I'm sitting on Clearwater Beach, under an umbrella at the Sand Pearl Resort where a handful of IGNITE 2022 attendees and other event staff are soaking up the last few rays of sunshine that we can before decamping back to our respective places of origin. So many months of planning went into this amazing event that it's hard to comprehend that it's already over.
Over the last few days we heard from internationally acclaimed, best-selling author Andrew Davis keynote, experts in the fields of supply chain, technology, business growth, and more knowledgeable contractors and owners than I could possibly list here. I want to list a few of my key takeaways from the event, but I won't be able to do it justice, nor will my takeaways be a reflection of what might have impacted you the most. Of course, the cure for that is to make sure you are able to attend the next IGNITE Construction Summit.
Potholes, Potholes, Potholes
This isn't something that came up during a specific panel, however, every night during our networking sessions out near the beach, people were discussing it. They were telling each other the different secrets, tricks, tools, or materials that produce the best results. Some guys are purely cut and replace, others have gone all in on the power of infrared, but almost everyone agrees the real problem is the "throw and go" repair jobs that aren't doing anybody any favors. It's something I intend to cover more during 2023, because it seemed to generate so much conversation amongst attendees during unstructured time together.
Agreement Without Consensus
One thing everyone was saying in almost every setting, whether in a panel or on a barstool, is that things have changed a lot, very quickly, and even more change is coming down the pipeline. There was agreement that these changes will reshape what the traditional business models have previously looked like. They agree that new solutions will need to be developed to deal with coming waves of governmental regulation. Almost everyone agrees that sustainable solutions like electrification, hydrogen, or even just highly efficient traditional machines, are net positives.
Despite all this agreement, there is little consensus about what to do with all these changes, or what they will ultimately mean in a material sense. In one panel about materials and supply, a representative from NAPA, Jay Hansen, spoke for the first time to an audience not primarily of highway roadbuilders. He was mater-of-fact, the future will have certain shifts that will force the industry to either evolve or disappear.
The Next Generation is Better Than Reported
I had an extended conversation with a business owner and operator from a northern state who is 21 years old. It made me feel ancient. I spoke with an operations manager from a repair company based out of Florida that is only 23. They were energetic, hopeful, and brimming with ideas. But it wasn't just the young guys themselves, either. The opening night round table discussion was planned as a series of topical questions, one after the other. It was almost immediately coopted by a long time veteran of the industry sharing stories about the success he's had recruiting young people, especially young women, from school based programs. He praised the next generation's potential, he said, "They aren't lazy, they respond to what you invest in them." The future is bright indeed.
Not Just For Looks
This conference was unlike any I've ever been to before in one aspect more than any other. There was a hunger from everyone I spoke with to connect, learn, and engage with the industry. If they had something to share, they were eager to share it. If they were unclear or unknowledgeable about something, they were interested in getting that information from someone who did. Their passion extended beyond the success of their own individual business, but into the community itself. One sealcoat contractor I spoke with said, "One of my competitors is here, and his bids are at every table I sit down to, but we've told each other 'we can still help each other', because there's enough work out there for everyone to take care of their families and their employees. More than enough, actually."
It's this last takeaway that tells me that IGNITE and other annual gatherings for the industry have real value far beyond people getting together to showoff their latest gadgets, or brag about their success. These are educational, truly. I came away from it myself, with a long list of topics, ideas, and concepts that will carry me through the whole year. I, for one, can't wait for NPE coming up next where I will catch up with many of these people again. See you on the road!