January 2024 Vol. 79 No. 1


Outgoing DCA President Ray Swerdfeger stresses significance of local inclusion

By Corinna Hunt, Contributing Editor 

Raymond Swerdfeger always knew he would end up here. 

“My father started this company in 1968, about 55 years ago, K. R. Swerdfeger Construction,” he said. “He’s Keith Ray Swerdfeger and I’m Raymond Keith Swerdfeger, and I always joked with him that when I took over the company that I was just going to change the K and R to an R and K.”

DCA 2023-24 President Raymond Swerdfeger

From a young age, Raymond Swerdfeger would go to work on the weekends with his dad, who taught him how to run and maintain equipment and how to put pipe into the ground. 

“After my freshman year of college, I told him I was going to Mexico for the summer for some summer classes,” Swerdfeger said. “He was saying that I didn’t need to do that; I needed to just get my butt out into the field and get to work, and that I was just going down there to have a good time.  

“Looking back after the fact, he realized that it was a great learning experience for me. I studied Spanish for many years of my life … and I believe it really helped me. I always knew that I would be in this industry, that I would work for the company, and I always wanted to be here and to run the company eventually,” he recalled. 

It’s a dream he realized in 2006, when he took over as company president from his father, who stepped into the role of chairman of the board. Together, they continued to run the company until 2021, when it was bought by Artera Services and Miller Pipeline. 

“We’re in the process right now of integrating into that company with the name and everything, but we’ve been running under its umbrella for the last almost two-and-a-half years,” Swerdfeger said of Miller Pipeline, for which he is considered a regional vice president. 

“I believe what’s already changed will just continue to move forward,” he said. 

Growing up in the family business gave Swerdfeger an opportunity to work closely with his father — and, in a sense, also with the Distribution Contractors Association. Swerdfeger is the outgoing DCA president, and a second-generation president after his father. 

“I have been involved with the DCA since before I was even working full-time, because with a family-owned company, you’re always involved and going to these DCA meetings and conferences — probably for the last 30 years or so,” Swerdfeger said. 

After graduating from Colorado State University, with a degree in construction management in 1995, he joined the family business full time. 

“I’ve really become involved with DCA since then,” he stressed. 

Underground Infrastructure discussed accomplishments, directions of the DCA from 2023 with Swerdfeger. 

UI: What were some of the top priorities for DCA throughout this past year, and where do those stand as 2023 wrapped up? 

Swerdfeger: The top priorities of DCA this year were to continue to work on PSMS, or pipeline safety management systems. This year, PSMS started a pilot program where contractor members participate to assess their own SMS programs in-house.  

API launched this as a third-party assessment pilot for contractors, and it’s really derived from 56 “should-shall” statements included in what is called “A Contractor’s Guide” to pipeline SMS. So that’s one of the priorities, to continue to work on PSMS and start this contractors’ pilot program. 

Another thing we’ve been working on is the Infrastructure Protection Coalition (IPC), which came from the 2021 811 emergency study published by a number of associations. DCA was a big part of this coalition. It looked at studying all the different states and their 811 programs.  

Now, we’re working on the re-engagement of the IPC to focus on recommendations from the study and how we can be a resource to the states looking to improve their system. It’s really in the infancy stage right now but is focused on being state-centric. We’re just getting that kicked off the ground. 

UI: That resource would be available to all 50 states? 

Swerdfeger: This is really diving a little deeper into each state and how this can be a resource to each individually. 

My goal for DCA in 2023 was to really encourage all the membership to get involved at the state levels. DCA does a great job getting engaged at the federal level on things like the pipeline safety reauthorization bill and this 811 emergency study, but my goal is to really dive in deeper.  

We want to encourage state-level involvement in things such as the state-centric IPC and also other areas such as safety and damage prevention initiatives within the states that all the membership may reside.  

I’m actually serving my last term as a Colorado state commissioner on the Underground Damage Preventions Safety Commission, which is the enforcement authority for the One-Call Law in Colorado. Just getting involved in advocating for the industry at the local level, by participating in things like PUC hearings and whatnot that affect the work we do, is extremely important. 

We (DCA) have many members from across the United States. You have mostly underground gas distribution pipeline contractors that work anywhere from California to New York to Florida and everywhere in between. DCA was originally formed many years ago for collective bargaining with the various unions in different states.  

