Editor's Log: Running, Stumbling To Progress

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | June 2012, Vol. 67 No. 6

Traditionally, the June issue of Underground Construction carries a large section focused on various equipment utilized in the underground construction industry. I’m pleased to say this issue is no different.

Our exclusive, comprehensive look at available product lines from the top manufacturers for the underground infrastructure market, meticulously compiled by Managing Editor Traci Read, is available here. Our July issue contains a similar section but that focus is on rehabilitation technologies and equipment.

For our country – and most of the world – the economy struggles to recover from a very deep and prolonged recession. The cynic in me wonders who really cares about new equipment (or even used, for that matter), when the economic future, at least for the near-term, is still suspect? It seems only logical (yes, a Mr. Spock quote – what can I say, I’m an old-school Trekkie), that most contractors and even owners with substantial underground infrastructure equipment fleets, would not be predisposed to purchase much new or used equipment until they believe the economy is on solid ground.

Starting in 2008, the world’s economy began to slip and by the end of 2009 it had completely tanked into the Great Recession, dragging some of the underground construction work to a standstill. Funding for all but essential public works projects went away overnight. Sewer and water projects, the red-headed step child compared to other public infrastructure anyway, suffered crippling blows to already inadequate budgets. It has been well-documented how underfunded and overtaxed our sewer and water systems were before the recession. I estimate the last three years have seen the funding gap between needs and spending more than double.

But when looking outside the underground public works market, the economic dynamic is radically different for the energy and telecommunications markets. In fact, those markets are so strong that skilled labor shortages – even in a recession – are actually inhibiting growth.