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Seizing Momentum

Recent restructuring of the National Precast Concrete Association (NPCA) reinvigorated the group, and the new chairman wants to sustain that enthusiasm.

TOM KUENNEN

Recent restructuring of the National Precast Concrete Association (NPCA) reinvigorated the group, and the new chairman wants to sustain that enthusiasm. NPCA boasts a new web site, new organization, new focus, a new trade show in 2009, and so many volunteers for its committees that a waiting list has been created.

We've got some real excitement in the organization that I want to build on, says 2007 NPCA Chairman Dan Barbour, who is vice president and general manager of Barbour Concrete Co., Independence, Mo. Members are responding wonderfully to our staff leadership, and I have never seen as much committee participation as we have right now. One of my tasks as chairman is to make sure the committees are shuffled, so to speak, and get new blood in them.

We had over 200 people apply for 150 positions, so the desire to be part of NPCA is phenomenal. The creative juices are flowing. At a time when we are seeing a lot of people move out of associations, for whatever reason, the members of NPCA are stepping up and doing a lot of fine things.

Barbour took the reins of NPCA at its annual business meeting in November 2006. In that capacity, he tells Concrete Products, I want to continue to focus on the structural changes we have made. There is some fine-tuning that needs to be done, including making the markets more aware of our industry. And, we need to build on the policy of our immediate past chairman, Joan Blecha, in educating young people and academia regarding the opportunities for careers in this market. More young people in the industry will help everybody, and that's the goal of the program.

A vehicle for this initiative is the Concrete Industry Management (CIM) Program, in which universities offer a concrete industry-related curriculum. We are actively trying to promote awareness, so the CIM program can grow; and, we can have students understand our industry ahead of time, so we don't have to teach it from scratch, Barbour explains. We want to increase the awareness of this program by any means necessary.

Additionally, Our Education Committee has done a lot of work toward building tools to teach employees in our plants, Barbour reports. Our Product Quality Schools help our members maintain high quality and our fine reputations. Some of these classes are being converted to Spanish so that community can learn what we're all about.

And, we're starting to put together a Master Precaster program that will distinguish individuals with advanced experience and training. They may not have gone to college, but they will be highly experienced in our industry and influential in maintaining quality products. We want to keep those individuals interested and involved, not just come in for a job and then go home.

Separately, NPCA's Educational Foundation has provided educational scholarships to undergraduate students enrolled in a civil engineering and construction-related curriculum. The foundation's philosophy is to introduce the features and benefits of precast products and create a more educated specifying community.

MARKETING PRECAST

While NPCA moves ahead with its educational and certification programs, an ambitious marketing plan is under development. On track for a mid-2007 debut, the plan will highlight for specifiers and users the benefits of precast in general, as individual modules spotlight specific products. The marketing plan has not hit the street yet, Barbour notes. We are refining it to reflect exactly what we want.

This new marketing plan and its modules will be available to individual producer members for customization Û with support by NPCA technical and marketing staffs Û to suit regional markets. Packaged in a DVD case, it will contain a handbook describing what's on the DVD and how to use it.

The marketing package is intended for use by precasters locally, as a brown-bag luncheon presentation targeting specifiers, for example, as well as by NPCA staff at national meetings. According to plan, the kit will include a general video on precast, plus a series of PowerPoint presentations. The content of each presentation module, including templates for handouts on each product type, will reflect the focus of one of NPCA's 17 product task forces.

NEW TRADE SHOW DIRECTION

Since 2003, NPCA has conducted its Manufactured Concrete Products Exposition (MCPX) show in partnership with other trade associations, including the National Concrete Masonry Association, the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute, and the American Concrete Pipe Association. Last year, the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute joined MCPX.

That relationship will continue in Orlando in February 2007 and in Denver in February 2008, after which NPCA will operate on its own in 2009. The new show Û as yet to be officially named Û is scheduled for a February 2009 launch in Phoenix, strongly emphasizing international elements.

The new trade show will replace MCPX and will be completely redesigned, Dan Barbour affirms. A few years ago, Chairman Vernon Wehrung brought an international focus to NPCA. Our outgoing chair, Joan Blecha, continued his vision by sharing her expertise with our counterparts in St. Petersburg, Russia, last spring. We have developed a growing relationship with the British Precast Concrete Federation. And, we will continue to build international relationships as we plan our new trade show, promoting it throughout Europe and Asia, starting with Bauma 2007 in Munich in April. We have had an international presence for a long time, and we have vendors who sell new technologies from overseas. That's why we want to emphasize the international flair and make sure those international exhibitors feel welcome.

Nonetheless, NPCA is not abandoning MCPX over the next two years. We want to make sure Orlando and Denver are the best shows they can be, Barbour asserts, and we are focusing on those and making sure they are off the ground before we focus too much on the new trade show.

Yet, NPCA will pursue a new direction in staging the 2009 exposition. With the new trade show, we are trying to sell precast and promote the products in the construction industry as best we can, Barbour emphasizes. We now are putting its structure together to ensure we accomplish what's best for exhibitors and precast producers, giving everybody what they want.

NEW OVERSEAS TECHNOLOGIES

Since much of the new technology in concrete production is supplied by foreign companies, NPCA is courting the international manufacturing community for these shows. We just built a new batch plant, and the components came from Italy, Barbour observes. We studied all the equipment we could find and chose to go with that manufacturer. We're all trying to find better ways to make higher quality products and make money. Some of the technology we get from Europe gives us the opportunity to weigh our options and do what's best for us.

