ALLEN HAMBLEN IS 2015 NATIONAL READY MIXED CONCRETE ASSOCIATION CHAIRMAN
By Steven Prokopy
For the last two or three years, economic forecasts have indicated that things are looking quite promising for the construction industry in general, and the concrete industry specifically, with demand for product increasing year-after-year for at least the next decade. In terms of both product and information, the ready mixed industry could not be more prepared, according to National Ready Mixed Concrete Association Chairman Allen Hamblen, president & CEO of CalPortland Co.
Pent-up demand, particularly in the housing and commercial development markets, is abundant, and opportunities in concrete paving are opening up nationwide thanks in part to expansion efforts that never let up, even in the poor economy. “One of the things NRMCA’s leadership did during the downturn was to move forward with the majority of the programs and key initiatives by drawing on reserves,” Hamblen explains. “The idea was not to lose momentum during the down time—and it certainly was longer than we ever anticipated—but in the process we overtaxed our reserves. So as you look at the renewing of good times within our industry, we are looking to rebuild those reserves. When we gain more money, we’ll be able to look for potential new programs in education, industry advocacy and resilient construction.
“For example, if you look at the education programs we’re putting together for driver training, that’s one of the things we never stopped pushing forward. Our involvement with the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub to develop research [supporting] our comparison to other buildings material products has been a big part of our push. We’re also looking to push back aggressively against the wood industry’s advances in low/mid-rise construction, which could be big piece of our growth.”
“We’re hoping that Portland Cement Association’s forecast of an 8 percent increase in 2015 is correct,” he says. “We’ve clearly seen a recovery of the economy in sectors—some states and some regions doing better than others—but I believe 2015 will see a much broader, across-the-board recovery for the construction industry and allow more growth in NRMCA revenues.”
HIGHWAY BILL PRIORITY
The 3rd RALLY for ROADS on the National Mall was the result of efforts made by NRMCA staff and members, along with transportation construction industry allies, to help improve America’s infrastructure. Workers and suppliers from all facets of the road construction industry rallied together in Washington, D.C. to influence federal transportation policies. This increased focus on highways helped ensure that in August 2014, President Obama signed H.R. 5021, which provided 10 months more of Highway Trust Fund disbursements and made certain that the U.S. Department of Transportation did not slow highway funding during the peak construction season.
Still, there is no agreement on a long-term funding solution. During negotiations with industry partners on the current, short-term funding package, NRMCA was successful in preventing a measure that would have increased the Heavy Highway Vehicle Use Tax on trucks over 55,000 lb. With a May 2015 federal funding expiration date looming, NRMCA continues to work on a long-term measure. As if to drive the point home, Hamblen calls getting a long-term transportation bill “the number one priority for the association. You can’t get states to build roads with short-term transportation funding. We’ve seen that consistently; states are unwilling to commit to long-term projects when their funding is only going to be short term. That will have more of an impact on not only our industry, but also the U.S. economy, than anything else that’s going to happen in the next year.”
“The biggest issue of funding a long-term transportation bill is not a lack of understanding of need,” he affirms. “Everybody you talk to agrees we need this. The biggest issue is funding, and there’s a strong opposition by people in Congress to talk about tax increases. There are a number of creative ideas that are being considered, but there is truly a split on how [the program] needs to be funded. We really do need to revamp the methodology associated with collecting monies for infrastructure. The mileage per vehicle over the last 20 years has gone up significantly, so you have less money going in from that perspective. The first step is to work with Congress and make them see that this is really an area where we have to look at a tax increase to fund [transportation work].”
MEMBERS LEND VOICES TO GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS
|CalPortland has a strong presence in the Seattle ready mixed market, coupled with rich aggregate reserves along the Puget Sound.|
Hamblen says that a big piece of what NRMCA did during the downturn involved pushing back against certain government regulation efforts. According to the association’s 2014 President’s Report, member companies sent more than 3,900 letters to Congress on a myriad of topics important to the industry using NRMCAvoice.com—a portion of the group’s website that deals with advocacy and other government affairs activities.
“All laws and regulations are created by people who are trying to fix a problem,” said NRMCA President Robert Garbini in the report. “If members of Congress don’t understand our industry, they won’t consider the effects of new laws or regulations which could lead to unforeseen complications, expenses, paperwork and headaches.”
