A visit with 2017 National Ready Mixed Concrete Association Chairman Scott Parson
Two very different 2016 campaigns have the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association prepared to defend or build share in markets representing 60-70 percent of industry shipments. Both stand to help producer members in 2017 match or eclipse last year’s 3 percent growth rate, equal to a 10 million-yd. year-over-year gain.
In April 2016, NRMCA launched Build with Strength, a multi-year campaign designed to position cast-in-place concrete as a premium, long-term value for low- to mid-rise (LMR) buildings. Seven months later, staff and members took stock of Donald Trump’s improbable White House campaign success. Like peers across the business landscape, ready mixed concrete producers welcomed the incoming administration’s commitment to infrastructure investment and regulation rollback.
“Last year was one of continued recovery for ready mixed concrete producers as the economy and investment expanded in most markets across the U.S.,” says NRMCA Chairman and Oldcastle Materials West Division President Scott Parson. “Year-to-date indicators and President Trump’s view of infrastructure are encouraging. If we look back at 2016 election results across the country, the news is equally positive, with many state and local initiatives passed to raise funds for roads, bridges and public works. All will fuel greater demand for ready mixed concrete.”
As the public construction funding picture brightens beyond this year, Build with Strength supports primarily private development prospects with an approach new to NRMCA: Deploying professional design and engineering resources across the United States, accompanied by promotion, communications and outreach strategies advancing cast-in-place concrete methods.
“I look at last year as one of foundation-building for Build with Strength,” notes Parson. “We grew NRMCA as an organization, built staff resources and strengthened relationships with state associations and other allies that will help the campaign reach its potential to boost ready mixed concrete market share.”
NRMCA ramped up Build with Strength by enlisting Washington, D.C.-based DDC Public Affairs and organizing campaign-geared staff under Structures and Sustainability plus Membership/Communications departments. The campaign launched during the Spring 2016 board meeting to counter recent growth in the use of softwood lumber products—from conventional plywood to engineered cross-laminated timber assemblies—for LMR buildings, especially those in the four- to seven-story height range.
“The national public awareness campaign serves as the overall communications umbrella to promote ready mixed concrete as the building material of choice,” NRMCA President Robert Garbini tells members in a Build with Strength update. “The multi-million dollar program has established a firm foundation as a legitimate brand through owned, earned, paid and social media. Build with Strength will exert increased influence through advocacy, education, and design assistance with designers, owners, builders, public officials and safety advocates.”
“In contrast to past national promotion efforts,” adds Parson, “Build with Strength requires more collaboration between NRMCA and state associations. Key objectives of Build With Strength are to increase building resiliency and safety. These will be most effectively achieved through local building code modifications and enforcement. NRMCA is organized to collaborate with state associations and other allied groups to achieve shared objectives to promote and expand the use of ready-mixed concrete in LMR construction.”
Fourteen NRMCA State Affiliates have endorsed Build with Strength, as have national allies American Society for Concrete Contractors, American Concrete Pumping Association, Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute and National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association. Campaign communications and outreach also hinge on forging alliances outside traditional channels. The National Association of State Fire Marshals, for one, has contributed technical insight on combustible material-tolerant building codes and brings credibility to a campaign whose tenets include life safety. After securing that alliance, NRMCA chartered an Investors and Developers Advisory Council to educate LMR building stakeholders on the benefits of specifying ready mixed concrete and Build with Strength design, engineering and project estimating resources.
One of Scott Parson’s steps to the NRMCA chairmanship was the Government Affairs Committee, which he chaired in 2011-12. His association involvement aligns with the culture at Oldcastle Materials, where employees are encouraged to support industry groups and actively engage in political advocacy.
A national aggregate, asphalt and ready mixed concrete footprint makes Oldcastle Materials one of the largest construction materials suppliers in the U.S. As a stakeholder in public works and infrastructure funding, the producer shares sentiments NRMCA Government Affairs Committee and staff relayed earlier this year during a Capitol Hill briefing, where the 11-member North American Concrete Alliance (NACA) informed Congressional Cement Caucus members of these priorities and policy positions:
- Infrastructure investment must be done wisely and factor reforms to programs that will extend the impact of federal dollars, with a focus on long-term, nationally significant mega projects. Projects should address the need for durable, long-lasting and resilient structures and systems.
- Congress must enact a long-term, robust and sustainable funding mechanism that addresses Highway Trust Fund shortfalls with solutions that stabilize and increase critical surface transportation investments.
