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Contracting firms see room to build in Lebanon

  • People attend Project Lebanon 2014, the 19th edition of the International Construction Trade Exhibition for Lebanon & the Middle East in Beirut, Tuesday, June 3, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Lebanese construction and industrial companies showed guarded confidence about the nation’s economic future amid the gleam of new machinery and home fixtures at the Project Lebanon exhibition held at BIEL through Friday.

Thousands of people, ranging from industry insiders to homeowners planning renovations, marveled at the conspicuous display of construction equipment and accessories.

Several companies said that despite the tough economic situation in Lebanon, their firms had weathered the storm and were confident that the coming months would herald an improved financial situation.

“We’re doing OK,” said Mounir Azzi of concrete company Procrete.

A bit of meteorological luck allowed Procrete and other such firms an uncommonly productive winter.

“Usually, in winter we don’t have many projects, because of the weather conditions. This winter, we had many projects going on throughout the season because the season was so mild.”

In the summer months, the company’s work on residential projects and office buildings is fair. “We have reservations for the next two months ahead,” he said. “But previously, we used to have the whole summer reserved.”

To avoid the red during the past year, Procrete has invested in its sales team, he explained, which has produced a positive return. Sales, he said, were better this year than last.

Procrete isn’t the only company that has altered its business model in light of the economic situation.

“We’ve shifted our market toward the outside,” said Mohammad Shmaytilly of Dalal Steel. “We are working in Iraq and Jordan.”

Wissam Hijazi, the CEO of Staunch Machinery, said that exports were what had allowed his company to come out of the past year financially unscathed.

“In Lebanon, if you want to live, you have to think about outside.”

The African market, he said, is particularly hot at the moment. Workers in his Sidon factory are busier than ever manufacturing products ranging from construction machinery to generators.

Still, the Lebanese market is alive and well, Shmaytilly said.

“We’re manufacturing more and more houses, and we have about 700 employees right now,” he said.

Having won valuable construction contracts from the United Nations and the Lebanese Army this year, Shmaytilly said Dalal Steel had improved its manufacturing techniques and its efficiency.

The political stalemate in the country, however, has led some contractors to balk at the prospect of large-scale projects, said Anthony Abdel-Massih, whose company is the exclusive dealer of Volvo construction machinery in Lebanon.

“Now the government is a little bit lost for the moment, so funds are not going straight to the contractors, and they are a bit risk averse,” he said.

While ground is being broken on some large-scale projects in Lebanon, Abdel-Massih said the country was seeing such developments realized on a smaller scale than in years past. Still, Abdel-Massih Trading Company is opening a massive new showroom and has launched new construction products for the Lebanese market.

“We’re trying to be positive and stay optimistic,” he said. “We’re staying on top of the market.”

Samer Halabu of Sibline Building Materials said ample evidence suggested the Lebanese construction market was still going strong.

“In comparison with what’s going on today in Abu Dhabi, I can see more projects going up in Beirut,” he said. “There are more and more cranes, more and more developers investing in Beirut and parts of Mount Lebanon. I’m seeing a lot of sites that have just started.”

“We see opportunities, because we see a market,” he said of Lebanon and the Levant in general. “In Syria, things will calm down, and there will be things for us to do there.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 05, 2014, on page 5.
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Summary

Lebanese construction and industrial companies showed guarded confidence about the nation's economic future amid the gleam of new machinery and home fixtures at the Project Lebanon exhibition held at BIEL through Friday.

Several companies said that despite the tough economic situation in Lebanon, their firms had weathered the storm and were confident that the coming months would herald an improved financial situation.

Still, the Lebanese market is alive and well, Shmaytilly said.

The political stalemate in the country, however, has led some contractors to balk at the prospect of large-scale projects, said Anthony Abdel-Massih, whose company is the exclusive dealer of Volvo construction machinery in Lebanon.

Still, Abdel-Massih Trading Company is opening a massive new showroom and has launched new construction products for the Lebanese market.


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