Adventure Express. Whirlwind. Gold Rush. High Roller. Big Dipper. Black Hole. Mind Bender. Nightmare. What do all of these names have in common? Sure, they may be the names of famous roller coasters, but many in the electrical contracting business would probably agree that they also describe the state of the industry during the last few years.

To me, the thrill of riding a roller coaster is tough to beat. As you stand in line, your heart rate begins to rise and your palms begin to sweat. As you slide into the seat your stomach tightens in anticipation of the ride ahead. And when you're finally on your way, you experience a rush of adrenaline as you climb to dizzying heights and fall at extreme speeds — all the while twisting and turning through numerous curves. When the ride is over and you step out of the seat you feel light headed and even a little bit queasy.

Talk to any electrical contractor these days and based on what's transpired in our industry over the last few years, they'll most likely use some of these same expressions to describe their feelings on the overall business climate. Many have stepped off this wild ride looking dazed and confused.

When CEE News began to track the leaders of the electrical contracting industry three years ago, it was with the goal of offering a glimpse at how the big outfits stacked up against each other. As the market has waned, though, the listing has proven to be that much more useful by displaying the strengths and weaknesses of the business. And in looking over the reports from the last few years, it becomes all too clear how cyclical things can be. Take a look at some quotes from past reports.

“The active economy and high rate of employment is keeping everyone busy.” — John Sargent, president, Sargent Electric Co. (June 2000)

“We're coming off a good year…the best ever.” — Walter Parkes, president, O'Connell Electric Co. (June 2001)

“The one word contractors most often used to describe business in 2001 was ‘flat’.” — CEE News (June 2002)

“We are finding that in order to keep people working right now, we're having to look at smaller projects, which means more competition.” — Louis Kinman II, vice president operations, Capital Electric (September 2003)

See what a difference just a few years makes? It's been a real roller coaster ride for the electrical contractor over the last few years. Many companies hit the highest of highs in 2000, and then dropped to depths never before seen in 2002. And all along the way, they've maneuvered through numerous twists and turns to try to keep their business on track. Thrilling? Yes, for those who aren't faint of heart. Terrifying? Absolutely, for those who have fallen by the wayside.

So what does the future hold? I may be a little more optimistic than most, but I believe that business has leveled off and is now moving toward that long slow climb back to the top. Just don't expect this ride to peak to the heights we saw in 2000 any time soon.