Geneva Pipe Company's Vince Bussio Chairs American Concrete Pipe Association
At a time when all arenas of the building industry are working with bare bones staff and resources to keep their collective heads above water because of the lagging economy, newly elected American Concrete Pipe Association Chairman Vince Bussio of Geneva Pipe Company credits the group's president, Matt Childs, and his team with managing the budget so effectively that membership numbers are growing and a dues increase was recently passed.
“We had a budget freeze, but we were able to grow the staff size over the last couple of years without increasing dues,” says Bussio. “One of the things I'm very proud of is that the majority of the dues go toward programs. A lot of associations get top heavy, so dues go to salaries, but with ACPA, most goes to programs for members. We've had a nice-sized rainy-day fund that we haven't had to tap into yet. And yes, we've had a few people drop out of the association, but we're actually gaining membership right now, which is great. It's not really a bleak picture. We recently passed a dues increase for 2012 at our annual meeting in New Orleans, which had overwhelming support, and all that money will continue to go into programs.
“We're actually hiring regional engineers to work in geographic areas; the idea is to continue to grow that, basically putting more boots on the ground. The program is being well received by the membership, and they're asking for more. ACPA has 11 engineers on staff; they work with the local ACPA membership to meet with state DOTs to promote the benefits of concrete pipe.”
Despite this silver lining on the nation's cloudy economic status, Bussio says his members are eager for a sizable upswing to occur. “We believe we've bottomed out, and we think this year will continue to grow and develop,” he explains. “I still think we're 18 months away and that the recession will continue to linger. It's not going to come back as strong or as fast as we would like, but it is coming back. All markets have had to adjust, and we've all had to become much leaner and more efficient. I think everyone has had to do more with less, and these practices will make us stronger and more profitable when the recession goes away.
“No one has had to deal with this severe of a recession since the Great Depression, so this is all new territory for pipe managers and the industry. I don't think it's been rocked this hard ever. We've all had to learn to adjust, and it's been hard. Every concrete pipe producer has been bloodied by this, like all construction industries. With that, it forces you to dig down and focus on core principles and basic business; I think that's what has happened to our industry. I believe we are through the worst part of the recession, and that things will continue to creep upward from this point forward. We've had a few rough years, but we're starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel, and it's going to be a slow road. That's true with Geneva and around the country. I think we're going to see more consolidation and more market rationale taking place.”
Bussio said that when more funds become available, he expects ACPA would like to have more targeted to research and development, a practice that is taking shape currently with early-stage testing of concrete pipe manufactured with strength-enhancing steel fibers embedded in it, rather than welded wire mesh. “We've got some full-scale models made, so we're continuing with the R&D,” he says. “This is a good example of our suppliers working with the industry. This is driven by outside funding in collaboration with the industry trying to find ways to improve the product. If it can make our product less expensive and more user friendly, then we'll look at it. We've seen some preliminary results, and it's interesting but we don't have a timetable in terms of creating specifications for steel fibers. It's still too early to talk about that.
“That's one of my goals, continuous improvement. We have to improve our weakness, and we're going after them to better meet the needs of our engineering community. We've had great success over the last 100 years, and in order for us to continue, we have to keep improving our products.”
Bussio also points to this year's increased attendance at The Precast Show, which took place March 1-3 in Orlando, Fla., as a sign that things were looking up for the industry. “We really appreciate our working relationship with the National Precast Concrete Association [co-sponsor of the event]; that's working well for both of us,” he says. “The next show will be in Indianapolis, January 11-13, and I think attendance will be up again next year as a direct reflection of the economy.”
NEW MARKET RUNOFF
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new stormwater rule that dictates that stormwater be kept separate from industrial runoff and sewer water should provide drainage product opportunities for ACPA members, according to Bussio, who adds, “The mandate to separate stormwater from sewer water will certainly have an impact on us and create some storm drain opportunities for our members. Whether people put in pipe or some kind of underground retention, that business will come to us in theory. That does help us.”
Bussio also points to monolithic box culverts as another growing market for pipe makers. Uses for these four-sided precast concrete box culverts include detention; tunnels (for conveyors, utilities, access tunnels, escape tunnels); short-span bridges (over highways, waterways, railways, golf courses); and, storm drains to convey stormwater, sewage or industrial waste. Typically, four-sided monolithically poured box culverts are cast all as one piece at the plant and shipped directly to the job site for immediate installation. “It's basically a big square pipe,” he says. “That is an opportunity that we are excited about. The product allows the engineers to convey larger volumes of water without having to dig too deep into the ground. What happens is as engineers see more of them, they're specifying it more and more, and it becomes more popular.
