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Taking checkoff to the future

David Robison is 2012 National Ready Mixed Concrete Association Chairman

According to David Robison, the new chairman of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, one of the biggest challenges of the day in building the ready mixed industry back to pre-recession production is finding additional resources to promote the product's benefits. Taking its cue from the National Concrete Masonry Association's efforts to begin a Check-Off Program to promote its products on a national scale, NRMCA has begun exploring the idea for the ready mixed concrete industry, with largely positive reactions from producers around the country.

With competing construction products already implementing such programs (hardwood and softwood, for example), Robison notes that time is of the essence. While NRMCA has not taken an official position on the implementation of a Check-Off Program, in an effort to educate its membership and clear up some misconceptions, past chairman Karl Watson Jr. penned a lengthy letter explaining, point by point, the truths as well as the myths about Check-Off.

“The reactions we have had as we traveled around the country to various industry regional work-plan meetings has been overwhelmingly favorable,” he says. “Unfortunately, we don't always have large groups of people in those meetings, nor do we have the decision makers of companies in those meetings.

“Opposition to Check-Off seems to revolve around the fact that people don't like having other people tell them they have to spend money. Check-Off is not a tax. If approved by the industry, it would be money we're investing in ourselves to promote our product. There is fear of government intervention, which is a valid concern for people to ask about, but in conversations I've had with people in very successful Check-Off Programs—the beef industry comes to mind right away—government intervention is not something you need to worry about. The industry writes the legislation, laying out all of the guidelines of the program, then has a chance to vote in referendum to approve the program before it ever goes into effect. The government's only role is to ensure that the Check-Off Board operates in accordance to the bill the industry drafted and approved.

“There also seems to be concern that this program would diminish the state and national associations, that this program might be deleterious to NRMCA. While the program may change the way our associations receive funding, there are a lot of things the national association does that Check-Off can't do. Check-Off can't lobby, for example. Our government affairs people have been incredibly successful in their lobbying in the last year. But NRMCA could receive funding from Check-Off in the areas of promotion, research and education. Plus, the state associations could benefit from a Check-Off Program, as well. The draft legislation mandates that a large percentage of funds be directed to regional, state and local efforts.

“Our goal is to continue the discussion on this at various events in the coming year, including regional work-plan meetings and national association meeting. Our goal is to bring people together from either side of the debate so that all industry participants have the chance to learn about the program in detail and hear from experts on these programs. The industry may not be ready for this right now, but we at least want to argue against valid objections, not inaccuracies. And if it doesn't proceed, I want someone to give us another idea about how to come up with the money to promote this product.”

Sustainability in all forms

With NRMCA's 7th Annual International Concrete Sustainability Conference just around the corner—May 7–10 in Seattle—all of the latest developments related to design, specifying, manufacturing, testing, construction, maintenance, and research of concrete as they relate to sustainability and life-cycle assessment will be featured and discussed by more than 60 world-renowned experts. One of the keynote speakers at the event is Denis Hayes, president and CEO of Bullitt Foundation, who was the national coordinator of the first Earth Day.

The ever-growing conference typifies what the association has been moving toward for several years—a time when sustainable construction and green buildings will be the norm and not the exception. Other topics covered at the Sustainability Conference will include low-impact development, green concrete, sustainability initiatives, and functional resilience. A complete list of speakers and additional details about the conference are available at www.concretesustainabilityconference.org.

“Conservation of resources has become so much more important in this country, particularly in the areas of oil drilling and the resistance to opening up new drilling opportunities, and has spilled over into the increasing costs of asphalt paving. And that makes concrete a competitive, first-cost product. You can go into almost any pavement situation where asphalt and concrete are designated at similar load ratings, and the cost is essentially the same.”

Robison also mentioned that a series of sustainability education courses are part of the NRMCA's online offerings and are extremely well attended. “Those courses are especially important today because the cost of doing business and cost of travel. They really help companies save money,” he explains. “The online offerings from NRMCA are being increasingly well attended today, if for no other reason for the cost savings. As a result, the association has increased the number and quality of offerings.

“I'll be candid, we as an industry spend a lot more time looking for new markets like green and sustainable building when our business falls off. The ready mixed industry is so closely tied to residential construction that if you look at a graph of housing starts and see it jump from wherever it was in 2007 and to the abrupt fall off that continues today, ready mixed production followed that graph almost to a tee. And we recognize that homebuilding in 2012 is still not going to be at the level it was in the mid-2000s—nor will it be in '13, '14 or '15, if you're reading the same forecasts I am.“

 

Certification advancement

Taking plant certification even beyond the association's highly successful Green Star initiative, in February 2011, NRMCA introduced Sustainable Concrete Plant

Certification (www.nrmca.org/sustainability/certification), which includes quantitative, performance-based metrics to provide producers with specific guidance to assess their production practices and implement sustainability strategies that will ultimately lower their overall footprint.

