Conquering Crisis

A visit with 2020 NRMCA Chairman John Carew
John Carew

Taking the podium at the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association annual members’ meeting in early March, incoming chairman John Carew honored the occasion without ignoring a rapidly unfolding public health crisis guaranteed to consume local, state, national and international affairs. Not to his surprise, the remainder of the month brought a sequence of events confirming that NRMCA staff and members, including Wisconsin-based Carew Concrete & Supply Co., were prepared for a level of business disruption few could envision.

“The threat of Covid-19 and shutdown measures have made us look at the year much differently than when we started out,” says Carew. “I had planned to visit NRMCA staff at the new Virginia headquarters and put a face to the 2020 agenda. We had a 90th association anniversary and 15th National Mixer Driver Championship to mark at ConcreteWorks, and the start of a second year under staff President Michael Philipps. Then everything hit; everyone was ordered to work at home. But the Association hasn’t missed a beat.”

He encouraged NRMCA staff in a communique to take advantage of the time away from the office—to be resilient and flexible—and bear in mind: “Crisis equals danger plus opportunities.” Through four-plus months of phone or conference calls, email or text messages, and Zoom Video Conference or GoToMeeting/Webinar gatherings, he and NRMCA leadership are confident members have been well served amid stay-at-home orders and state shutdowns. Goals for 2020 educational course delivery, training, plant or equipment certification, and building or pavement market development are being met. Ready mixed producers and Association staff are proving they can function productively for as long as public health conditions make online platforms the appropriate alternative to in-person engagement.

Carew Concrete & Supply maintained a summer tradition this year with its Ready Mix Driver Championship, staged at the Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wis. Appleton Plant Driver Al Cleveland took first place. Under other circumstances, he would be headed to the National Mixer Driver Championship, the 2020 edition of which has been deferred from next month to next year. John Carew (right) plans to enlist both his 2020 and 2021 Driver Champions in the national event.
NRMCA Compliance and Operations staff and Safety, Environmental and Operations Committee members produced a widely subscribed webinar with timely takeaways for North American ready mixed producers and overseas peers. U.S.-centric offerings included a template for documentation mixer drivers might need to prove the “essential” nature of their road presence.

NRMCA is preparing to stage its top event, the three-day ConcreteWorks Conference and Expo, in a two-day virtual format this October. The Safety, Environmental and Operations (SEO) Committee has likewise deferred the 2020 National Mixer Driver Championship to next year’s ConcreteWorks agenda, but will observe a Mixer Driver Appreciation Week, October 5-9.

Online conference platforms that will power the virtual ConcreteWorks have equipped NRMCA to change course fast since the Las Vegas convention. “Everyone came together on urgent matters like plant and jobsite safety and ensuring a strong message on the industry’s ‘essential’ status for public officials and lawmakers,” Carew tells Concrete Products. Instead of tamping down expectations for the year, he cites a stream of deliverables from the NRMCA Compliance and Operations, Engineering, Government and Political Affairs, Local Paving, Promotion Strategy and Communications, plus Structures and Sustainability departments.

“Education, member engagement and promotion remain my priorities,” he affirms. “We were doing well as an industry leading into the pandemic. I challenge NRMCA members and staff to identify where we can enhance production methods and to continually highlight things that make our product great. I also want to step up educational offerings, specifically for delivery professionals.”

To contend with near-term, unknown market and public health quantities, Carew adds, the Executive Committee has formed a Future Focus Task Force. Participants will examine present NRMCA functions and where the organization will be in a year; draw budgets under several scenarios, dire included; and oversee weekly financials reporting. Assisting Future Focus are a recently appointed vice president of finance and a controller. Each splits his respective schedule as shared staff with the Portland Cement Association, which in August 2019 relocated its executive office from Skokie, Ill., to space within NRMCA’s Alexandria, Va., headquarters.


As seasonal construction work in Wisconsin climbed in April, a trooper questioning ready mixed concrete commerce flagged a Carew Concrete & Supply mixer truck. A delivery professional put the matter to rest with a document showing state officials’ acknowledgement of concrete as an essential business.

The document was the product of spontaneous Compliance and Operations and Government and Political Affairs staff outreach to federal and state leaders, lawmakers and regulators. One of the earliest efforts was a mid-March letter in which NRMCA—along with its four national counterparts in concrete masonry, pipe, precast and prestressed, plus 18 allied material, contractor and construction trades groups—implored the White House to shield building and public works. “During this critical time, it is imperative that construction is characterized as an ‘essential industry’ exempted from any current or future mandatory shelter-in-place orders or quarantines,” signatories noted.

Copied to all governors, the letter was penned less than a week after President Trump declared a national emergency to facilitate pandemic response measures. “It was critical to get the word out about the importance of ready mixed concrete and how the industry was prepared to operate with strong worker and customer safeguards,” says John Carew.

Pursuit of essential status for concrete and downstream allies leveraged the NRMCA Structures and Sustainability Department and its Build With Strength coalition team members. They worked with state affiliates on personal appeals to 28 governors, 26 of whom declared construction essential—among 48 peers who ultimately kept construction open for their states.

