I was born a long time after the great depression, but have known countless people in my life that actually lived through it. Many of our grandparents were shaped by it. But 3 or 4 generations later it's just ancient history... til now.
A man I knew very well was raised during the depression and it never left him. In many ways, even 70 years later, it was still a dominant part of his life. He became a miser after the depression and continued that way of life right up until the day he died. He had millions of dollars saved by the time he died, but never took his wife to Paris. Never took her on a weekend getaway to New York. Hell, he only took her out to dinner once or twice a year because they needed "to save money."
Someone asked me once why he wouldn't take his wife to Italy when he had so much money. I replied that if he and his wife went to Italy, he wouldn't do anything but complain about how much money it cost. He'd be too scared to spend any money and it would be the worst trip to Italy in the history of the world. The great depression ruined a lot of people's lives.... and I mean their entire lives, not just the years of the depression. But that leads to my point.
The Great American Recession is ending. Albeit slowly, it's ending none the less. What I wonder is how our generation is going to be affected by this major catastrophic incident? I know one thing for certain right now. I have a new found appreciation for the bulldozer. Let me explain:
For as long as I can remember, I've loved watching bulldozers work. It's a ‘guy thing' I know, but bulldozers are just totally cool. Moving tons of earth with ease. Then a big Caterpillar with a scoop shovel loads it into something called an articulated dump truck that moves it somewhere else for another bulldozer to push around. Sweet. Like most guys, I can sit and watch them work for hours. Then about a year and a half ago my fun ended. The bulldozers got parked.
All around my store is a huge new shopping center development being built. It's about half finished overall, but the buildings that were finished before the recession are 100% occupied (yes, that's where my Target is).
One of my favorite things to do every morning on my way into the store was drive through and see what work was done the day before. What pile of dirt got bigger. What pile of dirt got smaller. What building had a new facade, what building got the new steel. In at least 10 different places on this property was big heavy equipment doing what big heavy equipment does... building things. Then about 15 months ago, I started noticing 18 wheelers going into the development, loading up the big heavy equipment, and taking it away. Then one day all work stopped and it's been that way for well over a year.
I don't know exactly what happened, but I can guess. I'm assuming it was the same thing that happened to every other major development across the country. The financing got pulled and it was game over. A total work stoppage. I never realized how fast weeds would grow on a big pile of dirt that has been abandoned. Pretty fast and pretty tall, let me tell you.
It was during this 15 month period that I formed a whole new appreciation for the bulldozer. It has shaped my outlook and changed the way I see a lot of things. A bulldozer is not a piece of equipment. A bulldozer is an economic machine.
After a long period of inactivity, the bulldozers have started showing up again. Here's what I see now:
When the first bulldozer showed back up about 3 months ago, it was by itself. Just one man and one machine... or so it seemed on the surface. In reality it went something like this: The owners of the center got a new financing package in place. The owners called the bulldozer company and ordered one bulldozer and one operator. The leasing company got a check and paid the note on the equipment, the mortgage on the building, and they paid their staff. They in turn called a trucking company to come and move the bulldozer to the job site. The truck driver then got a check and delivered the bulldozer and then made a payment on his truck. Finally, the heavy equipment operator drives to the job site, starts the bulldozer and spent about two days scraping the lot clean. Since heavy equipment operators make a pretty good hourly wage, he probably paid his mortgage and took his wife out to a nice dinner and tipped his waiter handsomely. And that was the first two days.
Over the course of the last 3 months, there has been over a million dollars spent on the job site building a new grocery store, bank, and retail building that are going up. Every day, there are at least 40 pieces of heavy equipment on that job site and over 100 workers. The concrete guys are on one side of the site laying foundations for one building while the bricklayers are putting up bricks on the foundations that were laid last week. The steel erector crews are busy at work earning high salaries. The site excavation crews are in full swing at the back of the lot trying to stay on schedule for the next building going up.
But my mind goes even farther now. In 6 months or so, those buildings are going to be occupied. They are going to hang "Now Hiring" signs in their windows. They are going to order stock to fill their shelves. The factories that make the stock are going to get orders. Then customers are going to start coming in and spending money. Employees are going to get paid. Suppliers are going to get paid. Rents are going to get paid. For the next 20-30 years, this development is going to generate jobs, goods, services, and tax revenues.
It's not a shopping center, it's an entire economy that I've taken for granted my entire life. Not now. Within one mile of my store there are three major job sites with heavy equipment on them pushing dirt and materials around. Now, when I drive by and see a big Cat Bulldozer, I see progress and I see economic recovery. And I see a bright future for all of us again.
So, the next time you drive by a job site and see a bulldozer at work, don't just see the bulldozer, see the future.
Now, if they'd just start hiring some better looking bulldozer operators....
Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide. You can contact him at 615-354-6361.