Layoffs, lost revenue follow construction halt

A warm winter this year was good for business at Bill Anskis Co. Inc., a construction firm based in Elysburg, a little more than an hour north of Harrisburg.

Mark Anskis stands outside the closed offices of Bill Anskis Co. Inc., a construction firm based in Elysburg, north of Harrisburg. He is a co-owner of the company, which was founded by his late father, Bill Anskis. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

“We usually don’t get started till April,” said Mark Anskis, a co-owner and secretary/treasurer of the family-owned company named after his late father. “And this year, with the weather, we got out to a good start and jobs were going perfect, no problems at all. And then this hit.”

“This” was the order shutting down state-funded highway construction across Pennsylvania, one of many government steps taken in hopes of slowing spread of the coronavirus. Bill Anskis Co. had to stop bridge-repair work on Interstate 81 in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area.

The company also had to end work on smaller projects, including renovations to a church in Shamokin, Anskis said.

Some business continues, however, under a maintenance contract the company has with a Merck chemical plant in Danville that is still operating, Anskis said. The company also has a contract to perform as-needed emergency bridge repairs on the Pennsylvania Turnpike between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Anskis said, but some confusion remained.

“I don’t know how that’s going to work,” he said.

The company is continuing to pay the seven people who work in its office, though they are now working remotely, Anskis said. But at least 35 field employees headed to the unemployment line on Tuesday, March 17.

“We just have to weather the storm, I guess,” Anskis said. The only thing in his memory that compares to the coronavirus crisis is the partial meltdown in 1979 at Three Mile Island, which sent many Pennsylvanians scrambling for safety.

He said his company is in relatively good financial shape, with money in the bank, a line of credit and some income still coming in from smaller projects. But money is not infinite.

“On our job sites, we have a lot of equipment sitting there doing nothing,” he said. “All that comes down to you’re losing money.”

The U.S. Small Business Administration could be one option if needed, Anskis said. The agency is authorized to make loans of up to $2 million under a declaration that Pennsylvania is a disaster area.

But the company also is hoping to do its part. It has about 500 dust masks that it’s looking to donate to Geisinger Medical Center or to the Boston-area hospital where his daughter works as a dietitian, Anskis said. Massachusetts has been hard hit by the coronavirus.

The best-case scenario for his construction company, he said, is a return to work by late May.

The worst-case scenario is a crisis that curtails the summer construction season, typically the busiest time for contractors and their employees.

“Financially, we’re OK, we’re good,” Anskis said. “But we’ve got to get back to work sooner or later.”

By Joel Berg, editor of BizNewsPA

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