While designation of construction as essential was secured, the SEO Committee, along with Compliance and Operations staff, expedited guidance for protecting plant workers, delivery professionals and contractor customers. “Timely safety documents and graphics hit at the heart of SEO work,” says Carew, a past (2006-2007) committee chairman and 2011 recipient of its top individual honor, the Joseph Carpenter Award. “We exchanged information with allied groups across the world.” Collaboration on Covid-19 strategies entailed the Canadian Ready Mixed Concrete Association, European Ready Mixed Concrete Organization and Latin America counterpart Federacion Iberoamericana del Hormigon Premezclado.

SEO members and NRMCA Compliance and Operations staff populated a clearinghouse, “NRMCA Covid-19 Resources,” featuring industry-produced assets plus Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and Environmental Protection Agency guidance. The site has assisted more than 1,500 industry colleagues through 2,500-plus visits. Its top product is “Covid-19 Best Practices,” a file of an April webinar where NRMCA Executive Vice President Gary Mullings covered the nuts and bolts of preventing infection and virus spread across ready mixed concrete production and delivery. The live webinar drew more than 300 participants and has since been shared throughout North America and with overseas allies.

Along with SEO Committee activities, the GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar platforms are anchoring a variety of Engineering and Research Division education offerings, led by the Plant Manager Course plus principal Durability, Fundamentals and Concrete Technologist offerings. In some weeks, the division has also averaged 30-40 ready mixed plant certifications and 300-plus mixer truck registrations.


Whether he is reviewing his own financials or those of NRMCA, return on investment is top of mind for John Carew, who suffered many spreadsheets as a certified public accountant prior to returning to his family ready mixed concrete business. ROI measurements underpin his and the NRMCA Board’s support of the Build With Strength (BWS) coalition, now in its fifth year of driving cast-in-place solutions for low- to mid-rise buildings and a message of concrete’s sustainability attributes.

Structures and Sustainability department team members supporting BWS are tasked in 2020 with educating 5,000 architects, engineers, contractors, developers and project owners through one-hour individual presentations or group sessions. NRMCA leadership figured the BWS strategy was most likely to be sidetracked by the pandemic, since team activities are primarily face-to-face. In a forthcoming report to members, however, Executive Vice President Lionel Lemay tallies results absent conventional meeting options: “Within two weeks of the shutdown we launched our first webinar, Concrete Innovations, to an overwhelming crowd of 463 attendees and followed up weekly with 12 additional topics ranging from ‘Specifying Sustainable Concrete’ and ‘Resilience’ to ‘Fire Safety’ and ‘Economical Construction.’ In total, we educated 6,000 people online, exceeding our target within the first half of the year.”

He and colleagues are maintaining momentum by working with NRMCA state affiliates to deliver webinars to state or regional architecture and engineering groups or chapters. Lemay also anchored the premier edition of a podcast, “Concrete Credentials,” that the Promotion Strategy and Communications department kicked off last month. Available on major podcast apps, the series will feature experts from design, development, construction and related sectors on the benefits of specifying concrete for buildings and transportation infrastructure. Content will support BWS and the Local Paving’s companion Pave Ahead initiative.

Independently or through state affiliates, Local Paving staff targets major concrete applications outside mainline highway pavement. Amid the peak of shutdown and stay-at-home orders, it developed 12-week technical and three-week promotional webinar series for road, street, parking lot and industrial slab practitioners. At mid-year, the webinars had logged combined audiences exceeding 5,000 and are posted for on-demand viewing at


Just-released Portland Cement Association figures show that during the thick of pandemic response measures, cement consumption and ready mixed production were off 7.5 percent year over year. That figure could represent a brief trough based on the resumption of normal construction levels toward Memorial Day.

Carew Concrete & Supply is among NRMCA members that have run at volumes projected for 2020, thanks to the continuation of major projects. It has hired staff since April and all team members are back on normal schedules. Conditions in Wisconsin, moreover, enabled the producer to stage its 2020 Ready Mix Driver Championship in mid-July. The event took place near Appleton headquarters at the Fox Cities Stadium, a sprawling venue offering drivers and their families much elbow room throughout a challenge course and large tents.

John Carew and fellow NRMCA members are guarded about the next 18 months, nevertheless, especially in light of federal and state budget shortfalls impacting public construction. He notes that market activity into 2021 will depend on how damaged businesses are after shutdowns and major sales losses. “Are companies and consumers going to be reluctant to spend money?,” he asks. “In construction, I believe there are opportunities in needed projects that will put any idled crews back to work.”

“Months from now, we can look back and be impressed with the way NRMCA members and staff have been able to keep connected and work together so contractors have the material they need,” Carew concludes. “No one knows what direction the pandemic will take; we have to be cautious and operate safely to stay open.”

His chairman’s term thus far has been “an amazing ride. Fun and challenging. I am very proud of our staff and leadership, members, board and committees. We have a great team. Once again I am reminded of the return on investment in NRMCA: Whatever you put into the association, you get so much more back.”


(seventh from right) U.S. Representative Glenn Grothman (WI-6th) and Debbie & John Carew flank co-founder Ruth Carew following a mid-July tour of the producer’s Fond Du Lac plant, which opened two weeks prior. Prospective third generation operators (second and fourth from right) Ryan and Justin Carew tended to family business duty while on break from college.


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