Polar opposite

This issue contains the 2009 edition of Underground Construction’s annual horizontal directional drilling survey. This industry-exclusive research always provides an insightful perspective as to the direction and health of this vibrant young industry.

As we reached the halfway point of 2009, I assumed most of the survey comments would be tempered heavily by recession influences, and that attitudes and mind-sets would be equally tempered by dismal economic conditions. I remembered the HDD survey responses in 2002 – 2004 were downright depressing, full of dire predictions and bleak outlooks as to the future of the young industry.

Indeed, it was a time of fundamental change for the HDD industry which contracted to almost half its former size before the market hit bottom. But that change brought new directions and opportunities for those who survived.

That was not lost on the HDD survey respondents this year. Though there were a plethora of concerns and challenges facing the industry – foremost being the economy – most contractors portrayed an attitude of “we’ll survive, the future is still bright and HDD will continue to expand.”

From Texas (“the field is wide open”) to Tennessee (“excellent”) to New York (“ever increasing demand”) to the Midwest (“market is down but already showing signs of improvement”) to the West Coast (“very positive”), the bulk of the survey respondents believe the HDD market is well-positioned to ride out the current recession and continue its diverse and robust growth pattern for many years to come.

I was reminded by how much this industry has matured since the telecom boom/bust. Diversity is now the rule and opportunities abound. I found this brief statement from a Southeast contractor very telling: “We’re just getting started!” The report begins on page XX.


We’re also starting a new ongoing HDD feature on how to improve your bottom line or “rigonomics” as I like to describe it. This month’s topic is an often overlooked tool. A centralizer, when added to the bottom hole assembly and used correctly, provides several benefits that lower the overall cost per foot of an installation. From time to time, we’ll continue to discuss paths to profitability for HDD. Also, at the Underground Construction Technology Conference next January in Tampa, rigonomics will play a large and essential part of the program.

Retired but not forgotten

Dr. Raymond Sterling officially retired in May as the director of the Trenchless Technology Center at Louisiana Tech University. He has managed the center since 1995. He plans on still being involved with research projects on a limited basis.

When the center’s founder, Dr. Tom Iseley, left the university in 1994, the center, despite the university’s best efforts, fell upon hard times. Typical of Ray, he carefully planned his retirement so that the center would be left in good hands. Former associate director Dr. Rob McKim is returning as administrative director and Dr. Erez Allouche, who had served as associate director, was appointed technical director.

For most people, the status of the TTC as a leading trenchless research institute will be how Ray’s tenure is remembered. But to me, Ray’s legacy will always be connected to how he led the center from obscurity and near-death to the prosperous status it enjoys today. When he took over as director, Ray quickly perceived the industry’s needs and politics while recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of the TTC. Then, as was his quiet and efficient manner, he set about establishing a course for the center to become all-inclusive, fundamentally sound and financially secure in its research efforts. Ray’s leadership was not one of a cheerleader; rather, he led by listening, becoming actively involved in the market and then implementing wise policy.

Senior Editor Jeff Griffin profiles the accomplishments at the Trenchless Technology Center under Dr. Sterling’s tenure.

Stay in touch Ray, you’re still needed.

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