also made in the budget, relevant to many Bowens customers. $1.9 billion in school upgrades; $70 million for planned maintenance and improvements to schools; $50 million for shovel ready projects at schools; $75 million for playgrounds and pavilions and more money for revitalizing certain town centres and parks. There is a growing belief the Victorian Government is not finished – another budget is only 6 months away.

While I love the CBD of Melbourne, are there opportunities emerging in the suburbs with the continuing reluctance of city workers to return to their high-rise sanctuaries? A good friend of mine, very senior at one of the big banks headquartered in Melbourne, suggested they will only need a quarter of their 8,000 seats. Their competitor, who also calls Melbourne home, has already announced they will not be returning to one of their three city buildings. So many other professionals are either not resuming their commute, or intending to share time between a home office and their old digs. IF this is how things roll out, surely there will be a surge in renovations to guarantee more comfortable working conditions at home?

We look to 2021 with confidence. Bowens will strive to find points of difference, while continuing to do our best at getting the basics right. If we can be relied upon to deliver jobs to site accurately and on time, we earn an opportunity to create better solutions for our core customer, the building professional. There is no sitting still or excuses to be made because the year just gone has been difficult. We must challenge ourselves to provide better services and a wider range of materials through our store network; while at Timbertruss we are focussed on assembling our walls, roofs and floor systems faster and with more accuracy, while investing heavily in our off-site building solutions.

We are building the business for tomorrow, while dextrously accommodating any new obstacles the world throws our way.

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