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Professional Topography: Recession-proof surveying.

December 22, 2008
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The popular press is printing a lot of advice about how you can insulate yourself from the recession.



The writers often encourage you to get into a business or a profession that some sage person has determined is immune to the recession. If you already work in or own a surveying business, this advice may not seem very useful. But some of the basic principles can still apply. Instead of changing your profession, change the types of businesses you prospect for work. Adapt your products and services to the needs that continue in spite of recession. And find new needs that arise because of the recession.

Recession-Proof Businesses

The following suggestions for surveying businesses are based on the “recession-proof” opportunities I have read about most frequently. Learn what’s going on with these types of businesses in your market area. Then try to determine what needs they might have for surveying, mapping and other services your geospatial information firm can provide.

Health Care. Health services occupations-including medical assistants, home health aides, physical therapists and medical records technicians-account for close to half of the 30 fastest growing occupations. Not all health-care employees can be housed in existing facilities. Start investigating where the new facilities are being planned, built or renovated. See if there’s a way your business services can be the solution to a problem by handling the quick setup of these facilities.

Education. The field of education is often somewhat insulated from a shaky economy, particularly in areas with high population growth rates. Check around. What schools are being planned? If there is no new construction, which schools are being updated, converted to a different use, or gutted and renovated? When there is a growth in schools, don’t forget that other aspects of a school district grow, too, such as school bus storage yards and servicing centers; diagnostic labs for learning disabilities, speech, etc.; facilities for students with physical or mental disabilities; sports complexes; and administrative structures.

Energy. Anything related to alternative and conventional energy sources is likely to grow in the coming years. Even though oil prices have spiked and dropped, exploration for alternative energy sources will continue as the prices start creeping up again. Engineering surveys, leasehold surveys and as-builts for wind farms are on the rise. A typical wind generator is 300 to 400 feet tall at the upper end of the blades. Clearances of all kinds need to be determined for all kinds of reasons including distance from power lines, residences, bird migration paths and aircraft.

But don’t limit yourself to energy exploration and production. There are also opportunities with new and old businesses that are pursuing energy conservation; biofuel generation (which includes more than just ethanol from corn); new developments in insulation, roofing and coatings; and construction of new types of cars or new power sources for cars. Keep an eye on where the market is going with alternative fuels for the internal combustion engine. Will liquefied natural gas become prevalent in your area? If so, then facilities for retail and wholesale distribution will be needed.

Environmental. More communities at the government and corporate levels are becoming proactive about reducing waste, keeping surface waters clean, reducing carbon dioxide and other air pollution, and increasing recycling efforts. As more effort is expended to respond to these environmental threats, new businesses will develop and grow. Pay attention to the types of facilities they will need. If you have GIS capability in your business, figure out if there’s a role for you to play in data collection (preferably periodically) to facilitate the management of pollution, waste or energy consumption.

International Business. Do you have experience working with another language or culture? Are you an expert on another country? America has long ignored exports as a way of generating revenue. At the service level, there is huge scope for exports, as well.

Regardless of the areas you select to concentrate on, remember that new construction may not be the only thing to look for. In fact, limiting yourself to new construction may leave you with no work. Think about the entire process and alternatives for creating new facilities: reconnaissance; planning; assessment for renovation; supporting data to facilitate engineering of a renovation (think of it as a “building interior topo”); as-builts for any type of work; GIS data collection to build a facility management database, determine the level of maintenance needed or construct a maintenance plan; etc.

These are just some suggestions. Perhaps they will jump-start your thinking on how you can address a potential recession-proof need.

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