- An efficient, well-functioning transportation network is essential to maintaining U.S. economic competitiveness. New funding and financing for long-term infrastructure investment are critical to economic growth, personal mobility and public safety.
The Portland Cement Association-moderated briefing coincided with much talk of infrastructure investment and funding mechanisms as the 115th Congress entered a critical legislative calendar window. NACA, comprising NRMCA and 10 concrete products or contractor groups, shared the cement and concrete industry’s critical role in infrastructure revitalization, including approximately 500,000 jobs and a $100 billion annual contribution to the U.S. economy.
To complement future NACA activities and open new communications channels with key federal lawmakers, NRMCA has completed filings and invitations for two Congressional Cement Caucus companions on Capitol Hill: the Ready Mixed Concrete Caucus and Resilient Construction Caucus. Congresspersons joining each will be kept up to date on industry priorities tied legislative and regulatory matters. The caucus efforts were announced at the Government Affairs Committee meeting during the 2017 convention in Las Vegas. The meeting also saw the committee present Representatives Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) with the inaugural Congressional Concrete Champion awards.
Leading up to his White House pursuit, Donald Trump might not have heard of or invested much time in the Obama administration’s laundry list of actions or orders strengthening the federal government’s role in the economy and raising costs for business, among them: Waters of the U.S., Clean Power Plan, overtime rules, new workplace/jobsite silica exposure thresholds, and stricter coal ash management guidelines. But true to campaign promises, President Trump has embraced business concerns by directing federal agencies to eliminate or sunset two rules or regulations for every new such measure proposed.
NRMCA Government Affairs Committee members and staff are focusing 2017 energies—through direct interface with agency contacts and lawmakers, or participation in larger, lobbying coalitions—on all areas of regulatory relief. “Whether a large or small operator, you are impacted by stifling regulation,” Scott Parson observes. “We are in a unique time, unlike any I can recall in my career. As with many other industries, construction materials suppliers are in a position to have burdensome regulations repealed or removed.”
One of the reasons NRMCA members now have a seat from which to voice concerns over the regulatory state is the Concrete Political Action Committee’s hugely successful election cycle. The committee reached a new fundraising watermark in 2016, investing contributors’ dollars wisely: 95 percent of U.S. House and Senate candidates receiving ConcretePAC donations prevailed in November.
“ConcretePAC needs the support of everyone who has a vested interest in the success of the ready-mixed concrete industry,” notes Parson. “Based on early contribution levels, this year was off to a better start than last year, and we will be able to have an even greater impact in the next election cycle than we did last year.”
Outside of pursuing regulatory relief and legislation advancing President Trump’s infrastructure plan, NRMCA will continue a critical effort to educate lawmakers on the Timber Innovation Act. Although modest by Washington, D.C., standards, the $10 million it proposes would fund U.S. Department of Agriculture market development activities for softwood lumber in LMR buildings. The NRMCA Government Affairs Committee steadfastly opposes the act, as it would provide federal funding to promote one building material over another—much to the detriment of free-market principles.
With immediate Capitol Hill priorities and the multi-year Build with Strength efforts top of mind, NRMCA Executive Committee members and staff are examining the association’s course through the remainder of the decade. “This year will be one for a strategic plan update, which takes place every three years,” Parson explains. “It’s time to take a fresh look at how our association is structured and make sure we are set up to help our members succeed. The strategic plan update is timely since we are in a period of economic growth—a different scenario than the last update.”
Member recruitment and retention will remain an area of focus, he adds: “As our offerings become more compelling, member ranks grow. Thirty new producers joined NRMCA in 2016, and we invite and welcome all ready-mixed concrete producers to join our association.”
NRMCA professional and plant certifications; education offerings; safety, environmental management and compliance support; and, design assistance touch different business aspects and combine to attract new members. “We have great training and education resources,” Parson affirms. “Stats from last year show a big gain over 2015 figures. More than 2,000 attendees or participants completed 21,000 course hours across 51 offerings. NRMCA-trained managers, production staff and drivers become more productive, professional and engaged in their work. As engagement increases, retention rates rise. Retention of good employees is a key to the future success of our producer members.”
He likewise values Oldcastle Materials’ participation in NRMCA industry data, compensation, fleet, and safety surveys, noting, “Results help us benchmark, set improvement goals, and strive to be a leading performer across a number of metrics. We also find great value in NRMCA’s award programs, which offer a unique opportunity to provide national recognition for our employees. In 2011, Bob Lowery, one of our delivery professionals, was selected as NRMCA National Driver of the Year. Being able to recognize Bob for his lifetime of dedicated safety, professionalism and customer service was one of my fondest memories during my thirty-plus year career.”
