March 2019 Vol. 74 No. 3

Rehab Technology

Giacomo (Jack) Conte

EDITOR’S NOTE: NASSCO, now in its 45th year, continues to set standards for the assessment and rehabilitation of underground infrastructure. As the association experiences remarkable growth, this series profiles those who have made significant contributions, and impacted the continued acceptance and growth of trenchless rehabilitation methods. This is a bimonthly installment in a series of articles exploring the history of NASSCO through the eyes of industry leaders.

This month, NASSCO honors Giacomo (Jack) Conte, who grew up literally learning the business from the ground up. As his career progressed, Conte quickly reacted to market opportunities and became a respected innovator and leader within the underground infrastructure industry.

With a name like Giacomo (Jack) Conte you might not expect a guy from the Midwest, but that’s where I proudly got my roots, growing up in Columbus, Ohio, in an iconic all-American family. My stay-at-home mom doted over my brothers and me while our dad worked hard in the family utility construction and land development business. Dad valued family above all else and, along with his two brothers, ran the family business, which my grandfather founded and my cousin Craig owns and operates to this day.

It all began in 1923, shortly before the Great Depression,when my grandfather, Jack Conie Sr., partnered with a gentleman named Thurman Thompson to start Thompson-Conie Construction. In 1966 my father and his brothers acquired Mr. Thompson’s interest in the company, and renamed it Jack Conie & Sons Corp.

As a kid I grew up riding with my dad to work, going out to the open-cut sewer and water line projects. The minute my brother and I turned 13 we had jobs and were expected to work! No country-club childhood. I learned valuable skills in the field, but when I graduated from high school, I wanted to see what else was out there. I enrolled at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, where I got my bachelor’s degree in business administration.

I had worked as an intern with Western Company of North America, an oil and gas well servicing company, and after graduation became a tax account for the organization. I wanted to make it on my own. During my first two years with the company—from 1980 to ‘81—there was a big oil boom and it became the fastest growing company on the New York Stock Exchange. One year later it was the fastest decliner. What an experience.

I learned a lot during my time there, but family called me back. My father became deathly ill with salmonella poisoning on a trip to New York City around 1982, so I returned to Ohio where I planned to work on my MBA at Ohio State, but ended up stepping in for my dad. Utilizing my business degree and financial knowledge, I grew the business from $2 to $12 million in sales very rapidly in one year.

Since other family members were unsure about their future with the company, I decided to start my own business in 1984. I partnered with Gene Rogers to launch The Northwest Conduit Corporation, installing conduits and buried cable for Ameritech and American Electric Power. In 1990 our company was listed as one of INC magazine’s 500 fast-st growing private companies.

In addition to financial success, the company also brought great pride to my family’s heritage. One of the most emotional projects for me was when our company was hired to lower the Ohio Stadium football field when it was undergoing remodeling. My grandfather’s company had installed the structural steel for the stadium back in 1922.

Trenchless exposure

In 1990, we were doing a large-diameter sanitary sewer project in Dublin, Ohio, one of the fastest growing cities in the United States at that time. The city was under an EPA consent decree and was experiencing sewage dumping and overflows into the Scioto River which would eventually end up in downtown Columbus. Upon final completion of the project, the concrete sewer pipe passed an air test, but because of the water flowing through pipe, the city would not accept it. We hired a company to grout the pipe. This was my first exposure to a trenchless technology, and I wanted to know more.

Three months later I was looking through a pamphlet and saw a grout truck that was going to be auctioned off in Virginia. I also read an article in the Columbus Dispatch about a community in central Ohio called Marble Cliff that was having problems with its sewers and had plans to grout. I got on a plane, flew to Virginia, went to the auction and bought the truck for $10,000. I didn’t even know who manufactured the truck until I got it back to Columbus.

Attending an airshow in October 2018, Jack was able to fly a bombing run on a B29 aircraft.

The manufacturer was CUES, so I called them and talked to Wally Huber and “Doc,” asking them how to operate the truck and where I could buy some grout. They said to call Avanti and join NASSCO. That same day I called David Magill at Avanti to discuss my plans to get into the grouting business. He also told me to join NASSCO. I didn’t need to be told three times, so I joined!

Avanti and CUES were extremely helpful in helping me get my truck up and running. We did the project for Marble Cliff and it paid for the truck 100-times over in just a matter of a few weeks. That’s when I knew I was on to something. In about nine months I went from knowing nothing about trenchless technologies to becoming a contractor involved in grouting, CCTV and cleaning.

As I got more involved in trenchless technologies, I also got more involved with NASSCO. I connected with Jim Conklin, who told me I should attend NASSCO’s annual conference in Amelia Island, Fla. I’ll never forget walking in that first time. Talk about family! Everybody in the room sure knew each other, but I knew no one. I sat next to Greg Laszczynski and he was just as friendly as could be. He was a NASSCO Board member, so he showed me the ropes.

Greg Laszczynski and Jack Conte at a 2002 NASSCO meeting.

I already knew about grouting and using CCTV for inspections, because that’s all I had been exposed to. During the conference I took advantage of the vast knowledge in the room and listened intently to every presentation and soaked in all that I could. One of those presentations was by Sal Alberti with American Pipe and Plastics, Inc. who spoke about fold and form PVC. After the conference, I contacted Sal about his NASSCO presentation and it resulted in my company becoming the second licensee of American Pipe and Plastics.

Getting involved

I knew I needed to be as involved as possible with the association, so I volunteered to become chair of NASSCO’s Government Relations Committee. The following year I was asked to run for the Board of Directors, completed my two-year term, then was asked to become an officer, which eventually lead to serving as president for two terms.

Seeing the opportunity in CIPP lining, I learned of a project in Upper Arlington, Ohio, where my family was from. The job involved relining an old clay sewer pipe, with rear easements, that my grandfather had installed 60 years earlier. We bid the job but there was a protest by another contractor due to our lack of experience. I told the City that if I can’t do it right, I’ll dig it all up and re-install a new pipe. The other lining contractor couldn’t make that promise. We got the job, and it was an amazing feeling to know that the host pipe my grandfather installed had been renewed with our new pipe-with- in-a-pipe technology. This was the beginning of Environmental Pipeliners and a great run that I shared with John Olvey.

Back then NASSCO was primarily a contractor’s organization. While the focus is still on contractors today, NASSCO has grown to include municipalities and system owners, professional engineers, manufacturers and suppliers, and others who are involved in underground infrastructure. What amazed me when I first joined NASSCO was how members came together and put their competitive natures aside.

For example, when the EPA proposed a ban on acrylamide grout, Avanti and Insituform both provided a large amount of support and funding to block the initiative. The key point here is that Insituform is a lining company that supported grouting technologies, an alternative to lining in some cases. Both companies were smart enough to know that when threats come at us, our industry must link arms and stand up for what’s right. It made me very proud to be part of NASSCO then, and I look forward to seeing all that this organization has in store for the future.

Today I spend my time with CIPP Corp., where I am a principal and co-founder, along with Bob Peccia and Steve Gearhart, and Zia Systems which I founded with Gary and Larry Rapp. With both companies, it’s been fun to develop new technologies and processes in the CIPP industry to share with others to make them successful. But my most important job and life focus has been, and will always be, my amazing daughters.

Conte last December with his daughters Caroline and Jacqueline—his “pride and joy.”

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