2015 Chairman Joseph Bowen reflects on a solid year for the National Concrete Masonry Association

National Concrete Masonry Association Chairman of the Board Joseph Bowen has assured members that the industry, while back from the recession, confronts a construction market considerably different than what they saw leading up to 2008—one demanding renewed investment in operations, human capital and market development for block, hardscape units and stone veneer. 

Bowen is executive chairman of Bellevue, Wash.-based Mutual Materials Co., a leading source of concrete or clay unit masonry for Pacific Northwest building and hardscape markets. Informing his NCMA chairmanship, he notes, is “a strategically driven approach that engages and leverages members to push market growth in an improving economy. All of us have been through a difficult recession. Most members are looking at the world more optimistically. As a result, there is renewed energy across the association and concrete masonry markets throughout North America.”

Bowen has helped harness the energy 2014 Chairman Dale Puskas (Basalite Concrete Products), along with NCMA committees and staff, bring to the post-recession market. The result is a year loaded with deliverables for concrete masonry interests, from an online education portal launch and baseline document critical to LEED certification candidate projects, to market development tools and funding mechanisms, to a plant certification template and “youth” movement shaping next generation plant and association leaders.

Among the best indicators of market conditions and member sentiments are the strong participation levels NCMA saw at this year’s two national gatherings: 500-plus for the Annual Convention and 2015 ICON-Xchange in San Antonio, and nearly 300 for the Midyear Meeting in Montreal. Bowen and NCMA officials reflect on key developments from those events, plus day-to-day work involving committees, individual producer or associate members, and staff at the association’s Herndon, Va., headquarters.


With a market development mission, the committee has engaged in an assessment and profiling initiative, looking at specific sectors—presently education and residential—and providing members a market needs analysis and promotion guidance. As of the Midyear meeting, it secured approval for release of timely products or launch of service offerings to support the concrete masonry value proposition:

  • Data collection template for plants interested in developing Environmental Product Declarations (EPD);
  • R-Value/U-Factor calculator to determine concrete masonry wall systems’ thermal characteristics;
  • Resources to educate sales personnel and decision makers on concrete masonry construction performance attributes; and,
  • Market Assessment and Application Profiling Resource and Reference Portfolio, plus a recently completed survey report that quantifies competing wall system types by market segment; those within the decision chain selecting wall construction materials; and, what factors influence their choices.

NCMA led the team of producers and allied interests behind “Product Category Rules for Preparing an Environmental Product Declaration for Manufactured Concrete and Concrete Masonry Products.” Released in the first quarter, the 21-page document presents baseline data for life cycle assessments detailed in EPD, which in turn support concrete product specifiers or customers seeking certification or recognition under new or emerging green building rating systems, especially LEED v4.

The ASTM-published PCR covers 11 categories of Committee C15 on Manufactured Masonry Units-designated product—primarily dry cast—including Concrete Building or Facing Brick, Loadbearing and Nonloadbearing Concrete Masonry Units, Prefaced Concrete Masonry Units, Cast Stone, Segmental Retaining Wall Unit, Roof Paver, Adhered Manufactured Stone Masonry Veneer and Articulating Concrete Block.

“With increasing emphasis on material transparency in high performance and sustainable codes and standards, NCMA recognized the need to develop tools for concrete masonry producers. Product Category Rules will facilitate development of Environmental Product Declarations for manufactured concrete and concrete masonry products. Such declarations will help to highlight their environmental attributes,” notes NCMA President Robert Thomas.


Members behind the CMU Check-off Program Leadership Team continue to seek Congressional action facilitating a referendum—involving producers, contractors and other stakeholders—on a check-off funding mechanism modeled after programs in paper, dairy, meat and other, primarily consumer commodity sectors. The path to national check-off programs is necessarily methodical, hinging on action by federal lawmakers and overall political climate hovering Capitol Hill and the White House.

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One unique recent Mutual Materials project is Parkrose Middle School in Oregon, designed as an all masonry building. It absorbed over 140,000 concrete masonry units, of which 76,000 were used on the interior with a three-color blend of light reflective ground face block. On the exterior, concrete block blends with upwards 350,000 brick—lending a very modern design.

Keeping a prospective CMU Check-off program on the Congressional radar, NCMA members by mid-year had successfully engaged U.S. House and Senate allies on companion Concrete Masonry Products Research, Education, and Promotion Act bills. Each would authorize the concrete masonry industry to consider through referendum whether to establish a commodity check-off program to be overseen by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Senator Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) S1524 bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Representative Brett Guthrie’s (R-Ky.) HR985 bill has cleared the House Energy and Commerce Committee.