The Sustainable Plant Certification Program was launched in March of last year, and to date, four plants are certified—three in the U.S. and one in the Middle East. The program has had a slow start. Current economic conditions and lack of awareness from the design community to specify certified plants has hindered the program. NRMCA continues to promote the program both to concrete producers, but more importantly to decision makers who could take the initiatives and specify concrete from NRMCA certified sustainable plants.

To certify, plant personnel will use a document titled “Sustainable Concrete Plant Guidelines,” which rates a plant’s level of sustainability within different credit categories, with the objective of reducing carbon footprint, energy consumption, water use and waste; increasing recycled content; and improving human health and social concerns. The Guidelines were developed through the generous financial support of the RMC Research & Education Foundation.

Since the Green-Star program began in October 2008, more than 290 ready mixed facilities have been certified, and there are currently more than 100 accredited Green-Star Auditors nationally.

 

Staying resilient

Enhanced resilience for community continuity has been elevated to a high priority in the country, to the point where even the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has identified the need for robustness, resourcefulness and recovery as the key elements of resilience. NRMCA, in cooperation with Concrete Joint Sustainability Initiative partners, are conducting a series of regional workshops in April and May to communicate the trends and specific criteria used to design and construct homes and buildings to improve community continuity and resiliency.

The purpose of the workshops is to inform decision makers at the local level on the importance of enhanced resiliency in construction to improve community continuity in the face of disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes and floods. Topics covered include local disaster risk assessment and mitigation, resilient construction methods, FORTIFIED design and construction programs, building code requirements, safe rooms and storm shelters, flood resistant construction and fire resistance.

Concrete has long been recognized as the material of choice for resisting high winds, flying debris and storm surge along with superior fire and earthquake resistance. In addition, with the increased attention to green building, concrete building systems are essential in fortifying a community’s economic vitality and ensuring the safety of its citizens for long-term sustainability. The workshops will conclude with details of disaster-resilient concrete building systems, including cast-in-place, precast, tilt-up, ICFs and masonry. Additional details on and locations of the workshops can be found at www.nrmca.org/resilience.

At the end of 2011, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the U.S. had experienced 14 separate weather-related disasters, each with an economic loss of $1 billion or more, surpassing the record set in 2008. Last year’s losses amounted to $55 billion. More than 576 people lost their lives from tornadoes last year, while more than 3,000 people lose their lives in fires every year. Hundreds more lose their lives in hurricanes and floods. “As a nation, we simply cannot continue to rebuild the same way we have in the past,” Robison explains. “We know now that building stronger, safer homes and buildings can save billions of dollars and hundreds if not thousands of lives each year. And that is what these workshops are about, teaching and rallying communities to construct disaster resilient home and buildings.”

 

Highway Bill waiting game

Robison mentioned that NRMCA's government affairs team has centered on getting a fully funded, multi-year transportation bill in place sooner rather than later. The association stresses that passage of such a bill plays a key role in stimulating the economy, maintaining the nation's global competitiveness, and creating American jobs. As such, NRMCA has orchestrated a coalition of 15 like-minded associations and construction industries to host a rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to emphasize the importance of passing a multi-year, fully funded surface transportation bill and the role it plays in creating jobs and stimulating the economy.

“By bringing workers from all facets of the transportation industry, its suppliers and key legislators together, we will signal to Congress and the White House that America must make transportation job number one,” said Kerri Leininger, NRMCA senior vice president of government and political affairs and a spokesperson for Rally for Roads, a one-day event designed to promote the importance of such legislation.

This second annual event will include members of transportation construction industry associations coming to the nation's capital in the nation's largest transportation funding advocacy rally on Tuesday, March 20. The first rally drew more than 500 supporters last year, and this year's event is expected to double participation.

Back in September 2011, a group of construction materials trade associations—including NRMCA—united in support of the President Obama’s call for more infrastructure investment. Before a joint session of Congress, the president called for a renewed commitment to job creation and economic growth, in part through increased infrastructure spending for road and bridge construction/reconstruction. The speech followed his remarks made in Detroit, where the president said, “We’ve got more than 1 million unemployed construction workers ready to get dirty right now. There is work to be done and there are workers ready to do it.”

“Think about the importance of infrastructure to our country in terms of defense, safety, convenience. The percentage of bridges that are deemed unsafe or failing continues to grow,” adds Robison. “Unless we have adequate appropriations to address these problems, that number is only going to get higher and the cost is only going to get larger. In case you hadn't noticed, there's inflation out in the world today. Everything we buy as a ready mixed company is higher today than it was a year ago. Fuel costs are headed up, tires are getting more expensive, trucks, clothes, sand and gravel, cement, admixtures, everybody needs more money.

