NCMA begins second century equal to challenges new and old

Congratulations to members and staff are the order of the month as the National Concrete Masonry Association observes a 100-year anniversary. One of the oldest groups in building and construction, it shares a century mark with businesses and organizations no less than Ash Grove Cement, Besser Co. and Lehigh Portland Cement, as well as the American Concrete Institute, American Concrete Pipe Association and Portland Cement Association.

An NCMA leader who will be front and center during the July 30-August 2 formal celebration in Chicago is 2018 Chairman Kent Waide of Kentucky-based Ruby Concrete Co., whose roots trace back to 1869. In conversations with Waide and NCMA staff (Chairman’s Report, pages 32-35), we’re reminded of the compelling concrete block production and market development story of the past century. Much perspective is encapsulated in the exemplary website. It contains a wealth of NCMA and PCA archive materials, plus content from the Concrete Products Association’s (CPA) pre-World War II journal, Concrete Products, and our publication, officially launched in 1947.

Materials supporting the 100-year anniversary show that the industry, while long past the material, production and finished unit standardization matters that drove the CPA formation and evolution into NCMA, concrete masonry interests confront market circumstances similar to their predecessors. Topping them are perceptions of concrete block and a lack of universal understanding of its performance potential.

CPA launched in 1918 and initially functioned within the Cement Products Bureau of the Portland Cement Association, which had charted two years prior and established Chicago headquarters. Founding members, NCMA notes, were dedicated to fostering practical knowledge; encouraging “development of the art of manufacturing” and creating a standard of production excellence; advertising products and promoting their use; and, securing more efficient cooperation with the government and agencies.

Those goals align with NCMA’s present mission, as do others cited in a folksy recap of a February 1919 CPA organizational meeting. The event was “filled with discussions reviewing practically every phase of the concrete products business, including designs, manufacturing and costs, which gave most a far more complete idea of the possibilities of the industry than they had ever had before. Particular emphasis was laid upon the necessity of co-operating with architects and bringing them around to a proper appreciation of what concrete blocks and shapes stand for as high grade building material.”

Ninety-nine years and five months on … NCMA is embracing technology-enabled communications measures to stay current with architects, engineers and contractors. Design and technical information supporting concrete block & brick, hardscape units and manufactured stone veneer, 2018 Chairman Waide tells Concrete Products, will be conveyed on platforms many producer member customers and prospects have adopted in their product selection and specification processes.

Additional reports from the early CPA days underscore how the fire safety message warrants repeating in perpetuity. “Concrete, properly made, will largely reduce the fire hazard,” CPA Executive Committee Chairman W.R. Harris told charter members. “If [they] were made of concrete, we would not have 1,600 dwellings burned every year with the consequent loss of energy and money, loss of life, and lost labor which it takes to replace them.”

In an era when low- to mid-rise building developers ignore the perils of combustible materials in load-bearing assemblies, NCMA’s longstanding message of fire safety could carry farther with funding from the proposed CMU Check-off. Concrete masonry stakeholders would be a step closer to such a program with the passage of the Concrete Masonry Products Research, Education, and Promotion Act, one of Kent Waide’s top priorities. The legislation would allow NCMA to pursue a CMU Check-off referendum and measure where producers and their customers want concrete block to be in five, 50 or 100 years.