While higher volume of more consistent product will drive down unit prices, competition from other materials does so as well. Competitive products are driving down our prices, Barbour reports. Plastics, fiberglass and steel all have an impact on unit costs. It's a market-sensitive issue in which our product is competing with less-durable alternatives, so we have to find the best means to make a top-quality product economically in order to compete with those materials. Automation is just one of many ways to compete; another is to educate your workforce and, thus, reduce turnover in your workplace.

Knowledgeable employees making quality product will reduce mistakes and save money, Barbour tells Concrete Products. That's why we are pushing so strongly for NPCA's plant certification program. There are up-front costs involved with certification, but the money you save [eliminating] mistakes, waste and bad product far exceeds the initial costs. And, you will see a payback immediately, certainly with full recovery in the first year, with savings building in following years.

In the coming year, NPCA will focus on education, quality, marketing and developing the new 2009 show. Our members will play a critical role in this effort, through involvement on committees, as members of the board or as part of our Educational Foundation, Barbour affirms. I expect it to be a busy, productive and rewarding year.

BARBOUR CONCRETE CO.

AT-A-GLANCE

More than 50 years ago, Independence, Mo., became home to Barbour Concrete Co. In its infancy, the company offered ornamental concrete picnic sets, birdbaths, and flower urns manufactured in the yard of founders Woody and Pauline Barbour on Winner Road. In the early 1950s, Woody introduced precast steps to the Kansas City-area construction market. With the start-up of the National Precast Concrete Association (NPCA) in 1965, Barbour Concrete became a charter member and has since maintained active membership.

Jim Barbour joined the family business in 1961, after earning a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Kansas and completing military service. In 1963, he introduced production of precast drainage structures; and, in 1969, the company began supplying precast curb inlets, many of which are still in use throughout the Kansas City area and Midwestern region. The company later expanded its production capabilities to include sewer, telephone/telecommunication and power manhole structures, water meters, and gas vaults.

Company leadership in the roles of president and chief operating officer was assumed by Jim after Woody's death in 1971. Noted for his participation in multiple industry initiatives, Jim has held numerous NPCA positions, including past-president in 1969. He received the highest honor presented to individual NPCA members, the Robert E. Yoakum Award, in 1974. Daneen Barbour, Jim's late wife, who joined the business in 1979, also received the Yoakum Award in 1994 for her leadership in promoting the progress of the precast industry.

Jim's son, J. Daniel (Dan) Barbour, began his concrete career in 1987. After earning a bachelor's degree in business administration and obtaining valuable work and management experience outside the family operation, he returned full-time in 1994. That training and experience provided a solid foundation for his current leadership as Barbour Concrete's vice president and general manager. He also has been active in NPCA, serving on the board of directors as well as the executive and other association committees.

In 1995, Barbour Building Systems, LLC (www.barbourbuildings.com) was established, supplying the market for precast pump stations, telecommunication shelters, and modular jail cells.

The product lines of Barbour Concrete continue to evolve in response to local, regional and national demand for precast products suitable for controlling water and erosion and safeguarding the environment. While the company offers many standard products, most components are customized by its design team Û in conjunction with contractors and engineers Û for structures tailored to specific applications. Barbour officials note that years of experience are applied to offer innovative and creative solutions for any situation.
Û www.barbourconcrete.com

NATIONAL PRECAST CONCRETE ASSOCIATION

At-A-Glance

CHAIRMAN
2007

DAN BARBOUR

V.P. and General Manager
Barbour Concrete Co.
Independence, Missouri

IMMEDIATE PAST CHAIRMAN

JOAN BLECHA

President
Hanson Pipe & Products Southeast Inc.
Green Cove Springs, Florida

CHAIRMAN-ELECT (2008)

PHILIP BURKHART

V.P. and General Manager
Utility Concrete Products, LLC, Morris, Illinois

Representing manufacturers of plant-fabricated concrete products and industry suppliers, the National Precast Concrete Association today comprises 1,000-plus members worldwide Û a significant jump from the 75 members at its 1965 inception. The association is dedicated to expanding the use of quality precast by providing industry leadership to cultivate opportunities and by supporting members' success in ways consistent with the public interest.

To that end, NPCA's activities include development of educational seminars; sponsorship of an annual trade show; publication of industry newsletters, plus two magazines targeting the manufactured concrete products industry and specifiers, as well as technical/sales literature; and, operation of a technical services hotline.

Through product committees, the association provides technical and product information. In 2004, NPCA changed its product section structure from general, multi-product committees to specific, single-product committees in two categories: Above Ground and Underground.

The Underground division includes individual committees for grease interceptors, manholes, box culverts, stormwater treatment, septic tanks, pipe, and utility vaults. The Above Ground division includes committees for buildings, retaining and sound walls, and bridges.

NPCA President Ty Gable, C.A.E., has led the association for over a decade. Under his watch, the association has established a team of technical experts; expanded the NPCA Plant Certification Program to more than 300 facilities; cultivated a technical library offering an ever-growing book and video collection; and, developed the largest trade show for the manufactured concrete products industry, MCPX.

NPCA headquarters at 10333 N. Meridian St., Suite 272, Indianapolis, IN 46290, can be contacted by phone: 317/571-9500 or 800/366-7731; fax: 317/571-0041; or, e-mail: Û www.precast.org