CONSTRUCTION: 7% OF GDP

Portugal 2019 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Rita Moura, President of the Plataforma Tecnológica Portuguesa da Construçao (PTPC) and Cluster AEC & Head of R&D Teixeira Duarte Engenharia e Construçoes, S.A, on innovation, competitiveness, and the sector's contribution to employment.

What are some of the ways PTPC & Cluster AEC maximizes innovation and boosts the overall competitiveness of Portugal's construction industry?

In Portugal, people have excellent ICT skills and they must be brought into the construction sphere. PTPC is in talks with other partners in the ICT field to add value to construction. We not only think about the physical part of construction, but also the information one can gain that is connected with infrastructure. We intent to are work with companies in ICT and communications systems and entering into the field of smart structures. It's possible to place sensors to monitor and measure functions and generate information. AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) are extremely relevant in this context. Build environment can collect a great amount of information, and such value addition is crucial to the construction industry. We are doing everything we can to extract the appropriate profit and contribute to society through the use of technology.

How do you work to ensure the best possible synergies between associations, technical institutes, and private players in the construction and infrastructure sector?

We have all of them in our association. PTPC's starting point was major construction companies, though we also rapidly bring in designers, consultants, universities, start-ups, SMEs, and various associations. We look beyond the construction industry and create relationships with companies from other sectors such as ICT companies and their cluster in Portugal. We work with many players also outside the construction sector and many associations and public entities.

How do you boost sustainability in the construction industry to minimize the impact on the environment?

Sustainability is a crucial issue for the construction sector. Our industry is the number-one consumer of natural resources from the outset of any building project, and we are directly or indirectly responsible for around 40% of CO2 emissions because building work and buildings produce a significant amount of CO2. If we do not build in the right way, we will produce even more. We also promote the development of excellent recycling practices because of all the waste created by construction work. Sustainability is not something new for the construction industry; it is part of our DNA. If we want to be competitive, it is essential to make excellent use of natural resources, recycle, minimize waste, and use less energy in construction. We have to be sustainable; this is the number-one issue for the construction industry.

What does the construction sector represent for the national economy in terms of contribution to GDP and employment generation?

It represents about 7% for both GDP and employment; it is extremely important. Although there has been a slowdown in the construction sector in Portugal in the last few years, companies in this sector also work abroad. We have a great deal of internationalization so we can maintain the level of performance of those companies. Now, it appears we are encouraged by the investments we will see in the country in the coming years. Real estate is always an activity promoted by the private sector and private investment, though the construction industry can also develop a great deal of the infrastructure that is needed to support such activities. For example, we will need a new airport to support our tourism industry in the coming years. Furthermore, this is not the only project planned. We need a great deal more of infrastructure, not only to support the tourism sector, but also all economic activities. Many transport mobility issues need to be developed in Portugal; plenty of work must be done in that area as well.

What are the objectives behind PTPC proposed think tank?

We are in the process of developing the idea and are producing a proposal to discuss with the government. Infrastructure development is vital for the country and should be prioritized up to 2030, in some cases beyond that date. We are involving many experts from PTPC & Cluster AEC and the proposal is becoming interesting, including information for potential investors about the value and feasibility of possible projects. We have received a great deal of contributions also from the tourism sector and other sectors, and companies working with us. We will have a summary of our report ready in 2Q2018.

What are your expectations for the performance of Portugal's economy in 2018-2019?

In regard to long-term investments, the infrastructure sector is promising. We have infrastructure needs that perhaps that could be interesting projects for long-term private investment in Portugal. We have a great deal of activity in the real estate sector and prices are booming, mainly in Lisbon and Porto. However, there is also significant potential in tourism in other parts of the country, and we must expand the investment in real estate beyond Lisbon and Porto. The government rightly wants to increase investment in industry in general and such investments are essential because we do not want to have an economy based solely on tourism, but rather a sustainable country that also has industry. Portugal is ready to receive more investment in industry now because we have an excellent transportation network and digital connectivity. Therefore, we should work to attract investments in industry to the country to create a great balance and diversity throughout our economy. The country is prepared for this.

What are some of your top priorities for PTPC in the coming years to continue to support the construction industry's development?

We need to work more with architects because PTPC as managing entity of Cluster AEC leads with architecture, engineering, and construction. We do not have as many architectural companies in PTPC compared to the other disciplines, and we have to work more with them because we have excellent Portuguese architects. Another focus is being up to date in digital technology and having a digital attitude. We need flexible companies that can respond to their clients' needs. This means we have to work with start-ups in a different way to help our companies during this digital transformation. This disruption is both a challenge and an opportunity for our industry and we have to open it up. We are focused on Industry 4.0 and on the circular economy and have to apply all our expertise to this. Universities are working closely with PTPC, which we are also pleased with. We have all the conditions to succeed, including a great country with excellent potential, and are extremely ambitious with our plans.