“On the sustainability side, concrete is an excellent choice. The beauty of concrete is that the engineering community can bury it in the ground and forget it. With city and state capital improvement budgets continuing to shrink, choosing concrete pipe means they don't have to worry about replacing it or having it fail prematurely like some competitive products. It truly does have a 100-year service life, and we're really proud of that. It's a great model for sustainability.”
In January, a nationwide survey of key customers of drainage pipe found that concrete pipe rated highest, by a wide margin, on several of the most important criteria used to make decisions on such purchases. The survey of more than 400 specifiers, Department of Transportation and other public agency officials, consultants and contractors was taken in November 2011.
Among specifiers, DOT/public agency officials and consultants, concrete pipe was rated best among all pipe products on several key criteria, including most durable (87.3 percent), easiest to design or specify (62.1 percent), least flammable (84.1 percent), least installation inspection required (54.5 percent), least installation sensitive (62.1 percent), and “greenest” (34.1 percent). When asked “If price were not an issue, which pipe would you specify,” 84.6 percent chose concrete pipe. High density polyethylene pipe was preferred by just 9.4 percent.
“You don't get to be the oldest active trade association in North America unless you offer a customer-satisfying product,” says Bussio. “That's really what we hang our hat on. If you want durability, if you want long-term performance, you choose concrete pipe. We have a saying: 'When the pipe arrives, the structure is on the truck,' meaning we build the structure into our pipe, whereas flexible pipe has to build the structure in the field, around the pipe.”
CONTINUING EDUCATION FOCUS
ACPA has monthly webinars that are technical in focus, although it does occasionally include some marketing discussion as well, with members and non-members able to attend. “We're up to about 350 attendees per session, which is pretty significant, and it's growing,” confirms Bussio. “I believe the reason is that people are beginning to recognize that education is really important; the more we know about our own products, the better we can serve our customers. There's been some turnover in the industry with new folks coming in, and this gives them an opportunity to become better versed, and ACPA is providing that service.
“Of course, travel budgets are shrinking and people can't always afford to fly to a regional education event. It's much more efficient to do these courses on the web. I think the support is there to do that. Plus, the word of mouth on the quality of the information being passed on is spreading about the value. I think that's just as big a reason for the success of these webinars.
“In addition to the webinars, we have a P3 program, which is an opportunity for our members to become certified and graduate in the P3 course to improve their skills. There's no charge, it's web based, and that's starting to pick up some momentum.”
QUALITY ASSURANCE MEASURE
One area Bussio says is expanding and getting more organized entails certification through the association's QCast quality assurance program. The “Quality Cast” Plant Certification Program covers the inspection of materials, finished products and handling/ storage procedures, as well as performance testing and quality control documentation. Plants can be certified in storm sewer and culvert pipe, sanitary sewer, box culverts, three-sided structures, manholes and precast structures. The firm of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates handles the auditing process. The ACPA Plant Certification Task Group has completed the new edition of the QCast Plant Certification Manual, Version 6.0, which became effective on January 1.
“The ACPA policy is to allow the local membership to choose how they want to market their QCast certification, Bussio says. “It's important they have local control because we don't want to force some standard on an area or region without them asking for it. Some states require it; some do not. It is a program that improves quality and raises the bar by following the program, and each year it's being updated and improved.”
As ACPA views it, one enemy of quality assurance is the use by some contractors of untested alternative pipe materials arriving from outside North America, which the association sees as constituting a major threat to both business and safety. “When you're the top dog for storm drain pipe, everyone is always barking at your heels,” Bussio explains. “So we have to continue to defend that. Our frustrations come when engineers don't challenge the new products appropriately. Where's the research? Where's the time that needs to go into these products before they can make a decision? Do the engineers truly take the time to study and engineer the product?
“We're constantly challenging the engineering soundness of competitive products. We ask that once they put a competitive product in the ground, check it. See if it's performing the way they thought it would. We are really focused on post-installation inspection, not only for our competitive products but for ourselves. Look at concrete pipe as well. We're going to continue to defend the marketshare aggressively. We want an even playing field.
