October 2020 Vol. 75 No. 10

Editor's Log

Bright Spots and the MVP is …

Robert Carpenter | Editor-in-Chief

Whatever happened to stability, consistency and prosperity in our industry? These are treacherous times indeed for the underground infrastructure markets. 

We all know about the negative impacts the coronavirus has brought to the workplace. The fallout continues to befuddle market estimates and outlooks. Coupled with political divisiveness, anti-fossil fuel fanaticism and social unrest, getting an accurate handle of market directions seems like nothing more than a crapshoot.

The crash of the oil market and natural gas selling way too cheap in an oversupplied market has been well-documented, but even alternative energy stalwarts like wind power and solar energy have suffered greatly during the pandemic.

The radical – and generally unfounded – attacks on oil and gas pipeline work continue unabated, but other underground infrastructure elements are suffering equally from a plethora of factors. For example, U.S. municipal and government sewer and water infrastructure organizations are expected to lose roughly $27 billion as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. User fees dropped like a rock when retail and manufacturing businesses either shut down or scaled back operations. Combine that with greatly reduced local sales taxes, and it’s easy to see why cities are cutting budgets

With all this facing our markets, it is easy to fall into an attitude of gloom and despair. But, in spite of the worrisome trends, bright spots remain for underground markets.

Underground Construction’s resident expert on utility infrastructure economies, FMI Capital Advisors Managing Director Daniel Shumate, made some excellent observations regarding the condition of underground infrastructure in his column beginning on page 12. As he’s begun to travel the country and interact with utility contractors and owners, Shumate has been encouraged by what he’s learned.

“The general sentiment is positive and optimistic,” said Shumate. “This does not minimize the real challenges that people have faced that contracted the virus or the incredible decisions that owners and managers have made to protect their workforce. It speaks to the resilience of an industry that understands the importance of the work to the daily lives of Americans.

“We have also seen significant efforts in the communication space as the workplace and schools rely on technology more than ever,” Shumate continued. “It is the fiber backbone that makes all of it possible. While the outlook past December of 2020 is foggy for those that rely on public funding, the industry has weathered this storm well.”

It’s tough to know how markets will respond over the last quarter and into 2021. Much is hanging on the outcome of the U.S. presidential election – not only domestically, but around the globe as well.

Will the political pendulum swing too far to the left or right? In short, no matter how elections go in November, our country and the world’s economies have a lot riding on how well and quickly the U.S. market is able to recover.

George Kurz, MVP

One of the greatest pleasures I have each year is to announce the selection of the annual Most Valuable Professional Award. I am thrilled to announce that George Kurz was the unanimous selection by representatives of the Underground Construction Technology Association and Underground Construction magazine.

George is a highly respected engineer residing in Nashville, Tenn. While his work history is diverse and impressive, it has been his dedication to flow monitoring and truly understanding the nature and implications of infiltration and inflow that have drawn the most attention. George is a respected thought leader in these fields.

I first met George in the late ’90s. He was an energetic and enthusiastic engineer that loved the concept of UCT and wanted to get involved in the educational program. Submit a paper, I advised him. That “paper” eventually evolved into a full-scale workshop that he presented along with his good friend Pat Stevens who was equally enthused about flow monitoring and impacts.

George’s involvement with UCT didn’t stop there. When the RehabZone was under development, George was one of the first people to grasp the need and significance of the concept. He was a founding member of the RehabZone Committee and still continues to participate in the event as it approaches its 20th anniversary in 2021. I’ll always remember his sage guidance. “The importance of good, basic, unbiased information presented in a hands-on format is a fabulous opportunity for industry and can’t be underestimated,” he stressed to the committee during one of its formative meetings.

George’s career is a litany of industry accomplishments and sharing of knowledge. He’s always thinking, always developing, always considering a better way to accumulate, absorb and interpret data that can be so important to our industry.

George’s commitment to industry education, as well as his dedication to humanity, is beyond reproach. On behalf of the UCTA and Underground Construction, we are proud to honor this great man.

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