After ConExpo, there is much hope for our industry

April 1, 2020

This column published as "The COVID-19 Crux" in April 2020 issue

I write this two days post-ConExpo, and my energy is returning. 

Before my week in Vegas, lacking any real grasp of just how swiftly this COVID-19 situation would evolve, I must admit I was not terribly concerned with its potential effects on our industry, and to some measure, ConExpo reinforced that perspective.

There was much banter and brouhaha regarding last-minute cancellations and thin showings for the expo, the most notable of which, I suppose, were Volvo and then, shortly on their heels, Cargill. There were patches of empty carpeting in every hall. Attendance was down a bit—not an alarming amount, but enough to notice. We all had a jolly time playing up the mild absurdity of substituting an elbow bump for a handshake. A few guys even played around with the notion of using a Vulcan greeting. (I went with a peace sign, which folks seemed to find disarming and congenial in somewhat equal measure.)

Yet other than the occasional observance of a few missteps—e.g., handshake violations—I witnessed a conglomeration of behaviors that, in summary, was tantamount to pure and simple respect. Respect for ourselves and for one another.

I saw the “No offense, just makes sense” theme stumble out of the starting gate, but somehow swiftly make gains at each furlong, a wonderful development I attributed to just how undervalued social awkwardness can be at putting everyone at ease. I saw endless gestures of consideration—people wiping down tables and even the backs of chairs (the part you usually grip to pull your seat out) with antibacterial wipes or sanitizer; coughs disappeared into elbows; sneezes were absorbed in shirt collars; laughter was contained by the back of a hand. When you consider the sheer numbers in attendance, such community level behavior is pretty staggering.

I mean, what did we have? We had attendees equal to the population of a small city (120K, give or take), all on a footprint roughly the size of a college campus. It should have been a petri dish for the development of another kind of “community level event.”

But now less than a week later, my tune has changed. And though there is perhaps little in my role as editor of this publication I could responsibly do other than direct you to the WHO and CDC and your local health care network for resources and advice, I can say this is hitting our industry no differently than any other in the world, and as such, RB will not shy from news of the effects specific to our industry. We will be keeping abreast, to the best of our abilities, with the lightning-swift changes that are being wrought throughout our greater community.

I can otherwise say to you that I feel bolstered by what I witnessed in Las Vegas, and if we can continue to live each day—day by day—with the same demonstration of respect for ourselves and one another, then our industry, even though it’s going to take a hit—there’s no getting around that—will emerge out the other side not only intact but formidable. Prepared. Ready to the task of keeping our road and bridge network alive. 

So chin up and let’s not forget our purpose. 

About The Author: Budzynski is senior managing editor of Roads & Bridges.