This year is ending on a bright note for some parts of the dredging industry and a more somber note for others.
In the U.S. the Recovery Act (Stimulus) funds have made the year very profitable for navigation dredging and environmental remediation. The dredging industry consists mostly of privately-held companies but the quarterly and annual reports of the few large publicly-traded companies give a good assessment of the industry. Third quarter reports from Great Lakes Dredge & Dock and Orion and a half-year report from Boskalis all show good profits for this year and confidence that 2010 will continue to be good for dredging.
But the sand and gravel mining part of the dredging industry is not doing well due in part to lack of funding for highway construction – a major customer for aggregates. The U.S. 10 percent jobless rate is matched in other countries and is cause for concern. However the construction industry in this country posts a 37 percent jobless rate a fact that was lamented at a construction industry demonstration in Washington D.C. in October. A statistic from the sand and gravel industry puts pit closures at 40 percent.
If the proposed “six-year highway bill” is passed things will get better for the entire construction industry especially sand and gravel producers.
On October 28 construction industry representatives drove idle equipment into Washington D.C. and planted a sea of orange flags in the National Mall to symbolize the 37 percent unemployment rate in the U.S. construction industry. Each flag represented 100 lost jobs.
The Associated Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) and Associated Equipment Distributors (AED) sent orange flags and detailed industry data to every Congressional member as a reminder of the need to enact a multi-year highway bill now to help stem severe job losses in the construction industry.
The AEM instituted their Start Us Up! Campaign in September to pressure Congress to finance highway construction. At the demonstration Congressman James Oberstar (D-MN) House Transportation & Infrastructure committee chairman exhorted the crowd to keep up the pressure on Congress and the Administration to pass the six-year highway construction legislation. Following the rally more than a dozen pieces of idle equipment motored around the mall and Capitol Hill areas and up and down Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues carrying campaign banners and blowing their horns.
Our report on the Western Dredging Association meeting in this issue includes plenty of awards all well-deserved and a great way to reward effort. I am especially gratified by the dedication of the engineering students who won the student paper awards. It was obvious by the expressions on their faces as the awards were announced that this was in the parlance of the young “major”. I wish them all well and hope they continue in their careers in dredging. We need young people!
Visiting the exhibits I found that everyone in the booths had a high level of technical expertise and were very enthusiastic about their products and services. Anyone seeking to learn about the dredging industry should attend a dredging-related conference and ask each exhibitor to explain the products on display. In just a few days they wil get an excellent education in addition to a long list of experts to turn to for information in the future.
The renovation of the San Pedro waterfront by the Port of Los Angeles has a personal significance to me. I was living in San Pedro when I got my first magazine job — on World Dredging magazine whose offices were in the huge echoing vastness of the old ferry building at the foot of sixth street.
With other staff members I would walk along the waterfront to Ports of Call village at lunchtime sometimes eating in the world’s best fish restaurant which was in a building right in the middle of the parking lot.
The ferry building has been a brightly remodeled and interesting museum for years and the waterfront plans provide for a small harbor next to it where tall ships will moor. It is an exciting prospect but I will always cherish my memories of how it was back in the day when I would gaze at the massive ferry-operating equipment and imagine how it was when that was the only way to get to Terminal Island.