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Notes from Conexpo/ConAgg; Dredger of the Year!

Construction industry leaders are concerned that this vital industry is not attracting enough young people. With an average age in the 50's, they are wondering who will take over when all the generation retires.

On a cultural level, this was evident at the opening ceremonies of CONEXPO/CONAGG 08. There was a preponderance of graying heads (myself included) in the Las Vegas Convention Center parking lot, where a rock and roll band played on an oversized stage, attracting the crowd to the area for introduction of leaders of sponsoring organizations and welcoming remarks. After the dignitaries departed, the band struck up a Rolling Stones medley, and most us started dancing to the music of our youth, a sure sign that though the construction industry is getting up there in age, the members remain young in spirit.

To attract young people to the industry, a Construction Challenge was issued to high schools, charging them with accomplishing certain tasks using remotely controlled devices. The contest area was set up in the lobby and was constantly ringed with interested spectators. The high school teams brought their little vehicles and set them to picking up objects in one place and putting them down in another, and negotiating a track with hills and bridges and other obstacles.

I asked one young man if he intended to go into construction, and he said he had no plans to do so, he was just interested in this project. But this contest brought hundreds of teenagers - boys and girls -- to the conference, and they were enthusiastic about their projects. All around them at the show, the opportunities in automation and computer control were evident, and some of these talented people should be drawn into the industry this way.

The conference itself was about 20 percent bigger than last year, and I kept asking myself "what recession?"
But that was in March, and the diesel fuel prices were well into their upward spiral, topping $4 per gallon by August. Dredges require a lot of power. Searching my archives, I found an article from July, 2001 reporting on a paper by Graham Addie of GIW.

A large dredge pump may consume more than $100 worth of fuel per hour, and a five percent difference in efficiency is significant, he said. He was talking about ensuring proper operation of the pump. But if a five percent operating efficiency is vital, how much more vital is a tripling or quadrupling of fuel prices?

Sand and gravel producers are turning to electric power for relief from unreliable fuel prices, and our article on page 6 "Producers Are Converting to Electric Power In the Face of High Diesel Prices" tells how this is done.

For a quick view of Conexpo-ConAgg08, see our center spread on page 16 and 17. These photos were hard won by Gail Blinde and me. An exhibit area that covers several square miles is a fine thing to see, but to walk from end to end attempting to see everyone is another story, even with comfortable shoes.

The press room was a welcome and much-used amenity, as it provided drinks and coffee all day to the working press, and best of all - lunch. Pat Monroe of the Associated Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) is a press professional herself, and was charged with taking care of us, which she did with great skill and insight. Editors and writers in the trade press can be seen with their notebooks and huge bags containing cameras, recorders and other necessities required when it’s necessary to be ready to grab stories on the spot. The relief of being able to put this bag down and sit on a couch drinking a free cup of coffee is beyond belief.

Gail and I were very happy every day to join the other reporters who sat, bags at their feet, eating lunch and explaining the esoteric topics they wrote about - cranes, recycling, power, dredging.

DREDGER OF THE YEAR
Segue to June and the Western Dredging Association annual meeting in St. Louis. My report on this event will appear in the next issue, but I must take the opportunity to thank Larry Patella, Bill Hanson and the WEDA organization for naming me the 2008 Dredger of the Year. This award is presented to a person who is judged to have given significantly to the organization and to the dredging industry, and has been given to many outstanding people over the years, beginning with George Watts in San Diego in 1993.

The plaque outlined my 27 years of producing this magazine for the industry, named some of the important stories covered, and focused on the reporting on WEDA events that has appeared over the years and remains archived.

It has been a difficult but rewarding 27 years. I said when I started the magazine in 1981 that I will continue to publish it as long as the industry supports it, and that remains true. With your help, my great staff and I will continue to give you our best efforts in years to come.

Judith Powers
Editor

See our September/October issue for coverage and pictures of the 2008 Western Dredging Association meeting.

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