Midwest Block’s Wilhelms talks housing market, masonry check-off on Capitol Hill

Sources: National Concrete Masonry Association, Herndon, Va.; U.S. House Energy & Commerce Committee; CP staff

Testifying on behalf of NCMA at a U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade hearing, Mark Wilhelms of Jefferson City, Mo.-based Midwest Block & Brick Inc., reminded federal lawmakers of the importance of a healthy housing market on employment levels and gross domestic product, and requested their support of the recently introduced (HR 1563) Concrete Masonry Products Research, Education, and Promotion Act of 2013.

“Our company and our industry sit with production capacity in reserve and we are ready and anxious to support badly needed growth and development to compensate for pent-up demand,” said Wilhelms, Midwest Block vice president of Architectural Sales and past (2011) NCMA chairman. “We encourage this subcommittee to continue to play its role in supporting policies and legislation that will ultimately stimulate construction growth, stabilize property asset values, free up investment capital, and reduce the cost to operate domestic construction and manufacturing businesses.” To the latter point, he noted especially how health care costs have climbed from an average of 10 percent of typical compensation to 20 percent, and stand to be a “growing challenge as we operate in the future.”

Citing the leadership of Representatives Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Kathy Castor (D-FL) for introducing HR 1563, Wilhelms discussed the Concrete Masonry Products Research, Education, and Promotion Act’s potential as a market catalyst: “The legislation, which has been referred to this subcommittee, would not create the Check-Off program, but simply authorize presentation of the opportunity to the rest of our industry and allow us to conduct a referendum to enact the program. We believe that this approach, which requires no federal resources, is the only way to enable our industry to effectively promote itself and to continue to provide valuable building solutions to the public and to generate the local jobs that will naturally follow.”

Wilhelms testified at the early-June hearing with 10 other industry stakeholders, including Louisiana-Pacific, Kohler Co. and National Association of Home Builders executives. Likely mirroring market trends peers have experienced since 2007, he candidly reflected on a building and construction market cycle during which Midwest Block & Brick’s annual sales and payroll have flattened at about $67 million and 275 employees from peaks of $100 million and 400 employees.