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Capacity crisis

Construction capacity heads the list of problems getting Greece ready for the Olympics on time.

Ask any Greek engineer on the ground and he will tell you that the industry is stretched to the limit.

For a relatively small country - at 10M people its population is half Australia's - Greece has plenty of engineers. There are some 66,000 construction related engineers, though figures do not make clear if these are all civils.

But it also has plenty of work.

Construction is booming and its Institute for Economic Studies of the Construction Industry (IOK) estimates that construction's share of Greek gross domestic product will be 16.5% in 2000, rising to more than 20% by Olympics year 2004. The corresponding figure in most countries is below 10%.

Total construction output has risen from £3.9bn in 1997 to £6.7bn last year with public work. An increasing proportion is public works.

Much of this growth has been driven by big infrastructure programmes largely funded by European Union funds.Huge nonOlympic projects are under way.

These include the east-west Egnatia motorway scheme in northern Greece, the Patras, Athens, Thessalonika, Ezoni highway (PATHE) and the upgrading and rebuilding of the similarly routed main north-south railway.

A number of privately funded concession schemes are also going on, including the 2.8km Rion-Antirion bridge in western Greece and the just completed Athens airport which opens this week. Water, sewer and electricity schemes are also being carried out.

'The £2bn Olympic programme is not the largest proportion of the overall work, ' says IOK general director Yannis Yanaros, though he concedes associated infrastructure works add to the whole.

He thinks that despite the boom the industry will find the capacity to cope. 'The International Olympic Committee has in the past expressed fears about capacity.

But we have examined best and worst case scenarios and believe the peak workload will be in 2002 and 2003, with the heaviest in 2003.'

Most difficulties are likely to come from unexpected archeological finds - digging into the ground in Greece almost always produces something - and land expropriation problems, he says.

Employment is likely to rise from 260,000 in 1999 to 350,000 in 2004 but he says there is a large enough pool of labour, supplemented by workers from eastern Europe and the Balkans. On the engineering side, outside firms will find roles as advisors and contractors.

The Greek industry is proud of its own capacities, however, and firms which are Greece based, even if foreign owned, will probably have the best prospects.

Foreign/Greek joint venture tieups are likely.

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