Owner Profile: Matt Crawford – WithersRavenel

Owner Profile: Matt Crawford

Owner Profile: Matt Crawford

As WithersRavenel’s Director of Geomatics, Matt Crawford works with surveyors and projects in the Triangle and across the state. But his life extends far beyond his roles as a 44-year surveyor, manager and one of more than 300 WithersRavenel employee-owners. Matt is a bass guitar player, a world traveler and a proud cat person. Let’s get to know more about Matt in his Owner Profile.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Mostly coordinating department efforts with our different group directors and project managers. I’ll also help with proposals, organizational tasks, strategic planning and other responsibilities.

Do you miss being in the field surveying?

I do, but that was a lot of years ago. I’d probably never be able to keep up with the kids these days – I say kids because they’re younger than me. But there were very memorable years and memorable moments being out in the field. And I’ve enjoyed all the folks with whom I’ve worked.  Without the people in surveying, we wouldn’t have stories to tell!

Tell us about a favorite survey project you’ve worked on during your career.

There’s really so many over 44 years. One of the most memorable though from a technical point of view was doing detailed measurements of the 50-ton crane rails inside the Century Aluminum (formerly Aluminax) plant in Goose Creek, S.C. They were having trouble with their crane wheels’ housing cracking from carrying big pots of molten aluminum from the smelting lines into where they cast the molds for several ton ingots of aluminum. We had to get up on the rails, and it was about 150 degrees in that building, crawl down the rails with sensing equipment, and measure the rails to see if they were out of alignment. The rails were about a mile and a half long, and we were about 90 feet up in the air. And they also had these elevator pits where they would extrude the aluminum ingots. They were having problems with the 50-foot-long ingots coming out crooked. So we had to ride the elevators down into the pits and measure the alignment of those rails also. We were up in the heat, then down in the cold pits.

And, of course, all the work with WR with the new technology, UAS, LiDAR and aerial photography is really interesting.

How has technology changed the surveying profession from when you started?

With surveying, no matter what the technology does or how much it advances, we have to maintain basic surveying principles. Establish good control, tie-in to good control, check ourselves, check our control, check the quality of our work. All these principles that have been around since before the Egyptians; we have to pay attention to our basics. The technology you would think makes things easier, but sometimes it can be more complicated.

For example, GPS is great stuff, you can put up a receiver in a few seconds and determine your position on the face of the Earth, at least where it thinks you are. But the challenge that goes with it, there are a lot of things that affect GPS. Are you next to a building? Are you under trees? Are all the satellites in one side of the sky instead of spread out? Are you getting bad geometry from the satellites? Is there interference coming from the atmosphere? Space junk floating around, messing you up? It’s basically a radio transmission system, so it’s not a simple solution for anything with GPS. And we’re trying to survey with it. So you have to understand your basic surveying principles, and also understand GPS and what your limitations are. Then you take GPS and put it on top of a drone, and you have more potential complications in addition to a lot of opportunities for greater data. But you have to understand the technologies, and you have to understand the how and why of the data.

We have lots of neat technology, but it all comes down to understanding the basics of what the specific technology can and can’t do. Every piece of technology we have – our instruments, robots, drones, our GPS units – they’re all tools in our toolkit. No single one of them is the answer for everything. We have to know when to use each one as it’s appropriate, as it fits the job, as it will be successful.

Bonus questions

What is this about you picking up guitar-playing?

I fumble with the bass guitar. I have always in my life tuned into the bass spectrum of music, from back to when I was in church listening to the music and singing in choirs. I picked up the bass in high school and actually played with a band for one song in public at an art show. And that felt good. But I never had a chance to play with people on a real musical level until I was given a bass guitar about 12-15 years ago by my sister. I started to practice with it, started to play with people and put together a garage band (named “3,” as all three members were surveyors). Still never played in public or had a gig, but we’ve been playing together for seven to eight years. We’re just 50-, 60-year-old neighbor disturbers. I did get to play with the Carolina SoulMates until COVID hit. They are a country/R&B/Motown group out of Benson. I was their bass player for four to five months, when we were practicing for a show. By the time I left, they hadn’t had the show yet. But I’m always looking for someone to play with.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

One of my passions is to travel. I’ve been to England, Mexico several times, to Canada. My wife and I went to Thailand and Cambodia several years ago, that was an incredible trip. I think if I could go anywhere, I would go to Italy, Spain … go to New Zealand and Australia. I’d just like to travel all over Europe. I don’t want to go on organized trips, I want to go someplace to a roadside café and soak in the atmosphere. To go eat and drink across a country. Be a fly on the wall and watch the culture.

Your cats are frequent attendees at virtual meetings. Tell us about your cats.

I don’t mind saying that I’m a cat person. It’s a really unique person that can gain the trust of a cat. My wife and I have had cats since we’ve been married, so more than 30 years. We’ve probably had 15 or 20. Right now, I have the last of my parents’ six cats, his name is Teddy, he’s 19 years old. He’s deaf. We have roofers on the house now, the other two cats are hiding. But Teddy can’t hear them, he doesn’t give a damn, he’s oblivious to the noise. And then we have two kittens we got two years ago thinking Teddy was on his last leg, but Teddy is soldiering on – the kittens are tearing him up and he is having a great time. The young cats are John Tobias (called Toby), named after my wife’s father; and Jesse Reece (called Reece), after one of my wife’s aunts. They are siblings.

Foreground: Teddy. Middle: Reece. Back: Toby.

Do you have some pictures of your cats that you can share?

You’re going to propagate my old cat-lady persona, aren’t you?