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CWJJ Episode 6: Rusty Burroughs

Thursday, May 21- Rusty Burroughs joins the show from NuLine Utility Services and discusses training initiatives in Lousiana.

Episode Transcript:

Jim Schauer:  [0:11] Well, good morning to our LinkedIn Network. With today’s special guest and much dear friend, Rusty Burroughs, CEO of NuLine Utility Services, I have to tell you I’m suddenly craving a little bit of gumbo, some crawfish, maybe a little étouffée, and some smooth jazz music.

[0:31] Can you all guess for our special guest comes from? James, my partner in crime as always, I’m going to give you first guess.

James Cross:  [0:39] Jimmy, thanks for the handoff. It sounds like to me this episode might have a little bit of Cajun flare. Rusty, welcome and good morning. Very glad to have you with us today.

Rusty Burroughs:  [0:52] Good morning. Thank you, guys, for having me.

[0:53] Jimmy: You bet. How are you doing during these crazy quarantine times?

[0:56] Rusty: Man, we’re doing good. We’re doing very good.

[1:02] First let me say this. You guys are officially invited to NOLA, as we refer to it, for some gumbo, fresh seafood, great music as soon as it’s safe to do so.

[1:15] Yes, Cajun people, South Louisiana people are very resilient. We’re used to overcoming great odds, but we are staying safe, observing all the health protocols, really doing well there.

[1:28] I will say this. We’re still working some pretty long hours because we’re obviously considered one of the essential businesses doing infrastructure work. It really has not slowed our production very much. We can talk more about that later.

[1:42] For the most part, we’re kind of at full capacity and just cranking it out, doing well. Everybody’s staying healthy. Kids grandkids, everybody’s doing well.

James:  [1:53] That’s awesome. Jimmy, I didn’t know if you noticed, but today my coffee’s in a travel mug.

[1:59] Jim: I see that.

James:  [2:00] That, and I’m in a different location. You don’t see the arcade games behind me today. I actually traveled to the office in Decatur, Texas, today. I actually see a few people. It’s very strange but very satisfying.

[2:17] I just wanted to throw that in there because I know people are thinking where’s the Galaga game behind him? He’s usually back there playing Golden Tee. No, I’m in office today, so…

[2:28] Jim: I love it.

James:  [2:29] slowly transitioning back. We’re excited to eventually quit talking about COVID‑19.

[2:37] Jim: Ugh, amen.

James:  [2:38] Yeah.

[2:38] Jim: Amen.

[2:39] Rusty: Yes.

[2:40] Jim: I tell you, we touched on it. It’s the cabin fever. It’s the mental fatigue. You know what? Every day we’re getting closer and closer, we’re keeping strong.

[2:54] I have a commitment to you two gentlemen that as soon as this blows over, we’re going to go grab ourselves a little lunch in NOLA. We’ll go to Muriel’s in Jackson Square and kind of decompress.

[3:08] As we get started today, I want to do a real quick intro on Rusty. Rusty, again, is current CEO of NuLine Utility Services out of Louisiana. Rusty is also past VP at Entergy energy. He sits on the LGA, Louisiana Gas Association, Board of Directors, and he is a LSU, Geaux Tigers, graduate.

[3:30] Rusty, did I miss any highlights? Please, if I did, fill us in.

[3:37] Rusty: No, you handled it well. I’ll give one little shout‑out, not only LSU but my Tulane MBA graduate friends and buddies because that was a great group. I did want to give them a little shout‑out, really great group of guys.

[3:54] I will say this. Muriel’s is an excellent choice. Did you know that Muriel’s is haunted?

[4:00] Jim: Rusty, when we had lunch there last time, you were filling me in. I don’t know if you remember that. It was a couple years back, but yeah.

[4:08] Rusty: They have a séance room. They actually call it the pillow room. The best way to do Muriel’s is to go to that room for a short period of time, spend some time there, and listen for otherworld stuff.

James:  [4:25] [laughs]

[4:25] Rusty: Then go enjoy a nice meal, like crawfish and goat cheese crepes, which are fantastic.

James:  [4:33] Ooh, all right. Rusty, tell us why you’re here today.

[4:39] Rusty: Well, a couple things. One, I think we’ll talk a little bit about GASTEC, which is the Gas Training & Education Center in Louisiana. It’s actually a LGA, Louisiana Gas Association, vision for many years.

[4:55] The folks there have not just envisioned it, but there were several efforts to try to get it going. In recent couple of years, they were able to partner with the Joint Emergency Services Training Center, commonly called JESTC, in Louisiana, and that’s managed and run by the State Police.

[5:19] What they do there is, well, they do all kinds of training, obviously. Law enforcement training, first responders, fire folks from all over the state come, EMS folks, obviously, any law enforcement.

[5:35] It’s a really fine facility. They have classrooms, a cafeteria, a hotel facility on site. Because they do first responding tasks and actions in the gas industry with us, we see them out there often. If there’s a fire, fire department, we’ve got to get the gas cut off. Same way HAZMATS for state police, and that kind of thing.