“I appreciate each NRMCA member, especially those who lead or actively participate in the many committees that are the lifeblood of the association,” he adds. “They are committed, talented and passionate. When we convene, members are able to leave personal interests aside and work for the industry as a whole. It’s an inspiring process and I look forward to accomplishing a great deal in 2017.”
|Under founding family and Oldcastle Materials ownership, Jack B. Parson has proved equal to challenging ready mixed concrete deliveries.|
OLDCASTLE MATERIALS INC. At a Glance
2017 NRMCA Chairman Scott Parson oversees the 10-state Oldcastle Materials West Division, which comprises 4,000-plus employees working in 26 businesses. He has a unique perspective as an executive at one of the association’s largest producer members, having maintained responsibility for a former family-held business, Jack B. Parson Cos. (JBP), which Oldcastle Materials acquired 21 years ago. JBP was among early Oldcastle Materials acquisitions with significant ready mixed concrete assets. Through organic growth and multiple acquisitions, Oldcastle Materials has grown to become one of the largest ready-mixed concrete suppliers in the U.S.
With parent company backing, Oldcastle Materials is firmly committed to the construction materials industry, especially demonstrated in the time and travel executives are investing this decade. Leading into his 2017 NRMCA chairmanship, Parson observes, Oldcastle Materials Chief Operating Officer John Keating chaired the National Asphalt Pavement Association (2013), while Cary Cohrs—CEO of Florida’s American Cement LLC, in which Oldcastle Materials is a partner—chaired Portland Cement Association (2012-13). In 2018, Oldcastle Materials CEO Randy Lake is on track to chair the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association.
COALITION COMES OF AGE
NRMCA commenced the Build with Strength campaign in April 2016 around this mission:
To educate the building and design communities and policymakers on the benefits of ready mixed concrete, and encourage its use as the building material of choice for low- to mid-rise structures. No other material can replicate concrete’s advantages in terms of strength, durability, safety and ease of use.
In a report on initial activities, NRMCA President Robert Garbini examined campaign launches in major targeted cities or states. Although tactics differed, each entailed production or pursuit of promotional marketing materials, legislative and political opportunities, coalition building and stakeholder engagement. The campaign arrived with press materials and social media buzz. Highlights from the first year show NRMCA and DDC Public Affairs staff tailoring events and messages to individual markets:
- Washington, D.C. Aimed at introducing the Build with Strength brand to lawmakers, regulators and influencers inside the Beltway. A roundtable of architectural/engineering, fire safety and residential/commercial property development interests was staged amid the International Concrete Sustainability Conference, while a sponsored Washington Post piece opined on ready mixed concrete’s role in low- to mid-rise (LMR) buildings.
- Seattle. In the backyard of the wood industry, members, allies and campaign staff a) moved to counter state legislation providing a tax credit for the use of cross-laminated timber (CLT), one of the leading products the wood industry is pitching to LMR building owners and developers; b) started a fire safety dialog in the context of building materials; and, c) proposed insulating concrete forms as a better, safer building solution than CLT assemblies.
- Chicago. Messaging changed from the first two campaign stops by acknowledging the city’s concrete architecture; demonstrating the resiliency of iconic structures no less than Wrigley Field; and, introducing the Build with Strength Design Center, which assists developers, owners and architectural/engineering/construction professionals in project planning, detailing and estimating.
- New Jersey. Message centered on supporting Garden State legislation that would toughen wood-tolerant code provisions resoundingly discredited in January 2015, when fire consumed more than half of a nearly all-wood, four-story apartment complex in Edgewater, N.J. Campaign staff shared with press and lawmakers results of research showing support for the pending legislation, plus voter concerns surrounding unsafe, Edgewater-style building materials and methods.
- New York. To address concerns where Superstorm Sandy and September 11 memories elevate building resiliency and safety awareness, the campaign publicized the results of a survey indicating support for codes ensuring durable construction. Build with Strength representatives also showcased extensive use (> 175,000 yards) of ready mixed concrete in the New York City skyline’s newest and tallest peak, One World Trade Center.
- Georgia. Staff publicized a model ordinance in the Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs, where council members banned the use of load-bearing softwood lumber in buildings three stories or higher.
- Maryland. Campaign backed a coalition supporting state legislation aimed at improved building fire safety measures.
- Florida and the Carolinas. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, which traveled up the Atlantic Coast in September, staff promoted code aspects of risk mitigation and building life-cycle costs from a new analysis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-hosted Concrete Sustainability Hub.