February 2022 Vol. 77 No. 2

Editor's Log

Editor's Log: A Little Faith

By Robert Carpenter, Editor-in-chief

As is typical of me these days, there never seems to be enough hours in the day. Always one more thing to do, one more mountain to climb. So, it should come as no surprise that I’m actually writing this column in Fort Worth as our staff gears up for the Underground Construction Technology International Conference & Exhibition (UCT). 

The show officially starts on Tuesday, Jan. 25, though there is a plethora of meetings and pre-show events in progress already. UCT is ramping up for what should be an outstanding event. 

I say “outstanding” because since Jan. 1, registration has spiked at amazing levels. The Most Valuable Professional Award, presented jointly by the Underground Construction Technology Association and Underground Construction magazine, has officially sold-out (record attendance). We’re approaching similar numbers (dare I say “pre-Covid 19” numbers) for the Horizontal Directional Drilling Reunion/Annual HDD Hall of Fame which honors industry legends Frank Canon and John Hair. 

And impressively, the renowned UCT Educational Program is outpacing past attendance levels. That’s very encouraging, considering two years of pandemic depression and well-documented challenges with labor shortages, lingering supply chain issues and soaring inflation. 

But through it all, the heart and soul of the underground infrastructure industry are contractors, owners (sewer, water, telecom, electric, energy) and consulting engineers who represent the building blocks for our country’s future. These people know that work has been piling up for years and now, largely due to free-flowing federal dollars in quantities heretofore never seen, many of those projects are kicking off in force. They have tremendous faith in underground markets and to see so many committing to high-level information, education, learning from peers, studiously examining new technology and benefiting from case histories and lessons learned, is extremely gratifying – and what UCT is all about. 

Unfortunately, for many manufacturers, they are not as engaged with their customers. We’ve had several regulars at UCT get the bad news from their superiors that trade shows, with Omicron still around, are just too risky; that it’s been a rough couple of years so they’re going to hold back for a while longer. 

Others are concerned that supply chain issues may keep them from having ample product for markets. Whatever the reason, these manufacturers are conspicuous in their absence. But having faith in the markets is something our contractors and owners have always had and always will. UCT 2022 is proving to be a great example of that. 

In the same vein of faith in the future, this issue includes Underground Construction’s Annual Municipal Survey & Forecast, our exclusive research and evaluation of the municipal markets. Respondents to the Muni Survey displayed unusual and strong confidence in their markets. 

I say unusual because the level of hope and confidence in the market is unprecedented in the 25 years that we’ve been doing this survey. And the best news is that the federal funding bonanza should continue for five years. 

But perhaps the best news for underground infrastructure markets is that COVID-19’s highly contagious Omicron variant, which has been burning through people around the world, is now retreating at similar levels. At press time, Omicron had officially peaked in South Africa and the United Kingdom, as well as other international locations. In the U.S., the first city to be overrun by Omicron, New York City, has also peaked and is seeing cases rapidly dropping. The same thing is beginning to happen in many parts of the country, with expectations for February to be the peak for all of the U.S. 

As contractors go to work spending their new-found funding dollars on critically important infrastructure, concerns over infectious disease will be fading for the first time in quite a while. All experts are pointing to expectations that finally COVID-19 will become endemic – still around, but only showing up in bits and fits and can effectively and expeditiously be dealt with. 

COVID is apparently going the way of the Spanish Flu, chickenpox, measles, malaria and tuberculosis; always a threat but now we’ve learned how to treat these diseases, even if a rare outbreak occurs. We can effectively hold these illnesses at bay each year with vaccination programs and oral medication ready to tackle symptoms. 

The exception to the peaking of Omicron/COVID-19 is that in some Asian countries, such as China, Singapore and Taiwan, Draconian prevention measures to stop the spread of Omicron have been imposed. Because it is so infectious, even at its relatively mild symptoms level, Omicron’s inevitable spread through these areas will be slowed – but not stopped. These regions will get hit by Omicron and they will just be behind the rest of the world in finally escaping the worst of the virus. 

Bottom line, we are now seeing the end of COVID-19 and the beginning of an amazing explosion in work. We have faith in a bright future for the construction, rehabilitation, hardening and replacement projects for the underground infrastructure.

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