“The importance of getting these streets, roads and bridges back to a point that they were 10-15 years ago is so important, as well as building them from our products, which will hopefully last longer than some of them were built with in the past. And the government keeps pushing it back, partially funding it for so long that we've become accustomed to it. People need to get in touch with their representative today on the current vote.

“I don't know whether or not this being an election year will work to our advantage or disadvantage, because there are those who will look at our cause and say, 'You're just looking for more dollars to spend in your industry. You're asking for more government spending on the one hand while calling for spending to be reduced on the other hand.' It's a sticky wicket, in that we have to understand that this is for everybody's good, and that the proper amount of money spent on this today will diminish the number of dollars spent in the future. At a time when people are looking to spend less, people may be less willing to commit to projects like ours in an election year. But maybe the politicians are eager to look like they're doing good for the country, so they might pass the funding.”


Delta Industries, Inc.

For 67 years, Delta Industries, Inc. has been the leader in the ready mixed concrete industry in Mississippi. Delta operates companies such as Jackson Ready-Mix and other local market brands. The company has been aggressive in acquisitions recently and has grown its footprint so that is has a leading role in most markets in Mississippi and South Alabama.

Delta Industries is constantly striving to maintain the high quality of its product and improve its efficiencies in delivery by maintaining a newer fleet of trucks and having an aggressive preventative maintenance program for its batch plants. Delta Industries has 36 active plants located in three states, with more than 160 mixer trucks in its fleet.

Through the years, Delta Industries has always emphasized quality control. Delta's Technical Services Department is run by Les Howell, P.E., who is the company's vice president and chief engineer. Howell maintains two fully equipped laboratories for the company manned by a highly certified staff. He and his team are responsible for insuring that high-quality standards are achieved in concrete production and raw materials.

President & CEO David Robison began his career at Delta Industries in 1971 and spent the majority of his early years in the Ready Mix Concrete Division. In the late 1980s, he was promoted to vice president of Delta and finally to current position in 1995.

Robison says that while there is still some homebuilding activity in his markets, much of it comes from government-funded and -subsidized housing projects. "As a percentage of our work, we have probably done more highway and bridge work, not concrete paving, but more widening, repair work, ditches, barrier walls on interstate highways," he explains. "We've done work on oil refineries along the Gulf Coast, on government housing at some of the military bases, and at NASA over in Hancock County, Mississippi. We've done some Wal-Marts, as well and other general commercial jobs. Wal-Mart actually has some exciting things going on with a new pilot program for six new concrete parking lots. We've had the opportunity to convert asphalt parking lots to concrete paving lately in the Jackson area.

"So even though our production percentages have gone down to the tune of 45 percent because of homebuilding, our percentages in other areas have gone up, especially in the small to medium commercial and highway markets."

Robison believes that when business does eventually take a turn for the better, the more efficient Delta Industries will be a better company. "That's true for most companies that make it through the recession," he thinks. "We have learned that we can operate with a lot less than we thought we had to a few years ago. Unfortunately, some of our cuts have been somewhat painful on the administrative end. Most of the cuts, however, were delivery professionals, where we were running 250–260 trucks, we're down now to about 170–180. Going forward, I think we have all identified that there are levels of overhead that are not necessary, and we can all work a little harder and do without, and maybe cut out some layers so that the guys in the back office are a lot closer to the guys out there making it happen. That's good for all of us."


National Ready Mixed Concrete Association

Since 1930, the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association has been a leading industry advocate "inside the Beltway." Its stated mission is to provide value for members by representing and serving the industry through leadership, promotion, education and partnering to ensure that ready mixed is the building material of choice.

NRMCA represents ready mixed producers and allied businesses. Now in its eighth decade, the group has promoted ready mixed producer interests via tracking and influencing Washington's impact on the industry, developing and implementing product enhancements and market strategies, plus offering employee-training programs.

NRMCA partners with state associations on issues such as promotion and regulatory concerns, extending their influence to a national level. The association also provides education, training, promotion, research, engineering, safety, environmental, technological, lobbying and regulatory programs to enhance industry profitability and professionalism.

NRMCA's Engineering Division staff represents ready mixed concrete interests on industry specifying and standard-setting committees. Moreover, numerous NRMCA committees, e.g., Government Affairs, Operations, Environment and Safety, facilitate collaboration among members and professional staff.

Robert Garbini, P.E., is president of NRMCA, located at 900 Spring St., Silver Spring, MD 20910; 301/587-1400 or 888/84NRMCA; www.nrmca.org.