A visit with 2017 National Concrete Masonry Association Chairman Steve Berry

Steve Berry

The National Concrete Masonry Association is poised for a robust centennial anniversary celebration in 2018, thanks to a long track record of building and hardscape market promotion, standards development and technical support, coupled with more recent priorities highlighting this year’s agenda: Board realignment; execution of strategic plans emphasizing industry strength and unit masonry shipment growth; and, continued build out of digital offerings for members and their customers.

The NCMA Board approved a reduction from 37 to 25 directors at the NCMA Annual Convention earlier this year in Phoenix. “Members will see more board engagement in association management. The new structure will help us focus on accomplishing our marketing goals and improving membership value,” says 2017 NCMA Chairman and Oldcastle APG Eastern Region President Steve Berry.

Board directors’ first order of business, he adds, involves a 2017-2020 strategic plan focused on two major outcomes: increase the market share of member’s products and increase association value. To support these outcomes, the plan contains six objectives: Influence codes, standards, and government regulations through effective advocacy efforts; increase the impact of NCMA resources to facilitate dissemination and use; influence and support decision makers to encourage choice of members’ products; education of industry professionals creating a network of industry resources and qualified workforce; increase membership and member engagement and grow the association; and improve NCMA’s strength through fiscal, operational and industry leadership.

Concurrent with 2017 board actions, Berry observes, NCMA committees have a renewed focus on communications efforts to highlight resources supporting member producers in the association’s Hardscape Products, Masonry and Stone Veneer market segments. A strategic plan introduced in 2016 for Hardscape Products guides members and staff to increase their emphasis on communications and innovative technologies to advance the industry. The segment promotes a variety of dry-cast concrete products for hardscape applications, including segmental retaining wall (SRW), articulating concrete block, and fence wall units. The strategic plan points center on improving SRW quality, optimizing dry-cast concrete product durability, plus installer education and certification.

The Masonry market segment strategic plan calls for educating NCMA producer members and their customers of the economy and performance inherent in conventional and architectural concrete block—with the ultimate goal of selling, positioning and utilizing concrete masonry as a building system. The Manufactured Stone Veneer market segment, which promotes non-structural, lightweight units cast to simulate a variety of natural stone and hard surface textures, will focus on improving unit and finished wall quality. Specific action areas include influencing ASTM standards and code provisions, coupled with advancing proper adhered-stone installation methods.


Activities supporting communications, education and market development goals in the NCMA Board and market segment strategic plans coincide with planning for two events promising a banner 2018, starting with the International Concrete Exposition Machinery & Equipment Show in Indianapolis. NCMA is programming ICON EXPO 2018 as the only machinery and equipment venue completely dedicated to the manufactured concrete masonry and hardscape industry, with 15 hours of show and exhibit area activity over a February 9-10 schedule.

“ICON EXPO 2018 will be our first equipment show since 2013, and the first we have done totally on our own,” notes Berry. “With exhibits, demonstrations, education sessions, boot camp for production personnel and a celebrity speaker, it is shaping up as a big event with a lot of support and excitement.”

Similar to the schedule for the 2015–2017 ICON-Xchange and B2B Marketplace programs, next year’s gathering will be held in conjunction with the NCMA Annual Convention (February 6-8) and Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute Annual Meeting (February 11-14). After Indianapolis, NCMA members and staff will finalize the 100-year anniversary celebration. Anchoring the 2018 Midyear Meeting, July 31–August 3, festivities will take place in Chicago, where NCMA was founded in 1918. A 100-Year Anniversary task force has coordinated activities and enlisted sponsorships since 2015.

“We are developing a historical timeline for the centennial anniversary,” observes Berry. “It will give a us a platform to look forward. The first of four videos featuring 25-year segments, covering 1918–1943, was presented at this year’s convention. A second video on the 1944–1969 period is in the works to unveil at the NCMA Midyear Meeting in Toronto. It’s pretty impressive to look at old photos and footage in the timelines; amazing how you can recognize people and equipment from longtime association members.”


