The Future of Construction – Matt Aston on the Dirt Talk Podcast

Spotting Problems Before They Happen & Finding Opportunities for Growth- The Recipe to GPRS’ Success

The Future of Construction – Matt Aston on the Dirt Talk Podcast

Spotting Problems Before They Happen & Finding Opportunities for Growth- The Recipe to GPRS’ Success

If you would like a glimpse into the future of subsurface mapping, the challenges that the U.S. faces in overhauling its existing above and below ground infrastructure, and how construction site safety is directly linked to technology, click below to listen to GPRS’ President & CEO Matt Aston chart the course for the next 25 years.

Aston joined host Aaron Witt on the Dirt Talk Podcast to talk about the company’s evolution, its astonishing growth, and its future, which is intrinsically tied to the renaissance of U.S. construction, its growing infrastructure expansion & revitalization, and changing utility needs.  

From the get-go, the attitude that catapulted GPRS from a one-man operation in 2001 to its current $160 million, 800-person infrastructure visualization company is apparent, as Aston recounts his decision to leave his corporate financial analyst job and start his own business. The inciting event that led to his walking away from the traditional corporate world is summed up in one phrase…

“I was interested in fixing the flaw, instead of merely cleaning up the mess.”

One could argue that “fixing the flaw” is what led Aston to ground penetrating radar in the first place – the GPR in the company’s name. His father owned a concrete construction company, and Aston gained personal experience of the risk, danger, and damage that can be caused by striking a power line or other embedment in concrete. So, he set out to solve the problem by discovering a safe, efficient way to map the interior of concrete slabs to avoid cutting into rebar, live electrical or other utilities, or a post tension cable.  

“There’s been a shift in the industry in the last 10 years – from reactive to proactive,” he shared with Witt. “It’s been a good shift, increasing the safety performance of contractors all across the country.”

“The biggest challenge of starting this business was creating awareness [about GPR applications for construction]… We’re not looking for treasure. We’re not looking for some archeological artifact. We are using this for the express purpose of damage prevention on construction sites.”

What Aston could not have foreseen in 2001 when he began his one-man safety awareness campaign was that GPR was only the beginning of the technological innovations that could be adapted to help the construction industry operate more safely.

In 2008, the still small six-man concrete scanning company saw its revenue nearly double with a 92% increase. “We didn’t have a market that had more than one person in it. We were still at the bottom end of the curve for creating awareness.”  

The two construction professionals also talked in depth about the project that arguably put GPRS on the map in 2006, Trump Tower, Chicago and its 3,892 individual post tension concrete locates to bring the building’s attachment to a pedestrian bridge up to code.

“I was out there [in Chicago] to help get the job started off… I was reading this book at night. The book was called The E Myth, written by Michael Gerber, and it said the main reason businesses fail – or fail to ever grow – is because the owner spends too much time working inside the business and not enough time working on it,” Aston shared.  

Gerber likened this problem to a bakery with great muffins. If the baker just keeps pumping out more muffins, that is all he has, more muffins. But if he hires someone else to make the muffins while he opens another location, he has a growing business. “That book hit me like a punch in the stomach… I realized I was making muffins with GPR.”

Learn how GPRS is evolving to help its customers build better, here.  

So in early 2007, Aston took himself out of the field and began to focus on scaling the growth of GPRS. That growth happened fast, and a decade later, private equity firms were knocking on his door, looking for a piece of the action.  

“One of the greatest things that happened to GPRS in partnering with private equity is that they really taught us how to do acquisitions… To talk to a competitor and say, ‘How would you feel about joining forces with us?’”

GPRS’ expansion was supercharged. “It was like putting nitrous fuel in our engine,” said the CEO. “We had 200 employees when we partnered with private equity in 2017, and we’re just shy of 800 now in 2024.”

GPRS now has 500 elite, rapid response Project Managers in every major market in the U.S. That’s not bad for a guy whose big dream was to maybe expand as far as Pittsburgh and Chicago.  

However, Aston is characteristically humble when asked how the company has enjoyed so much success. He credits “a phenomenal team of managers… That core team of people we started with is still 90% in place. The credit for the growth goes to that whole team of people who helped me build the business.”  

The interview is wide-ranging and takes you from the early days of the small company through its growth to expand beyond GPR to damage prevention, accurate existing condition as-builts, and facilities & project management, and SiteMap® (patent pending), the new tool GPRS has created to provide it all for their customers to usher them into the future of Intelligently Visualizing The Built World®.  

Witt and Aston also discuss the state of U.S. infrastructure, the ever-changing construction industry and where they see it going, private and public utility mapping, and how GPRS has maintained a 99.87% accuracy rate in utility locating and concrete scanning on over half a million jobs and counting.  

Watch the entire interview on YouTube here.