We have union contracts in place to be able to step foot in that state and go to work with rates established, and we have maintained those contracts for the majority of the states across the U.S. That represents approximately 200 contractor members and associate members. DCA can be effective by leveraging the membership to get involved at the state level and therefore helping the industry as a whole. 

UI: As DCA president, what was your biggest area of focus throughout past year? 

Swerdfeger: I would say I’ve both been encouraging this involvement at the state levels and myself, getting involved. I am part of the Infrastructure Protection Coalition, representing the DCA.  

UI: How might that continue in 2024? 

Swerdfeger: We’ve been having meetings with the coalition, and we’re establishing goals and deadlines moving forward. We’re probably going to focus on certain states, what works well, what hasn’t worked well, and provide that information to other states looking to improve their system. Also, how we can encourage them to utilize this information to improve their 811 laws and damage prevention. 

We’re taking some of the recommendations that have come out of the emergency study and looking at how we can encourage those recommendations in each state. That may be something like digital white lining, when calling for locates. It could be mandatory participation by facility owners in the One-Call system. It’s all going to be focused on engaging in things that will improve the 811 law. 

UI: It sounds like it will be fairly subjective, depending on what will work best for each state. 

Swerdfeger: Some states already have a lot of these components in their laws; some may not. There are just subtle differences to every state. Personally, I’d love to see some continuity between states such as how we do our work, how we call for locates, how we protect facilities, etc. 

UI: What challenges has the DCA faced throughout 2023? 

Swerdfeger: One of the major challenges is the budgets of our customers. We’re always focused on our customers, and their budgets may go up and down for different reasons. The other challenge for us and our customers is the push towards renewable energy, towards building up that infrastructure of the underground and overhead electric.  

By doing that it’s really cutting into the budgets of our customers that have both gas and electric. There’s also a pushback on natural gas, and so our biggest challenge right now is maintaining that backlog of work going forward as the industry moves more toward electrification. 

There is a push nationwide for green energy, but a lot of times the debate comes down to a local level. We’re starting to see, even at the city and municipal level, that some places are having natural gas bans, at least for new construction. You’ve already seen that here in Colorado, and I know other places across the United States have seen the same. That’s our biggest challenge right now. 

As we say, if they want to get to a different source of energy or renewable energy, to get from here to there, we still have to use natural gas in the meantime. I believe there’s still a lot of work to be done on the natural gas side; it’s not going away anytime soon. But what the DCA has done is encourage participation to lobby for the use of natural gas and not banning it at local levels.  

Going forward that’s going to be the discussion every day. The majority of the homes in the United States at least have natural gas-fired furnaces, water heaters, some appliances — so when you look at trying to replace those with electric appliances, the cost is just mind-boggling. It’s nothing that could happen overnight. 

UI: Pivoting briefly, I understand you’re a second-generation president after your father. How would you say that might have impacted your presidency, if at all? 

Swerdfeger: My father was president of DCA in 2004. That’s another pretty cool thing about DCA — you get a lot of father-son and other family members going through the board of directors, and so it goes on for generations. 

I don’t know how it impacted my presidency, other than the fact that, of course, my father always encouraged me and other leaders to really get involved. These things I’ve been talking about — getting involved at the local level — that’s also been his thing. My father was a state legislator for a term, and so really encouraging me to be involved has been good. 

UI: Finally, is there anything in particular that the DCA is looking forward to in the new year? 

Swerdfeger: DCA has been working on the implementation of a strategic vision committee on membership, which is really focusing on retention and regaining members who may have left and recruiting and engaging members going forward into the new year and beyond. Along with that, one of the things that has come out of that is a future leaders program, which is to engage upcoming leaders. 

Another part of that was the Leadership Development program. We recently had the first training seminar in Dallas and that was a success. DCA started a marketing campaign of videos that highlight the jobs within the distribution industry. They’re called “Success Looks Like This,” and they take a look at the different jobs that somebody may encounter within the industry. When you’re recruiting people, they can see what a ‘day in the life’ may look like in each one of these jobs. 

UI: As we wrap up, is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers? 

Swerdfeger: I look forward to going to Hawaii for our convention. After the Maui fires, the DCA donated $10,000 from the Lyons Grant to the Maui fire funds. 

It’s been a great year being president of the DCA, but it’s not just one year, right? This has been one of many years that I’ve been involved and many years I’ve been on the board. This is just the pinnacle of the time that I’ve spent as part of the association. 

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