First, A Message from Vortex Companies CEO, Mike Vellano
We’re excited to announce a new resource for customers and industry colleagues: the #InTheVortex Blog. Authored by the Vortex leadership team, the articles shared on our website blog will cover a variety of topics, including industry updates, ‘state of the industry’ opinions, new regulation and policy news, discussions on new technology and so much more. While we all lead busy lives, having a place to engage with each other and hold an open dialogue is even more important during these unprecedented times—which is why we believe now is the ideal time to launch our new initiative.
Vortex Companies invites you to connect with us as we offer our perspectives on all things relevant to those in our industry. In fact, we recommend you bookmark our #InTheVortex Blog page or subscribe to the email version, so you can check back often, as new articles will be posted every month. Our team looks forward to bringing you rich, informative content that will help keep you ‘in the know’. Thank you in advance for your support, and please enjoy our first article.
COVID-19: Implications on the Water, Sewer & Industrial Infrastructure.
As COVID-19 continues to alter our daily lives, many industries are feeling the impact associated with the stay home orders and social distancing guidelines. Industries like retail, transportation and hospitality are particularly hit hardest—yet across the board, the pandemic is taking its toll on the U.S. economy.
Water and Wastewater Systems Sector Deemed “Essential”
Although some business has come to a halt, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has identified 16 critical infrastructure sectors who are vital to maintaining security, national economic security and/or national public health or safety. Businesses within the Water and Wastewater Systems Sector, like Vortex Companies, have been deemed essential.
The public needs safe drinking water and proper channels to manage and treat wastewater, which is why companies maintaining, repairing and installing water, sewer and industrial infrastructure are considered critical. According to CISA, “There are approximately 153,000 public drinking water systems and more than 16,000 publicly owned wastewater treatment systems in the United States. More than 80 percent of the U.S. population receives their potable water from these drinking water systems, and about 75 percent of the U.S. population has its sanitary sewerage treated by these wastewater systems.”
Industry is Working to Protecting Citizens & Support Critical Services
Clean water is especially vital during this time when the country is attempting to stop the spread of COVID-19. On March 27, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, sent a letter to Governors thanking them for their efforts to protect the health of citizens. He went on to say, “Ensuring that drinking water and wastewater services are fully operational is critical to containing COVID-19 and protecting Americans from other public health risks. Handwashing and cleaning depend on providing safe and reliable drinking water and effective treatment of wastewater.”
Besides the need for clean water for hand hygiene and cleaning regimens the government has recommended for the 300+ million people living in the U.S., water and wastewater systems must also be maintained to work efficiently and not impact critical services like firefighting and healthcare. At this time, our hospitals are at, and in some cases, over capacity. These facilities heavily rely on consistent water and wastewater services. Plus, without the Water and Wastewater Systems Sector at work, construction of new healthcare facilities to serve those affected by COVID-19 would not be possible.
Companies Push Forward to Support Communities’ Critical Infrastructure Needs
Vortex Companies understands the social responsibility associated with staying open during this unprecedented time. We, like many businesses in our industry, recognize the need to stay fully operational so communities across the country can depend on us for the essential repair of their critical infrastructure. While it’s imperative we all do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19, it’s also important to take measures to make certain we can still provide and deliver trenchless infrastructure renewal services and products in a way that is safe for our team and our customers.
Like Many Companies, Vortex is Fully Operational
To that end, Vortex Companies has developed a Business Continuity and Preparedness Plan that outlines the steps we’re taking to keep our organization ready to assist when challenges like leaking pipes, sewer overflows or other issues that affect the health of the community arise. Enacting this plan allows us to maintain business functions including paying our vendors and suppliers, sending customer invoices out, supporting our customers, providing quotes, supporting our customers in the field and paying our employees. The Vortex Health and Safety Team is also connecting with our field crews and business unit leaders on a daily basis, assisting them by providing additional PPE or guidance as needed.
