My recent trip to Las Vegas for the National Ground Water Association Expo-my first big industry show-left me with a great first impression of the industry and a lot to think about.

Each person I met, and there were hundreds, gave me a firm handshake and shared his own take on the state of water drilling. I got friendly smiles from drillers in work clothes and hats, and salesmen in suit jackets.

The sprawling event covered tens of thousands of square feet in the Las Vegas Convention Center with hundreds of exhibitors, from 101 Pipe & Casing to Zonge International. Manufacturers like Schramm and Gefco were all represented, and the National Driller booth was right next to the nice gentlemen from Center Rock Inc. (Thanks for the coozy, guys.) I saw rigs by the dozens, bits, pumps and enough equipment to drill all the way back home to Michigan. 

I talked with a cross section of people across the water well industry and assorted sister industries: company representatives, rig operators, drillers. I spoke with plenty of people from outside the United States: Peru, Chile, Mexico, Canada, to name a few. I spoke with people from far-flung parts of the U.S. (Ever heard of Saipan? Neither had I, but it’s part of the Mariana Islands-a U.S. possession in the Pacific Ocean-near Guam. And you don’t have to drill as far as you might think to get fresh water there.) 

Attendees gave me honest and frank answers to my newbie questions about the industry, its health and future, and what National Driller could do better. 

I heard comments that painted a mixed picture of the drilling industry. We can’t make enough money on drilling alone. It’s all about maintaining existing well stock. People aren’t buying heavy equipment. I can’t sell enough rigs-to Central America and South America. The housing market is in the tank. We can’t shake this recession. The economy’s looking up in 2013. I can’t make business decisions without some certainty-first it’s the election, then the fiscal cliff (which may or may not be averted by the time you read this). 

I heard plenty of optimism and lots of bellyaching about an industry that I bring fresh eyes to. Mainly, I listened. After soaking up a lot of comments, I offer this opinion: Think long and hard about your place in this industry. The days when you could inherit your father’s rig and just drill your way to a decent living are likely gone. This isn’t your father’s industry. It’s not your father’s economy, either. Success today takes a lot of hustle and a healthy dose of creativity. Are you advertising enough? Are you offering the services your customers want and are willing to pay for? Are you ready to learn new skills, expand what you can offer clients?

Drilling is a mature industry. It has parallels to newspapers, where I cut my teeth. Newspapers used to print money. I followed my dream to work with words, and editing at a newspaper allowed me to do that. I wasn’t getting rich, but I made a living. These days, margins have dwindled in that sector, and financial loss and consolidation abound. Sound familiar?

I worried about uncertainty and joined the ranks of the bellyachers.

But, it didn’t help me, and it won’t help you. Soft economy or not, people at the Expo told me there are ways to make a good living in drilling. You need the heart and wits to buckle down and figure out how to do that. If you can’t find those qualities in yourself, my guess is your competitors will be the ones eating your lunch.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a big fan of lunch.

So, I found a way to shift my skills to a slightly different industry: business media. Is it different and a little scary? You bet. But I’m building on what I’m good at and figuring out how to make it work.

It’s a learning experience, one that will continue as long as you see my column in this space.


The Palmer Bit Company item in December’s Geothermal Product Showcase should have said the company’s Diamond Devil PDC bit had a penetration rate of 20 feet every four minutes. National Driller regrets the error.

Jeremy Verdusco, editor

NGWA Gives Drillers, Others Chance to Learn and Network

The National Ground Water Association wrapped up another Expo last month in Las Vegas, and immediately set its eyes on 2013’s show in Nashville, Tenn.

“Excellent business opportunities and strong educational offerings really brought people out in all sectors of our membership,” said NGWA Chief Executive Officer Kevin B. McCray, CAE.

December’s show featured more than 300 exhibitors spread out across tens of thousands of square feet at the Las Vegas Convention Center from Dec. 4-7. Many aspects of the industry were represented, including drill rig and bit manufacturers, casing and pump vendors, and water quality firms.

“In case after case, exhibiting manufacturers said they had a very good Expo,” McCray added. “Many of the workshops were packed, which is another good sign for the groundwater industry.” Workshops covered a range of on-the-job topics from improving well maintenance to groundwater sampling to occupational safety. On the business end, workshop topics included rig appraisals, making sense of financial statements and planning to pass your drilling business to the next generation.

The NGWA lists some of the highlights of 2012 show attendees:

• Attendance climbed 2 percent over 2011.

• Supplier attendance was up 12 percent.

• Attendance by scientists and engineers was up 4 percent.

• The number of well system contractors was up almost 2 percent.

• The number of manufacturers attending edged up slightly to 1,300.

NGWA’s Expo this year moves to Tennessee. It will be held next December at Music City Center-a $623-million convention center in the heart of downtown Nashville.

 “Nashville is really pulling out the stops, and we expect the 2013 Expo to be a great one in one of America’s great cities with some of the newest facilities available,” McCray said.

The NGWA brings together contractors, manufacturers, suppliers, scientists and engineers with the goal of advancing knowledge related to groundwater.  ND