For the first time in more than a year professionals in the tunneling and underground construction industry were able to gather for an in-person technical conference and exhibit when the Rapid Excavation and Tunneling Conference (RETC) kicked off in Las Vegas, NV on June 13.
More than 800 industry professionals shook hands, bumped elbows and discussed the hot topics in the industry at Caesars Palace.
“I think it’s absolutely outstanding that we are back together,” said Mike Rispin, the chairman of the UCA, a division of SME. “As well as the industry varied the circumstances and worked with the curves with virtual meetings it is still important to be able to get back to face-to-face content. It is really important for everyone as individuals to move their businesses forward.”
The technical conference from June 13-16 included 21 sessions with 106 papers covering a number of topics including contract practices, design, difficult ground, hard rock tunnel boring machines and tunnels, ground support, international projects, large span tunnels and caverns, future projects, new and innovative technologies, pressurized face tunneling, SEM applications and projects, geotechnical considerations, microtunneling and trenchless tunneling, project planning and risk management and tunnel rehabilitation.
Of course, there were some modifications because of the COVID-19 protocols including socially distanced seating in conference rooms and other events as SME, which organized the conference, adhered to all local, state and federal regulations.
“The quality of the communication is so much higher than the virtual conference,” said Rispin. “The virtual conferences satisfied part, the informational interchange, but the networking aspect was really missing, so we are back.”
This year the exhibit hall was split into two halls to allow for more social distancing. In the two halls 107 companies displayed the best technology in the industry.
The conference marks the first in person conference for SME and for the tunneling and underground construction industry.
On June 15, the UCA hosted its annual breakfast where Rispin assumed the chair position from Bob Goodfellow who was given a T-shirt honoring him as the COVID Chair. Mike Roach, Ted Dowey and Pamela Moran also rotated off the executive committee while Erica Moonin, John Huh, Gabriel Douglas and Moussa Wone joined the UCA Executive Committee.
While the conference marks a return to some level of normalcy for the industry, Rispin said it also marks the start of a bright future for the industry.
“The Industry is very strong,” said Rispin. “The compounded annual growth rate for the industry is forecast to be 7 to 9 percent for the next 8 to 10 years and I think it will actually be higher for much longer. The biggest issue we are going to have is the workforce issues to sustain it. The need, the demand and the funding will be there both domestically and internationally and we have to have the people to sustain it and get the expertise in. The whole deal with the scholarships is really exciting. I spoke with many of them and I think it is a bright future for all of us.“
In a continuing effort to attract students to the industry UCA Young Member Attendance Scholarship were awarded to 30 students, and six students were awarded RETC Attendance Scholarships.
Maksymillian Jasiak, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Carolina Navia Vasquez, Colorado School of Mines, received the RETC Executive Scholarship.