“What's interesting is that recently, we're seeing some back-peddling by some competitive products; I really believe that's because of performance. They're really starting to get hammered after being in the ground 10 or 15 years. What happens is that they are chameleons, and they just change the color or their product and change their product logo to say, 'New and Improved.' It's a great marketing ploy. Are we winning the battle? I think we're holding our own, with some slight improvement.”
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
With 2012, ACPA begins a new three-year strategic plan, following its recently completed four-year plan. “We needed some new goals for them to work on,” details Bussio. “ACPA is driven by its strategic plan, and Matt Childs and his team did an excellent job completing the previous plan, and I have no doubt they will be able to achieve all the goals of the new one. I expect that as a result we'll expand market share over the next three years, and I'll be doing my very best to support that.”
As for Bussio's personal goals for his one-year term as chairman, he says he simply wants to unify the association in whatever ways he can and make sure all facets of the organization are marching to the same beat. “I want to make sure communication is strengthened as to what ACPA is trying to accomplish, and we want to ask those who are not part of the association to join,” he declares. “We're always trying to bring in those that are not members, and I'll do my best to help them see the value of their dues dollars. Sometimes that involves personal visits, trying to go their offices and show them the benefits they're getting and ask for their support. Every concrete pipe plant in the United States and Canada benefits from the work of ACPA.”
Geneva Pipe Company
Geneva Pipe is striving for excellence following the I-CARE core values of Integrity, Continuous improvement, Accountability, Respect for the individual, and Excellence in quality and service. The company is motivated to be the market leader in every market in which it does business to provide the most diverse product lines at the highest quality.
Geneva Pipe Company was founded by Joe Burnham in 1956 and sited on 13 acres in the present location of the corporate offices in Orem, Utah. It was a small facility with one Eckles Tamp Machine that could only produce pipe from 4 to 36 in. in diameter and only 4 ft. long. Before long, Burnham saw his vision grow into four facilities with the capacity of fabricating pipe up to 12 ft. in diameter and box culvert with spans longer than 14 ft.
In 1956, Burnham met a young trucking entrepreneur named Aldo Bussio and was sufficiently impressed with him to enter into a partnership. Upon Burnham’s 1977 retirement, Bussio became the sole owner of Geneva Pipe. The industry would later prove the wisdom of Burnham’s choice when they elected Bussio as Chairman of the Board of the American Concrete Pipe Association in 1990. The industry again awarded Mr. Bussio for his contributions in 2005 with the Richard E. Barnes Lifetime Achievement Award.
With a belief in quality products and a strong customer focus, the company has changed size through the years as it responded to the needs of the communities it serviced. Geneva Pipe has manufacturing facilities in Orem, St. George, and Salt Lake City, Utah. The southern Utah and Las Vegas markets are serviced by an additional plant in Moapa, Nev. Through the years, there have been facilities in other locations that have been moved or sold depending on economics of their market and locations.
Current Geneva President Vince Bussio reminds that the state of Utah has done an admirable job managing its budget, so the company has seen quite a bit of DOT work. “Utah is a conservative state with a balanced-budget amendment; we've had money to do work, so in that regard we've been lucky,” Bussio says. “Utah is a very pro-business state; we're attracting new businesses all the time. We've had highway work, commercial work, and we're starting to see a little bit of subdivision work come back. That's a good uptick.”
AMERICAN CONCRETE PIPE ASSOCIATION
The American Concrete Pipe Association has provided a voice for concrete pipe producers in matters affecting the industry's welfare for 105 years, making it the oldest active trade association in North America. In return, ACPA members contribute to the improvement of our environment by producing quality concrete pipe, engineered to provide a lasting and economical solution to drainage and pollution problems.
ACPA was conceived in 1907 as the Interstate Cement Tile Manufacturers Association in Ames, Iowa, by a small group of concrete farm drain tile producers. The organization was established as a vehicle for exchanging ideas and establishing high-quality, standardized products. In 1914, the organization was renamed the American Concrete Pipe Association.
Throughout the 20th century, the concrete pipe industry experienced tremendous growth. As people migrated in ever larger numbers from farms to cities, demand increased for concrete sewer and drainage products. With the introduction of the automobile and subsequent development of the highway network, use of concrete pipe storm drains and culverts grew exponentially.
Today, more than 400 plants are operated by ACPA members in the United States and Canada , with more than 40 countries represented in the membership. ACPA's international headquarters are located at 1303 West Walnut Hill Lane, Suite 305, Irving, Texas 75038; tel.: 972/506-7216; fax: 972/506-7682; e-mail: [email protected]; website: www.concrete-pipe.org.