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On the Road with Randy Reimer: A Q&A Series

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Welcome to On the Road with Randy Reimer, a Q&A series featuring Hamilton Kent’s Director of Sales. Each month we’ll chat with Randy about current news in underground infrastructure and how it affects our customers in the industry.



U.S. President Donald Trump recently released a proposal to invest federal funds and breathe new life into American infrastructure projects. While the plan has many infrastructure industry players feeling hopeful for the future, it has also raised some eyebrows about the $1.5 trillion funding goal — and the actual $200 billion pledged for federal investment.



Is there a silver lining to the cloud of concern surrounding Trump’s infrastructure proposal? Randy Reimer, Hamilton Kent’s Director of Sales, weighs in with his thoughts.



Hamilton Kent: What do you think about the infrastructure funding proposal overall?



Randy Reimer: It all sounds good, but I don't think there's ever been an infrastructure bill that's been funded like this in the past. Trump's infrastructure plan mainly relies on state and local government for funding. If you add it all up, it's only $200 billion in federal funding over 10 years.



The jury's out on whether that can be successful or not. The good news is that they're talking about infrastructure — I think there's a clear understanding throughout the US that infrastructure is critical and needs to be addressed quickly. The sticking point is, where's the money going to come from?



HK: So you think there should be more spend allocated for infrastructure projects?



RR: The needs are there. Every year since as far back as I can remember, American infrastructure has been receiving a very poor grade in terms of its current state of repair and the maintenance that's required to keep everything going. There simply hasn't been enough money spent over the course of the last decade.



The last major infrastructure bill that was above and beyond regular spending was the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (2009). Even that was really just a small amount of money that focused on shovel-ready projects. Those of us who are in the construction and engineering fields recall that at the end of the day, most of those dollars didn't really deal with the big issues — they didn’t deal with the long-term need.



HK: Do your customers have any concerns?



RR: There are concerns that money gets spent unwisely — that when money is released for spending, the correct decisions are not always made. Spending infrastructure money is often more of a political decision, and it's about getting fast results.



When you're talking about infrastructure decisions around fast results, they're often in conflict with long-term decisions for handling real, serious infrastructure problems.



HK: In your opinion, what are the most critical areas of infrastructure that need to be improved?



RR: I think, first of all, bridges. When you read reports on the state of the nation's bridges, a number of them are significantly past their life expectancy.



As for roads and highways, money definitely needs to be invested here. We haven't been keeping up with what's really necessary to maintain our roads and highways.



Another important area of infrastructure investment is separating combined sewers. In the past money has been guaranteed by the federal government, so there should be municipal money there, but municipal and state money is also supported by federal spending.



I think those are three really key areas: bridges, roads, and water and sanitary infrastructure spending.



HK: Is there anything your customers can do to influence a change?



RR: One of the things that our customers are being encouraged to do right now is to present their concerns regarding infrastructure. There's been a lot of encouragement lately for the various industry associations to lobby and petition their state and federal representatives, and those who sit on the various committees, to make their concerns known at that level so that they have input into the process.



HK: Do you think the conversation around infrastructure is at a peak right now, or is there more to be said?



RR: I think there's a lot more to be said. There's a lot of conversation that needs to be held around financing and funding, for sure. There are a lot of unanswered questions around what an infrastructure bill would look like. But the conversation is starting to take place, which is really good. I think from a political standpoint, infrastructure is something that both parties can agree on.



For those of us who are in the business, when it comes to underground water conveyance, we're really optimistic that things can move forward and that some real, meaningful work can be done.



HK: Do you have any advice for your customers or players in the industry, to help them better take advantage of the infrastructure money that’s being spent?



RR: It's important for manufacturers that would be participating in any infrastructure investment to continue to invest in their own business. I think that's really critical.



One of the big problems that exists in our business today is a shortage of labor. It's hard to find people willing to do the physical and detailed work that is required in our industry, so a lot of companies are moving towards automation.



Now more than ever, to be properly positioned to take advantage of the infrastructure money that's going to be spent over the coming 5 to 10 years, companies need to be ready for it. That means investing in new equipment, modern technology, and automation.



HK: Any thoughts on what we can expect going forward?



RR: The bottom line is this is an exciting time in our business.



I remember when I first came to this industry in 2006 and the recession hit. In 2008, housing starts fell off a cliff. I remember being in a meeting and listening to the president of one of our associations talk about how long it was going to take to recover from the last recession and from the significant drop in housing starts.



He told us it wouldn't be until 2017-2018 that we would return to those kinds of levels.



I remember thinking at the time, "How are we going to survive? This is devastating for the business. By the way, why did I get into the business before this happened?"



It turns out that prediction is ringing true, and we are now starting to see volumes that are close to those of 2006 and 2007.



There's a lot of optimism out there right now. People are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, and the smart companies are preparing themselves for more growth as we move forward.