[6:02] It just seemed to be a potential good partnership, so, over a couple of year period, we were able to work out where JESTC has donated land to LGA, like 20‑25 acres at least, and there’s even more space out there than that. Some buildings that they donated to us, and of course labor.

[6:27] Some of their own labor from their folks that work out there, and the use of their classroom facilities. It’s all designed to support gas worker and first responder education and training, because sometimes we do have a common need.

[6:44] What’s unique about this ‑‑ at least in my opinion ‑‑ in the industry is there are a lot of great training centers out there. I know Atmos in Dallas, and [?] Energy has one in New Orleans. They’re all over the place, but this one is designed to serve not just a single utility, but everyone in the state of Louisiana that has anything to do with the gas industry.

[7:13] The other thing that’s a little different is we didn’t go out and try to raise funds, and that kind of thing, because these facilities can cost millions of dollars, especially some of them that are really, really nice facilities, but we’re relying on the goodwill of industry partners, some grants, and a lot of sweat equity.

[7:35] We have had a lot of donations in materials, and in sweat equity, from the JESTC folks, from all the gas utilities in the state, even the municipalities, LGA members, vendors, contractors, everybody has pitched in, and so far, in donations and grants, we’re probably in about $400,000.

[8:01] We have a really good start on it. In phase 1 was our classroom build‑out, and the building that they donated to us basically needed to be totally refurbished, and they provided the labor, and then the material we got through some of the grants that we were able to get. It worked out great.

[8:22] That’s complete. We have the entire gas system, PE, and steel installed, just like a gas city that you guys have seen around the country, and of course, that includes houses. We’ve put a bunch of [?] 11 or 12 leak lines out there for that type of training, locating, finding leaks, troubleshooting.

[8:45] We have houses with meters and appliances. We have a regulator station we can do training on. We have gas fire training pits, which is really interesting when that training is conducted. We have CP points, and of course, many, many props that we use.

[9:03] What we’ve done to this point is, we’ve conducted several, what we call intensive weeks of training, last year. By the way, we actually opened the facility in March of last year. We’ve conducted several intensive weeks of training, and that actually included both the JESTC folks, first responders, and the gas folks.

[9:31] We had some really great turnout. We’re off on our way, I believe. There’s OQ, and OQ is designed to make sure everyone can safely perform a task on a pipeline, whatever that task is, primarily.

[9:58] GASTEC, what we’re doing is trying to take it to a little bit different level, incorporating a lot of hands‑on training. What we’re trying to do is increase the skills and competency and knowledge of folks. OQ is just getting you started, so we’re trying to piggyback off of that.

[10:22] One of the things that you guys [laughs] do every day in your life, one of the things that we’re working on right now, is identifying and developing, [coughs] excuse me, standardized training curriculum.

[10:35] Even though we have done training at LGA for quite a few years, but it’s been mostly vendor, facilitators, and folks that are SMEs in the industry, come in and do the training, but it hasn’t been as consistent as we would like.

[10:54] That’s what we’re trying to accomplish is to get some standardized curriculum so that we have consistent training regardless of who comes for the training, who needs it, and who engages in the training. That’s where we are with Phase 1 right now.

[11:12] Phase 2, if not for COVID‑19, would have started probably towards the very beginning of the year. We were preparing to do that. We have a group, SJB Group, that LGA has hired to manage a facility, and Robert Borne is going to have the predominant responsibility for that. Roberts a 35‑year gas guy, so he’s a great fit.

[11:42] We would have started a little early. We were preparing to, but now we’re on hold until we get past this little COVID thing. Phase 2, what we’ll do is we’ll start incorporating identifying needs for transmission folks because so far, it’s been primarily distribution that we focused on.

[12:05] We’ll begin to secure funding and donations and grants, that kind of thing, and hopefully begin construction. My hope would be that middle or end of the summer, we can begin doing that phase of it.

[12:21] Some of the things in the distribution arena that we train on, as I mentioned before, we do leak training, CP training, regulator station, Gas 101, 102. There’s a lot of things that we do on the distribution side.

[12:41] Some of the things that we’ll continue to build on there would be damage prevention. Our idea is to put more different kinds of pipe in the ground, have people locate them. Go through the whole damage prevention process, creating a CP system [inaudible] with rectifiers and everything.

[13:01] Tapping and stopping, horizontal directional drilling. That’s one that a lot of folks would like to see a good training site in the state for that. Meter installation, measurement regulation, those kinds of things.

[13:17] Jim: Rusty, GASTEC is so impressive. I’ve been filling James in on it for quite some time. I encourage folks to go to the LGA site to dig a little bit deeper into it, but you do have a very “small role” as CEO of a company, NuLine Construct…Excuse me, NuLine Utility Services.

[13:43] In the few minutes we have remaining, can you clue us in a little bit on NuLine, give us a little education on that and some of the things that COVID’s been impacting you on?

