Martin Koffel, chief executive officer of URS Corp., said the “majority” of about 3,000 workers furloughed during last month’s government shutdown have returned to work.
Closing down the government “creates uncertainty,” Koffel said in an interview after he spoke on a panel at The Year Ahead: 2014, a two-day conference in Chicago hosted by Bloomberg LP. “If the business community feels the government can just autonomously stop, when might it do it again?”
URS, a San Francisco-based provider of engineering and construction services, is one of the largest U.S. government contractors and was among the companies most affected by the federal shutdown. The standstill, which lasted for more than two weeks amid disagreements between the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama, raised concerns that slowed government spending would crimp economic growth.
“There needs to be a pledge to the country by people of all political persuasions, that no matter what disagreements they have they’ll never ever let that happen again,” Koffel said.
URS employees furloughed during the period included those idled by the closing of a government facility where they work, or where URS received directives from U.S. officials to halt operations or cut staffing, the company said at the time.
During a second panel to discuss the future of manufacturing, Koffel said a U.S. manufacturing renaissance is already under way as industry jobs have increased from their low point in 2009. Activity will be further spurred by cheap energy.
“We’re going to have this huge energy advantage,” Koffel said. “It’s already attracting foreign manufacturing because manufacturers, people who make steel and cable and everything else, want to cluster around cheap energy.”
Koffel also cited the U.S.’s gains in productivity and improvement in its cost structure as making it more competitive for manufacturing. Companies are also centralizing their supply chain to reduce risk, which lowers the amount of outsourcing.
“We suffered for years on our wage-cost disadvantage versus China and so on,” he said. “It’s reversing.”