“What we did with driver hours was a big part of our work,” adds Hamblen, referring to a two-year exemption to the 30-minute break rule the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration just granted mixer drivers (note this month’s Government Affairs report, page 9). “There are a number of programs—not all of them are complete, but we certainly didn’t lose momentum.”
Hamblen also believes that NRMCA needs to find a way to fund additional promotion and research. “We are losing the promotion war to other products like wood. This makes no sense because I believe concrete is the most versatile building material in the world,” he explains. “We must find a way to fund promotion, so NRMCA is exploring several possibilities, including the creation of a national check-off program. However, the program could take years and NRMCA recognizes the immediate need to address the wood industry’s aggressive moves into traditional concrete markets, and will explore other avenues of funding, including raising dues revenue. We have to stay ahead of the curve on promotion.”
Another method he sees as key to building NRMCA’s resources is growing the membership so that it represents more than 50 percent of the producers, up from the current level of 28 percent. “We have more than 50 percent of the plants and the production capacity, but don’t have more than 50 percent of the producers,” says Hamblen. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the benefits far exceed the dues associated with belonging to NRMCA. It’s my goal that we go out and push to surpass that 50 percent mark. We want people to get involved with their industry and have an opportunity to have their voice heard. And with the economy improving, this is the time to make that push.”
Of the various regulatory measures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or Occupational Safety & Health Administration—Clean Power, Waters of the U.S., revised silica exposure rule—the one that Hamblen has the most concern about is the second proposal, which would drastically expand the jurisdiction of waters covered under the Clean Water Act. Such an expansion could unduly burden ready mixed, cement and aggregate operations, as well as new construction starts. Specific to concrete production, it would adversely affect operations with washout pits and sedimentation ponds and settling basins.
NRMCA submitted comments on behalf of the industry and supported a Congressional bill that would require EPA to pull back Waters of the U.S. and work with state governments to craft better jurisdictional rules. “When you look at how far reaching the bill goes, I’m concerned because I’ve got a small stream running through my property that might be categorized as Waters of the U.S., and it only has water in it twice a year,” Hamblen quips. “What we’re trying to do is push back on the overreaching regulation and the unnecessary burden on ready mixed operations. There’s a huge difference between the way we read the bill and the way EPA says it will enforce it, and it leaves it totally up to the agency when they want to enforce it and when they don’t.”
“Our additional concern is, based on the direction of the White House, I don’t know how open they’re going to be to not just pushing these regulations through. I think it’s part of the president’s agenda now to make a big difference through policy rather than what he can’t make through law. And we’ve seen this for the last six years. We’ve seen it in the Department of Labor, wanting to redefine what is an exempt versus a non-exempt job, driver hours mandating—there’s a continuous flow of rules out of all the agencies that change 50-year-old policy, in some cases.
“There is certainly not a lack of opportunities for NRMCA and government agencies to work together and be involved; you can have success. What it boils down to is a combination of the association and member companies lobbying and outlining the detrimental impacts on the industry.” NRMCA member and staff efforts to avert the EPA’s classification of coal ash/fly ash as hazardous waste is a good model of productive communications between the industry and government agencies, he adds.
At the 2014 Greenbuild Expo, NRMCA announced publication of a comprehensive set of industry-average environmental impacts for concrete to help members address the movement toward product transparency, driven by the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) new LEED v4 rating system. Known as an Industry-Wide (IW) Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) and Benchmark (Industry Average) Report, the documents disclose the environmental impacts of concrete production.
LEED v4 has a credit that encourages a project team to use 20 different products backed by EPDs. Since concrete can be used for applications ranging from foundations to floors, columns to curbs, and beams to parking lots, it represents multiple EPD opportunities on a project. According to LEED v4 guidelines, for a company to use an IW EPD, it must have provided data to the project and be listed in the EPD. Although the IW EPD is worth half the value of a product-specific EPD, nearly 70 NRMCA member companies, spanning nearly 2,300 concrete plants, are represented by the IW EPD.
