Tom Agresta is the President of Eclipse Companies LLC, a heavy civil contractor based out of Geauga County, Ohio, just northeast Cleveland and is a female business owned enterprise. They primarily work in the heavy civil market and specialize in earth moving, underground utilities, and demolition. We got Mr. Agresta's take on the top construction trends and how he thinks they'll impact the industry.
How will automated equipment change the industry?
It's basically gonna change everything, and it's all for the positive. As we know, more and more jobs have tighter and tighter tolerances, whether it's grades or with a sewer line or a building pad. Automated equipment can take out that margin of error because computers don’t lie. There's no doubt that there can still be some errors that can happen while you're trying to program a file for a piece of equipment, but there's also checks and balances that are in place for that now to minimize those type of errors. So, what are the errors? It comes down to the bottom line, right? It affects the bottom line. Automated equipment's going to change the bottom line from a global business standpoint, but it's also your production’s standpoint. Every pass of a dozer blade or every scrape with an excavator bucket is time and money that can be saved. It's amazing.
What would be the impact of automated payments?
Taking a step back, when we talk about the payments, it's not just those type of grades that are impacted, it’s their data. There's intelligence that an owner can see, an inspector can see, and obviously, the end users can see. Those files are saved forever, and that way it gives everybody some assurance. It takes the guessing game out of what a contractor gets done. The last thing you wanna do is start debating the quantity of work.
A lot of our work is underground. Nobody sees or appreciates what we do because when you cruise over a highway, nobody realizes how much storm culverts or anything is underneath the ground. On the flip side, it's kind of hard to measure once it's covered. Back in the day, you used to have photographs, but photographs didn't measure anything. It was just a picture. Now you can paint the picture with data and automate your payments. That can really change the end game.
What is the future of supply chain and electronic material ordering?
With technology like HCSS’s, you can know where you're at each and every day. You can know what you've installed for a material type that day, which obviously gives you the delta, the yield of what you've done, and then the delta of what you still need to order. Pretty soon with a click of a button on an app, someone's going to be able to release their very next order. It'll get even more and more simplified, which can impact everything from accounting to management and can even help from a supplier standpoint.
Let's face it, no job is ever coming out where they're gonna give you more time. Obviously, if you go back a couple decades, certain jobs might have allowed you an additional three months. Well, for whatever reason, those time allotments are no longer there. So, when everything else is tighter and tighter, and we have less and less time to work on these jobs, material delays are obviously going to impact something. It's on the contractor to get the equipment, and it’s on us to get the labor force out there, but I can't control my material suppliers. I need to be able to give them as much advance notice as we can.
Technology allows our material men or our vendors to track and watch what we're doing so that they're on top of it too. So, they're not waiting till the last minute to release material. That's never happened to us, right (laughs)? As we know, it does happen sometimes because there’s a human element to it. There's so much going on in construction sites. There's more and more things that we're responsible for. When it comes to supply chain and material ordering, technology is going to be great for catching errors and being proactive.
How do you see data science driving the future?
You're going to have to have data science people if you want to be at least 10 to 20 years ahead of your competition because it truly is everything. Data doesn't lie, right? Whatever goes in, must come out. If it's good data going in, it's going to be good data coming out. If you got bad data, you're gonna have bad data coming out. Data science gets a lot of the guys and gals buying into the industry. Having somebody focusing and crunching that data and being able to manipulate it is key. The way I see data is not the same way you're going to see it, and that's what's great about it. That's what makes it so unique, so dynamic, and that's how it’s going to drive us as an industry.
What does the industry need to do to engage employees more?
I grew up in the industry. As a child to contractors, you grow up in it, you're laboring in the field, and you never really understand what's going on in the office, right? So, once you get to the office, you start understanding all these different aspects and all the different dynamics of what it takes to construct the job, and there's so many variables. Educating guys and gals at a much younger age is so important. If a kid has decided already to take a vocational route, that’s great, but why did he take the vocational route or vice versa? If a kid has chosen not to take the vocational route, why not? That's where our problem is. I think that as freshman and sophomore in high school, we need to tell them that construction isn't what you see rolling down the highway. There's a lot of guys with blood, sweat, and tears out there trying to lay pipe or construct a road, but it's not just that. We’ve got data analysts. We got material vendors, and purchasing agents, and everything else. Starting with high school freshmen and sophomores, we need to educate them on specific aspects of construction. Explain to them that we have these different roles. None of those children would understand that, and that's what I feel we really, really, really need to get to them.
I think administrators fear that if we were to come in there and educate them in ninth and 10th grade that we're gonna steer them away from college. I'm not saying that at all. Go to college. Just know that if you wanna take up business, like my son's going to take up, there's finance in the construction industry too. Construction is viewed as strictly blue collar jobs and, you know, that's not the case. It's just about educating them a little bit earlier, letting them know that, whichever path you choose, construction can be within that path. There's a good living to be made in construction, and at the end of the day, it's not going anywhere.
What impact do you expect environmental practices to have on the industry?
To some of the guys and gals that work in our office, it's probably a thorn in their side when you mention environmental concerns. As an industry, we should be educating everybody on why we're doing it, and it’s not just because there's a law out there for it. What is this helping down the future?
I like to look at it as creative work and as an opportunity instead of looking at it as red tape or one more thing for someone to monitor or one more thing that I can get a violation for. I honestly, truly feel that we need to educate everybody on why it's needed and what we'll all be able to get out of it. We've got one more thing to track, one more thing to monitor, one more thing for someone else to police, but it is what it is, you know? In 10 years, we’ll look back and wonder why everyone was complaining about it. Nobody really likes to change, but we'll get used to it.
Do you have any other points to make on what the future of construction will look like?
The future of construction is all about people. It really, really is, and we obviously just touched on educating them and making sure they know that this is a good living. Technology is only going to help things positively. Construction equipment now is not just this smelly, greasy thing rolling down the road that reeks the diesel fuel. They're pretty nice. Tech can provide the stepping stones for that.