[13:54] Rusty: Absolutely. As I mentioned to you guys a little bit before we started, we’re still in a full‑capacity mode in our work because of the infrastructure nature of it. One of the things we’ve had to do is rethink and adjust the way we do business. I know that sounds pretty obvious in this whole COVID environment.

James:  [14:17] We’ve heard that a few times, Rusty, from guests we’ve had over the last few weeks. I think everybody’s rethinking how they’re doing [laughs] business.

[14:23] Rusty: Yes, absolutely. One of the things that most utilities have done, at least in Louisiana, suspended meter and relight functions in [?] tasks so that we’re not entering customer homes. That makes sense.

[14:44] What we’re doing is, instead of doing the complete process of laying main, laying services, installing those, and then coming and setting meters and relighting plot appliances inside the customer home, we’ve stopped the meter and the relight process for now.

[15:04] Now, you just have a riser there. We’ll come back at some point, and we’ll have to catch all these up. That’s one of the things.

[15:13] Field operational challenges and, I guess, I’ll call it risk mitigation. We do have an obligation. We have to protect our employees, our partners that we work with. Meaning, any vendors, our customers, the utility guys we work with, the public.

[15:32] We’ve been doing a great job of social distancing, sanitizing. Our guys in the field understand that they understand how important it is. It’s worked well. Knock on wood, we’ve gotten no one yet that has contracted COVID in our organization.  I don’t [?] know, to my knowledge, anyone that we associate with.

[15:56] Jim: Good.

[15:57] Rusty: That tells me we’re doing a pretty good [laughs] job with that. One of the things that is very different too, we call it “ghost town” streets. As we’re going about working…I’ll use New Orleans, but it’s every place we work, but I’ll use New Orleans as an example. We have crews working there.

[16:17] Our guys, initially, their thought was, “Well, man. Everybody’s going to be home now. It may make it a little more challenging because you’re going to have people all walking around,” but man, I’m telling you. Stay at home in New Orleans literally meant stay in your home.

[16:35] When I’m on a job site, I have a hard time even seeing anyone, any kind of resident, anywhere. Seriously, it is like a ghost town. What that’s meant is minimal traffic, residents not walking around, and has resulted in a little bit smoother operation. I will tell you my personal opinion. Our production has improved somewhat because of that.

[17:04] Those are some of the things, and when we look to the future…Obviously, myself nor anyone can’t really predict. We may get a vaccine at some point and it’s not that much of a worry anymore. We don’t know. What we’re doing, we’re preparing as if we’ll have some level of what we’re doing now.

[17:26] We’re going to try to make sure we keep that culture of social distancing, sanitizing. Let’s make sure we keep doing that until we’re certain, we’re absolutely certain, we’re good to do otherwise.

[17:41] One of the things that we do as a business, and I know most businesses do, and I know I come from a utility background. Something we do well there, contingency planning as a business, the whole business continuity thought process.

[17:57] One of the things that we have always done is plan for the worst and hope for the best. We always think of it as what is the absolute worst thing that can happen in our business or any business?

[18:13] You need to think of it that way and plan as if that’s going to happen so that you’re prepared when it does, and hopefully it won’t. That’s the mantra we’re going to try to keep so that it keeps us on our toes and keeps us well planned.

James:  [18:30] Rusty, I think that’s a good place to stop. Normally we ask for any final words, but I think you knocked it out of the park right there.

[18:38] Jim: Absolutely.

James:  [18:39] We’re all working our plan for the worst right now and hoping for the best here. Rusty, we can’t thank you enough for joining us.

[18:50] I know from a GASTEC standpoint, we’re somebody who believes OQ is the standard, but we expect people to raise the bar. It sounds like what’s going on at GASTEC is very much that.

[19:06] We appreciate your work there and the team involved in that. We look forward to visiting that location and hopefully being part of that.

[19:15] Jimmy, always nice to see you, brother, whatever beach you join us from and whatever given day, it’s always a pleasure.

[19:25] Jim: [inaudible].

James:  [19:25] Guys, I appreciate you so much. As always, if someone you know or you would like to join us on “Coffee with Jim & James,” we’d love to have you. We ask you to reach out to us.

[19:36] Also, be sure to connect with Rusty. You’ll never find him on LinkedIn because it’s not Rusty.

[19:44] Rusty: [laughs]

[19:44] Jim: It’s William.

[19:45] Rusty: It’s William.

James:  [19:47] William Burroughs. We’ll tag him in there, just connect right above, connect with all three of us. Reach out if you have any questions about GASTEC, about NuLine, about EWN. We’ll be happy to make the connection for you.

[20:01] As always, hope everyone has a blessed day. We are blessed in this industry. God bless everyone. Thank you so much.

[20:09] Rusty: Thank you, guys, too. I really appreciate the invite. You guys stay safe as well.

[20:14] Jim: You too, Rusty, look forward to seeing you soon.

[20:16] Rusty: OK, guys. Thank you.

[20:18] Jim: All right.

James:  [20:19] Bye‑bye.

[20:20] Rusty: Bye‑bye.

[20:20] [background music]

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