A voluntary program responding to department of transportation requirements and other market forces is taking shape under the Production Technology and Operations Committee. The Quality Control Plant Certification Program, cosponsored by the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute, provides candidate-plant operators a step-by-step process toward audit. In Montreal, the committee approved release of a sample quality control plan that can be used as a template. Committee members and NCMA staff plan a webinar on the certification program by the first quarter of 2016. A tandem effort of the Environmental Health & Safety Subcommittee calls for development of Job Hazard Analysis training and templates.


Concrete Products University Online, succeeding NCMA’s webinar education series, premiered in San Antonio. A Level 1 overview and three courses populate the charter offering of the on-demand portal for materials, construction and systems education. CPU Online,, debuted with a free introduction, plus NCMA Materials and Resources, Introduction to Concrete Masonry Production, Concrete Masonry Overview courses, each available with one-month access for $25 per company. Build out of the portal’s Concrete Masonry module has continued with Level 2-6 course offerings, to be followed by courses in multiple levels of Hardscapes, Manufactured Stone and Production/Operation modules.


NCMA brings segmental retaining wall unit licensors and producers together in the SRW and Hardscape Products Market Segment. Hardscape Products, SRW Contractor, SRW Technical and Strategic Marketing Communications subcommittees are charged with supporting and developing production, performance and installer standards, and disseminating new or revised standards or guidelines to the marketplace. Topping the Segment agenda and set for delivery by year’s end is the “SRW Best Practices Guide,” to support growing market opportunities and the industry’s Zero Failure initiatives.


“We see new faces at the convention and meetings thanks to the Young Professionals Group,” Joe Bowen observes. “Members are welcoming young talent into the organizations, and as an association we need to embrace the group and participants’ enthusiasm for the industry, along with their new ideas and ways of using technology to advance concrete masonry.”

At their Montreal meeting, participants decided to take a leading role in shaping NCMA’s social media presence, and promote the inclusion of a social media training session for 2016 Annual Convention attendees, followed by an expanded professional development session at Midyear.


A successful February 2014 debut of NCMA’s principal gathering, Annual Convention plus a two-day B2B Exchange and Marketplace, were bested this year with higher attendance and expanded B2B meeting schedule. Results through two cycles have NCMA officers and staff exploring a future sequence of the ICON-Xchange format—two days of B2B meetings and interspersed networking sessions amid tabletop Marketplace displays—in consecutive years, with a broader, larger booth and equipment exhibit in the third year. 

The outcome of this year’s ICON-Xchange and Midyear gatherings and committee work mirror Bowen’s priorities for a chairman’s term: “It has been important in this role to create an environment where members are more active, and balance between us providing direction and leadership for NCMA committees and staff.”

As the calendar winds down, he adds, market conditions and association momentum bode well for a passing of the gavel to 2016 Chairman-Elect Pat Sauter of Iowa-based King’s Materials. That transition is on track as the agenda firms up for the 2016 NCMA Annual Convention, February 23-28 and ICON-Xchange, February 23-25, at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando.


Mutual Materials Co. is the leading supplier of masonry and hardscaping products for the Pacific Northwest. The family-owned company was founded in 1900 following the Great Seattle Fire, and Mutual Materials brick literally rebuilt the city. After adding concrete masonry in 1982, the producer has grown to one paver, one architectural slab, three brick and four block plants, plus a mortar and grout bagging operation, in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The use of concrete masonry in modern design has grown in the Pacific Northwest in recent years, as seen in foundations of community buildings ranging from businesses, hospitals, schools, stadiums to public landscapes.


56 NCMAi 299National Concrete Masonry Association represents the producers and suppliers of concrete masonry products, including block, manufactured stone veneer, segmental retaining walls and articulating block. For nearly a century, it has engaged in a range of technical, research, education, marketing, certification, communications, and government relations activities, offering a variety of technical services and design aids through publications, visual presentations, computer programs, and technical training.

The NCMA Education and Research Foundation supports the concrete masonry industry by serving as a research and education affiliate. It identifies and funds projects and investigations to support industry advancements and market development. NCMA’s Research and Development Laboratory is a world-class facility, dedicated to scientific testing and research of concrete masonry and hardscape products and systems. It features a small scale concrete unit production line, capable of simulating commercial methodologies.

Robert Thomas is staff president of NCMA, whose headquarters and R&D lab are located just east of Washington-Dulles International Airport at 13750 Sunrise Valley Drive, Herndon, VA 20171; 703/713-1900;

56 NCMAii 600CHAIRMAN (2015)
Executive Chairman
Mutual Materials
Bellevue, Washington

Vice President–California/Nevada
Basalite Concrete Products, LLC
Dixon, California

King’s Material Inc.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa