Not so long ago, people feared automation would cost jobs and ruin livelihoods, creating a horrible future in which robots run everything and most people live in poverty.
These concerns were exaggerated, of course. As any free market economist would attest, the technological advancements of the past 100+ years have created far more jobs than they have destroyed.
But concerns about automation aren’t heard much in today’s bizarre economy, where labor shortages abound. The challenge right now, as prices rise and “help wanted” signs are ignored, is how to do more with less.
That’s why my ears pricked up at the recent Utah Business Magazine Economic Outlook Summit when I heard people talk about a future full of houses built by printers.
Yes, the printers. Not the kind you have to keep refilling with toner, but giant steel beam structures that spew concrete-based stuff in pre-programmed rows and patterns.
We need to “rethink what a house is,” Stephen James, senior vice president of community planning and design at Daybreak, said during a panel discussion at the summit. We should be thinking about robotics, pre-printed houses, he said.
During the day, others echoed this thought.
A brave new world
Rethinking is right. The first time you see one of these machines in action – I’ve watched several YouTube videos now – you wonder if it’s building something from the Jetsons or the Flintstones. Concrete walls are made of curves and shapes that traditional wood-frame houses cannot imitate.
Some consumers, according to the Wall Street Journal, “might be put off by the appearance of 3D printed houses … (which) have horizontal ridges on the outside and some inside walls of the layered printing technique.”
Then again, if you live in your brother-in-law’s basement and still put up offers on a limited number of homes for sale, you might be happy. This would be especially true if the print house were just as strong and secure as any other, and at a better price – something that has yet to be demonstrated.
Utah currently has about 50,000 less homes than it needs to meet demand. Nationally, that deficit is 3.8 million homes, according to the Wall Street Journal. This supply shortage, like any other supply shortage, drives up prices. In Salt Lake County alone, the median home price hit $ 550,000 in the third quarter of this year, up 28% from the same period a year ago, according to the Salt Lake Board of Realtors.
Meanwhile, the United States Chamber of Commerce reports that 92% of entrepreneurs nationwide say they have “moderate to high difficulties” in finding skilled workers, and about the same percentage believe the situation is not. not going to get better anytime soon.
You don’t need a higher math degree to understand that it will be hard to come out of it if we do things the way we always have.
Look at texas
That’s why we need to keep a close watch on Austin, Texas. This is where Lennar Corp. and a tech company called Icon are planning to build a subdivision of 100 3D printed homes, far larger than anything that has been attempted before in this country.
Other companies have printed smaller structures here and there. Some in Europe have built bigger houses. CNN reports that the first printed house in the United States, a modest 1,400-square-foot one-story building, went on sale earlier this year for a list price of $ 299,000. Additionally, a company known as the Palari Group has announced plans to build 15 such homes near Palm Springs, California, starting at $ 595,000 for three bedrooms.
Housing is the # 1 topic in any discussion of Utah’s growth, economy, and workforce. The Salt Lake City-based Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute released a report in October called State of the State Housing Market.
As Katie McKellar of Deseret News reports:
Summit County, which includes Park City, perhaps one of Utah and the West’s top ski resort destinations … remains Utah’s most expensive community. The median selling price of homes there rose from $ 801,274 in 2020 to $ 1.15 million in 2021, an increase of 43.5% in just one year.
It is not shocking. But growth in the rest of the state suggests there may be a market for a printing house.
Katie wrote: “Look south into rural Sevier County, near the Fishlake National Forest and Manti-La Sal National Forest, home to Richfield, Salina and Monroe. Homes aren’t as expensive there, but the area has seen an even higher percentage change in the median home selling price over the same period, from $ 185,000 in 2020 to $ 275,000 in 2021 – an increase of 48.6%, according to the report.
“These regions experienced the highest percentage change in median home selling price among Utah counties with more than 100 sale transactions from January 2020 to June 2020 and from January 2021 to June 2021, the report says. . “
Back to texas
The 100 housing units planned in Texas will test the market value of this technique, without forgetting the durability of the structures.
Videos I have seen show concrete walls reinforced with rebar, which could indicate a high degree of earthquake resistance. Because everything is pre-programmed, the walls are built with window frames and holes for electrical outlets and plumbing already in place. This cuts down on the time contractors would need to install utilities. Also, a minimum crew, some say three people, is needed to oversee the machine, rather than a full complement of construction workers. In addition, little or no construction waste is produced. Printing machines can be assembled on site, eliminating the need to ship through heavy walls or other structures.
And the whole thing, at least according to the press releases, will take much less time than current construction methods.
All of this remains to be seen. If so, future cities might be filled, as the Christian Science Monitor so delicately put it, with “row upon row of ribbons of gray toothpaste-like mortar that have hardened into walls.”
That is, if they can pass housing inspections.
If not, you can be sure that the free market is working in another way to close the gap between housing and the labor shortage.
The future tends not to be as bad as some of us imagine.