Also, Vortex Companies is now producing our own anti-bacterial soap and hand sanitizer and will begin shipping it to our crews this week. Branded Crew Care™, the hand sanitizer, is the first in a complete line of crew health and safety-related products to be launched. CEO of Vortex Companies, Mike Vellano, stated, “The world will change after this and so will our attitude and behavior toward on-the-job safety preparedness. Crew Care will help support this.”
Impacts of COVID-19 on the Water and Wastewater Systems Sector
While many efforts are underway to ensure businesses in the Water and Wastewater Systems Sector are operating, the reality is, COVID-19 has and will continue to impact the industry. From supply chain bottlenecks and complex across boarder shipments, to raw material shortages and reduced manufacturing capacities, the effects of project cancellations and/or delays are reaching far down to vendors, contractors and subcontractors. Since many companies across the country are closed due to shutdowns, production and shipment of products has stopped and anything in transit is taking longer to arrive as truckers face mounting challenges on road. In addition, the industry’s reliance on foreign suppliers and manufacturers is also influencing project timelines. Most recently, China’s new coronavirus testing procedures are disrupting U.S. air cargo operations out of that region alone, as The Wall Street Journal reports.
While the industry is considered essential and is prepared to work, it is impossible to complete jobs without the necessary equipment, products and material. National Law Review cites these issues will force companies “to find alternative, and likely more expensive, sources of goods and materials which could lead to project cost overruns. These supply chain issues are also likely to cause project delays…”
Just as the lack of goods is impacting the Water and Wastewater Systems Sector, the labor shortage is posing equal challenges. The March Jobs Report revealed 701,000 jobs were lost last month alone, which exacerbated the already severe labor shortage in the industry. There were 279,000 vacant construction jobs in February 2020, according to the U.S. Labor Bureau.
CARES Act Provides Lifeline to Many Business
As we live and work in this uncertain time, the government has taken steps to support American workers and companies. The $2.2 trillion stimulus package, known as the CARES Act, aims to help the U.S. economy recover from the COVID-19 crisis. The funds set aside for business assistance will help contractors and suppliers who need financial help to get through this downturn—this lifeline is critical to many businesses across all industries.
Initial “Phase 4” Infrastructure Bill Discussion Receives Praise
Not long after the CARES Act was signed, President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi turned their attention to our country’s infrastructure, even proposing ideas for a “Phase 4” infrastructure bill. Initial discussion in early April centered around a $25 billion bill to replace aging water and wastewater infrastructure. Bloomberg Law also reported that part of the bill would “help households pay their water and sewer bills.” Since then, attention shifted to focus on extending “Phase 3” programs and resources; however, the original idea sparked interest and praise from people across the country.
Reacting to what President Trump called for in regard to the nation’s infrastructure, Mark Cuban said in a Yahoo! Finance interview: “He’s right, but the question is: How do we do it and what do we do? I don’t think we can just go and do it the old school way of just rebuilding roads and bridges. What we need to look to say [is], ‘Can [we] do a complete reset? What do we need to do going forward?’” Cuban went on to discuss investing in smart infrastructure and the need to “create a foundation for the future.”
What the Future Holds after COVID-19 Pandemic
Now—while interest rates are low and the country has a need to create jobs—would be an ideal time to focus on sustainable infrastructure projects. For example, as water and wastewater systems are being maintained or repaired, why not consider updating them to be more efficient? Installing sensor technology to monitor in real-time, changing the way water is processed to reduce strain on the system and fast tracking the approval of innovative rehabilitation technologies will all improve the way we maintain, detect and protect critical assets which serve the people in communities across our nation.
Although no one wants to live through a pandemic like COVID-19, it has afforded us the opportunity to invest in our infrastructure and should be an element in the government’s ongoing response plan. Five years from now when our industry looks back on these times, our nation will have overcome many hardships but we will have found a silver lining in the deployment of new technologies, the clarity of fresh perspectives and a human connection stronger than any of us can remember.
For more information on how Vortex Companies is ready to assist as an essential business, or if you’re interested in starting a dialogue about the future of the industry, please contact Andrew Gonnella, Executive Vice President, Products.