A late-2016 tailwind accompanied the NCMA-backed CMU Check-off Program, through which Congress would authorize concrete masonry producers to propose an industry-wide referendum on a check-off collection applied to unit sales. Major and independent producers underscore the potential for such a program to put concrete masonry back on a level playing field with competing building materials and methods by funding industry research, education and promotion.


ECHELON MASONRY PHOTO: Oldcastle Architectural

On the opening day of the 114th Congress lame duck session, the U.S. House of Representatives approved HR 985, the Concrete Masonry Products, Research, Education and Promotion Act of 2015 by a 355–38 vote. The legislation authorizes the concrete masonry industry to take steps leading to a check-off program referendum. Representatives Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Kathy Castor (D-FL) sponsored the bill and garnered an impressive co-sponsor list of 247 colleagues, balanced with near-equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. The list is indicative of grassroots efforts on behalf of the concrete masonry industry, which has plants in every state and in most congressional districts. However, there was insufficient time last fall for the Senate to address the legislation.

HR 985 passage served as an important procedural step in the 114th to 115th Congress transition, justifying early introduction of identical Concrete Masonry Products Research Education and Promotion Act of 2017 versions in the Senate (as S374) and House of Representatives (as HR1046). The bills’ respective sponsors are Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Bill Foster (D-FL) and Representatives Guthrie and Castor.


ECHELON MASONRY PHOTO: Oldcastle Architectural

NCMA Government Affairs Committee members will track S374 and HR1046 progress among 2017 Capitol Hill developments. On the federal regulatory front, producers and association staff are monitoring Occupational Safety and Health Administration action on a rule revising exposure levels for crystalline silica exposure in Construction and General Industry workplaces. Along with many stakeholders in concrete production and construction, NCMA took note of the U.S. Department of Labor’s decision to delay, from June to September 2017, enforcement of new silica exposure thresholds for Construction workplaces, greatly impacting masonry and hardscape contractors. OSHA’s decision on the 2017 compliance deadline might in turn affect the June 2018 target for silica rule enforcement in General Industry workplaces, including block, paver and manufactured stone veneer operations. NCMA maintains a position that elements of the new rule are still unwarranted in both workplaces, and continues as a signatory in a legal petition against implementation of the rule as currently written.

The association is also working with industry partners to support federal policies recognizing the value of resilient construction to better protect communities and speed their recovery from disasters. NCMA was likewise active in promoting increased, long-term infrastructure investment, and sought to include in related funding legislation language to encourage increased consideration of concrete products in retaining walls, sound barrier walls, and other structures typical of federal surface transportation projects.


NCMA teamed with Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute on two successful block and hardscape unit sales courses in late 2015 and 2016, and is planning to apply part of the course content to a late-2017 conference on how to sell concrete masonry as a system. Along with the courses, NCMA has continued to build out formal and informal digital offerings, led by the Concrete Products University, which in its first 18 months has 350 industry users, 75 new this year; and, Concrete Products Community, especially aimed at design and construction professionals keen to social media.

The latter has been rolled out as a) a forum where unit masonry method practitioners can openly engage in discussion on how to use and install NCMA members’ products; and, b) an effort to reach out to engineers, architects, contractors, home owner, and concrete masonry/hardscape/masonry stone veneer enthusiasts. The Concrete Products Community allows design and engineering professionals to post questions for peer or NCMA staff response. Each forum allows them to follow the entire discussion, sub forum or individual question.

Concrete Products University and Concrete Products Community are key internal digital offerings at NCMA. Externally, the association is a lead sponsor of the Building Information Modeling for Masonry initiative. Last year proved most productive for BIM-M, spawning resources that dovetail NCMA strategic plan goals: BIM Deliverables Guide for Contractors; BIM Revit Guide for Masonry development; Revit Masonry Wall Content Library; and Revit Training Videos. Under development for 2017 release are additional offerings such as a Masonry Unit Database.

“We see the BIM-M initiative making it easier for designers to use our products, and help them to do things faster and better,” Steve Berry affirms, adding that participation is an extension of “NCMA’s focus on making sure our members are better advocates and able to speak to the value of concrete products in safe and sound building, and helping them promote concrete masonry attributes.”




BELGARD HARDSCAPES PHOTO: Oldcastle Architectural