Seizing the opportunity in LEED v4 to present the transparency and social responsibility of the concrete industry, NRMCA undertook three major projects in 2014 to place its members at the forefront of the green building movement. First, association leadership, in developing an EPD and Industry Average, has generated attention from the USGBC. Because of NRMCA’s efforts in 2013 to become an EPD Program Operator, six member companies representing over 2,000 products now have certified EPDs, by far the largest number in the construction industry. Second, NRMCA founded the Concrete Sustainability Council for Responsible Sourcing in 2014 and will launch a new certification program in 2015 enabling members to demonstrate their performance in the area of social responsibility. Third, NRMCA launched a guide on material ingredient disclosure and optimization, due for publication this year.
As a result of the RMC Research and Education Foundation-funded project, producer members are in a better position to provide solutions for LEED v4 materials and resource credits; Architecture2030 Challenge for Products; Green Globes materials credits; and, International Green Construction Code material requirements.
|Southern California winds help power the CalPortland Mojave cement plant|
Although NRMCA has been promoting resilience for years, the significance of the concept grew in 2014. Resilience became a central theme for specifiers, standards/codes organizations and lawmakers after a succession of weather-related catastrophes hit both the Eastern Seaboard and south-central Tornado Alley. The NRMCA Pathway to Resilience document demonstrates the industry’s commitment to community resilience and increased awareness of mitigation solutions. While NRMCA’s proposed LEED Resilient Design pilot credit slowly made its way through the USGBC review process, association staff published “Concrete Building Systems: Disaster Resilient Solutions for Safer Communities” in The Homeland Security Review: A Journal of the Institute for Law & Public Policy.
“When you look at the super-tornados that came through Oklahoma and other places, there is a clear opportunity for us to work on resilient construction,” Hamblen explains. “We had great successes in Florida right after the last big hurricane hit. We continued to work with agencies in trying to get them to adopt resilient construction. There is certainly an opportunity for market growth from resilient construction, but at the end of the day, we have to convince people that it’s just as easy to build with our products as it is with wood—in an industry that has built out of wood for centuries.”
The RMC Research and Education Foundation will partially fund NRMCA development of an industry-specific, nationally branded, generic recruitment/hiring/new hire orientation package this year. The program’s goal is to not only help producers attract more and better driver candidates, but also, once hired, get them fully engaged quickly so they perform better sooner. Better performance will reduce producers’ higher liability with new hires as well as increase potential net revenue. Ideally, a nationally branded effort could raise the awareness and prestige of the mixer driver in the Commercial Driver’s License sector.
“I’m not surprised how critical an issue this has become in recent years,” Hamblen says. “If you look at the U.S., a decision was made about a decade ago to get rid of a lot of the vocational programs in high schools. When I grew up taking those programs, I learned a lot about everything from welding to driving equipment. When you lose those, it’s hard to say to young people ‘How would you like to be a truck driver?,’ because everybody wants to be a programmer.
“We have to develop programs to entice people who might be long-haul truckers now to be a part of our industry. Part of that is education. Driving a concrete truck is very different than driving any other open-road equipment—you have a lot of weight and a short time to get it in place. The key component to this driver education is to help them understand what concrete is and how it works. And the key to retention is to keep drivers working. We lost a tremendous number of drivers in our industry during the downturn; people went and found jobs somewhere else. The improving economy will provide a stable job, so we can keep people interested in staying part of our business.”
“To give you an idea of how tough things are right now,” Hamblen continues, “I need drivers in every market area in which we operate. I don’t know how dire the need will get until we get so busy that we say, ‘There’s nobody left to hire.’ But I can tell you based on demographics of my workforce, we have a lot more drivers who are over 40 than under, significantly. This is a problem that is going to continue to escalate for decades if we don’t find a way to [attract] younger people into our business. We have found that at our plants that are in rural areas, it’s a lot easier to find somebody who has been driving a tractor on a farm and turn them into a mixer driver than it is finding someone like that in a city.
“Another place where there is a huge potential workforce is the military. A lot of people come out of the service who can drive trucks, but the problem then becomes that many state departments of transportation don’t recognize the military certification of heavy-duty training. So they want these new veterans to do what anybody else would do who had no experience. NRMCA has been talking and working with the military and the Department of Labor on how to get a common certification across the board.”
In addition to federal agency outreach and the RMC Research-backed orientation package development, NRMCA continues to grow what has become the industry’s largest event incentivizing and rewarding concrete delivery professionals: the National Mixer Driver Championship, staged with the ConcreteWorks Conference & Expo. In September 2014, the event drew a record 48 drivers, with challenge course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“The Mixer Driver Championship is the single most important thing we do to provide recognition to a very important part of our workforce,” Hamblen contends. “As we go out and see increased involvement in that program even from the state level, we can show people that this is an industry that values its drivers. It’s certainly going to provide benefit in attracting drivers to our industry.
“We are only on the cusp of developing programs in this area. We’re seeing an unprecedented effort today, [and] going to continue to make greater strides to fill this gap for drivers. And it’s not only drivers; we’re in need of mechanics, across the board in the industrial portions of our operations.”
NATIONAL READY MIXED CONCRETE ASSOCIATION – AT-A-GLANCE
The National Ready Mixed Concrete Association has been a leading industry advocate “inside the Beltway” since 1930. It aims to provide value for members by serving the industry through leadership, promotion, education and partnering to ensure that ready mixed concrete 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. It partners with state associations on issues such as promotion and regulatory concerns.
NRMCA Engineering Division professionals represent ready mixed concrete interests on industry specifying- and standard-setting committees. Moreover, numerous committees, e.g., Government Affairs and Operations, Environmental & 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.
IMMEDIATE PAST CHAIRMAN (2014)
|VICE CHAIRMAN (2016)
Chandler Concrete Co., Inc.
Burlington, North Carolina
CALPORTLAND CO. – AT-A-GLANCE
Founded in 1891 with the opening of its Colton, Calif., plant, CalPortland Co. (CPC) is the oldest continually producing portland cement operator west of the Rocky Mountains. Today, Colton is one of three CPC plants; the other two are at Mojave, Calif., and Rillito, Ariz.
|Over a nearly three-year schedule, Catalina Pacific Concrete will supply upwards of 100,000 yd. to the 73-floor Wilshire Grand Center in downtown Los Angeles.|
From its early years, CPC has remained an industry leader through commitment to quality, technical superiority, and customer service. The company has supplied some of the largest and most significant construction projects in the western United States, including Hoover Dam, Los Angeles Aqueduct, Los Angles City Hall, Staples Center, Arizona Capital Building, Safeco Field, and New Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Into its second century, CPC has grown into a diversified operator serving seven Western states and two Canadian Provinces. As the largest producer of sand, gravel and quarry rock in the Pacific Northwest, the company regularly supplies the construction industries from Washington and Oregon to British Columbia and Alaska.
Through mergers and acquisitions, CPC has expanded its line to include precast manholes, Redi-Rock blocks, truss pipe, corrugated pipe and fittings, catch basins, building materials, sand, gravel, rock, and asphalt. Other materials available include FOX Blocks insulated concrete forms, road base aggregate, concrete sand processing, specialized backfill material, rip rap for flood control, and sustainable building products.
CPC is also an industry leader for energy conservation and environmental quality. The Environmental Protection Agency has recognized the producer for 10 consecutive years, 2005–2014, as Energy Star Partner of the Year (2005–2006); Energy Star Sustained Excellence (2007–2012); and, Energy Star Partner of the Year–Sustained Excellence (2013–2014). The Mojave and Rillito cement plants are also Energy Star certified. Active in voluntary environmental efforts and related greenhouse gas emission reduction, CalPortland is likewise an honored member of EPA Climate Leaders.
Beginning in early 2014 and scheduled to continue through 2016, CPC’s flagship concrete business, Catalina Pacific Concrete, will deliver upwards of 100,000 yd. to the $1 billion Wilshire Grand Center in Los Angeles. In February 2014, it dispatched 2,120 loads of ready mixed over a 19-hour window for the 73-story hotel’s mat foundation. The mobilization spanned 208 mixer trucks and 235 drivers across five Catalina Pacific and three A&A Ready Mixed Concrete plants—four to 20 miles from the downtown. The operation marked what project officials note is a new volume threshold for a continuous foundation pour, 21,200 yd., slightly besting a 1999 Guinness Book of World Records-listed concrete placement for The Venetian, Las Vegas. The 1,100-ft. Wilshire structure will also mark a new height record for a U.S. building west of the Mississippi.