Slowdown Prompts Omaha Contractor To Explore Geothermal

March 2011, Vol. 66 No. 3

Growth in ground source heat pump systems hold promise for steady work and additional income. It’s a situation that all too many installation contractors throughout the country have likely experienced firsthand.

The recent economic downturn is the most dramatic this nation has seen since the Great depression. It left the construction industry in peri, and the vast majority of contractors struggling. But Rick Schmitt refused to go down without a fight.

Schmitt founded NEBCON in January 1998, at the height of the fiber explosion and was able to weather that storm as well by making some adjustments, exploring new services and expanding his company’s expertise after the bottom dropped out of the fiber installation market in early 2000s. As a result of his receptiveness to trying new things and a great sense of determination and resilience, NEBCON has enjoyed steady growth over the years and currently has 14 employees. Schmitt is proud of the track record established by NEBCON for putting quality ahead of quantity and taking things one step at a time.

In 2009 -- less than a decade after the fiber bust -- Schmitt found himself in a similar predicament and facing a similar set of challenges.

“After the economy went haywire, we experienced a downturn in our current market with the types of installations we had been doing in our area, so I started studying about ground source heat pump (GSHP) systems,” Schmitt says. “We looked at several other markets and did a lot of research before settling in on ground source heat pump loop installations or what is commonly referred to as geothermal. There seemed to be a lot going on with it -- a lot of momentum -- and I felt there was tremendous opportunity and promising potential for growth.”

Schmitt turned to HVAC contractors, ground source heat pump suppliers and equipment manufacturers to gather information about the market. He discovered there were many similarities with ground source heat pump installations and the experience in horizontal directional drilling (HDD) honed by NEBCON during the company’s 13-year history.

“With so many people looking at green technology in the world, a lot of people see it [GSHP] as the right thing to do,” Schmitt says. “The more consumers learn about it, the more receptive they are to making the additional investment in this renewable form of heating and cooling. Ultimately, I think the catalyst that will make this thing explode will be the realization that although the systems may cost more to install initially, over the long haul, they eventually pay for themselves.”