Last Word: A Farewell from Mike Willmets
As I look back over the years and look forward to my retirement as executive director of the North American Society for Trenchless Technology (NASTT), I’d like to share a bit of history and reflection with you.
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I joined NASTT in 1998 as the primary municipal representative for the Region of Ottawa-Carleton in Ottawa, Canada. In 2004, I proudly became the Chair of the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence & Atlantic Chapter and then in 2005, I was equally proudly elected to the NASTT Board of Directors. I have some experience with retiring as I spent four years in the Canadian Army and then after 35 years in infrastructure management, I retired from the City of Ottawa in 2008. By any standards, it was a rather short second retirement as the next day, I started as NASTT’s Executive Director! It has been quite a remarkable experience and indeed an honor; and now after 12 years of service, I am retiring yet again. Hopefully this time it will stick! That doesn’t mean I’m leaving the trenchless industry entirely, as I’m excited for the chance to go back to my volunteer roots helping NASTT wherever I can.
Throughout my nearly five-decade engineering and administration career, I have witnessed tremendous growth in the trenchless industry, along with an ever increasing and welcomed acceptance of the greener approach to utility management. The continuous advancement of new technologies providing operational and analysis benefits are beyond exciting to me. That undoubtedly fuels my passion for promoting the good, if not great, news story that the trenchless industry really is!
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Utility owners, civil engineers, manufacturers and suppliers all understand the need to expand and maintain underground municipal services. This is a major challenge for today’s public works professionals and the communities they serve, especially as existing critical infrastructure reaches the end of its lifecycle. Decades of the “out of sight and out of mind” budgeting approach to infrastructure assets deferred billions of infrastructure dollars for maintenance, replacement and expansion. Even the most proactive municipalities and utilities with responsible planning practices have found it very difficult to secure the necessary funding for renewal or replacement of their delivery and collection systems. Unfortunately, it often takes a crisis to win the needed public and political support to fund these very necessary and indeed critical infrastructure projects.
The NASTT family understands how the science of trenchless has become the mission and vision of our not-for-profit educational society. NASTT turns 30 in 2020 and I like to think that much has been done to enhance the value of membership. Our society was on the cusp of growth back in 2008 when John Hemphill retired and passed the executive director role to me. John laid the foundation for much of what has transpired during my years of service. Some of those highlights include the incredible success and growth of the NASTT No-Dig Show, undoubtedly the best trenchless event on Planet Earth; the launch of our Trenchless Today magazine now in its 10th year of publication; the 2012 start of the complimentary and well attended NASTT webinar program viewed across the world; the founding of the generous Michael Argent Memorial Student Scholarship program that has distributed $245,000 to 56 student chapter members over the past 10 years; the founding of the unique NASTT Municipal and Public Utility Scholarship program in 2013 that provides both full-registration and hotel accommodations to owners in order to attend our No-Dig Show; and lastly, the 2012 creation of the much heralded NASTT Hall of Fame intended to honor the most outstanding contributors to our industry and society.
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I believe that NASTT has steadily advanced primarily due to the off-the-scale volunteerism from the membership and the quality of leadership from our Board of Directors. Our society has been blessed with extraordinary individuals who have served as the Chair, as Officers, as Directors and as committee members contributing countless volunteer hours. Their commitment is truly astonishing and has been an incredible honor for me to witness their professionalism. There is also a vastly important element of financial generosity exhibited by our many loyal sponsors and exhibitors that help pay the bills and in turn, permit the society to expand our educational programs.
Every day for the past 12 years has been an NASTT day for me. Fortunately, I’ve shared those days with the NASTT staff and many valued contracted staff. These are more than just work colleagues, these are my friends! Very little would have been accomplished without their dedication and wisdom. Our progress has been a collective effort shared many remarkable individuals.
The trenchless technology industry and our impactful society are both strong and expanding every year. It is indeed an exciting time to be in trenchless for both the young and the old!
As I pass the baton to the new executive director, Matthew Izzard, it is with bittersweet sentiment that I bid you all adieu. Being your executive director has been the pinnacle of my career and I shall always point to NASTT with great pride.
Michael J. Willmets is the recently retired executive director at NASTT.