CMU Checkoff will propel industry to new heights

People make the concrete masonry industry. And it doesn’t hurt that the men and women who call the business home also contribute to one of the most economically sound, environmentally friendly and functional building materials on the planet. A new checkoff program will help propel the industry to new heights, help block producers put more money in their pockets and lay the foundation for a more profitable, economically sustainable future. 

The block sector has seen its overall construction material market share decline in recent years. An industry that produced upwards of 4 billion concrete masonry units annually in the 1990s has seen demand slide to just over a billion CMU/year. Today, there’s new opportunity on the horizon for both block producers and the concrete masonry industry as a whole. 

The CMU Checkoff, slated for an industry-wide vote this summer, will provide a long-term and consistent financial foundation from which to build and sustain initiatives like promotion, marketing and research that will help grow the industry’s market share and win back demand lost to competitive products like timber and steel. While the checkoff will generate and invest millions of dollars annually into driving preference and demand for block, the cost is just one cent per block sold. 

But the CMU Checkoff will do more than provide the investment for demand-driving programs; it will promote a new way of thinking across the industry that will bolster prosperity equally for producers large and small at a time when such an evolution is needed.

“This checkoff will allow us to transform our industry and change with the times. We have to have money to do that. Checkoffs bring new ways of thinking and doing things and we all realize we need those things,” says CMU Checkoff Initiative Chair Major Ogilvie. “We have a premiere product. We need to do a better job of getting that out to the world. This checkoff will propel us forward into a prosperous future at a critical time for our industry.”

He cites six potential focus areas for checkoff investments, including marketing and promotion, influencing codes and standards, education and research, workforce recruitment, and supporting and educating design pros.

The CMU Checkoff has been designed with the industry’s long term in mind, but also the sustainability of individual producers. The Concrete Masonry Products Research, Education, and Promotion Act, approved by Congress in 2018, paved the way for the checkoff’s establishment and coordination with members of the industry. And in a first-of-its-kind collaboration with the U.S. Department of Commerce, the CMU Checkoff has a nationwide partner in ensuring fair representation and participation, and that checkoff investments benefit the entire industry. 

There are dozens of checkoff programs across the U.S., each started by a group of producers who saw the potential of a united industry in addressing lagging demand. The premise of a checkoff is that a rising tide lifts all boats; individual industry members contribute small sums—in the CMU industry’s case, one penny per block produced and sold—to a fund that supports research, marketing and other high-return activities to promote and generate new product demand. And increased demand leads to increased value for producers big and small. 

“A mandatory checkoff program enables concrete block producers to invest in their businesses and the industry’s future vitality in general,” says Ogilvie, who’s led the CMU Checkoff effort since it began in earnest in October 2010. “They don’t favor one business over another because everyone has the same opportunity to invest in a prosperous future.”

The Softwood Lumber Checkoff, implemented in 2011, was approved by two-thirds of those manufacturers voting, representing about 80 percent of the softwood lumber industry. The program, conducted with oversight from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, injected new funding into key research on building codes and ways to work with contractors to establish new commercial and residential uses. In 10 years, the checkoff has helped the softwood lumber industry grow demand by 6.3 billion board-feet. That’s translated to a $2.4 billion revenue increase because of checkoff-funded promotional and research activity. 

“Our eyes have been opened to what the softwood lumber sector has been able to accomplish with its checkoff program. There are strong footprints there for us to build upon and realize even better results,” Ogilvie observes. “You have to tip your hat to them; they’ve done a good job with their checkoff. But knowing the quality of people and leadership in our industry, I have no doubt we will have the very best checkoff in the country.”

Along similar lines, the CMU Checkoff will provide industry-wide funding to promote concrete block as a versatile, resilient building material. Such efforts will target consumers and industry partners like developers, engineers, architects, regulators and government officials. Checkoff investment will target lost market share and more by driving home both the growing benefits of CMUs compared to other building materials as well as the men and women who call the industry home.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about building demand for our product,” says Ogilvie. “With this checkoff, we will all benefit in big ways from a small investment.”

The CMU Checkoff Initiative comprises concrete masonry producers from across the United States, along with national or state industry and labor organizations representing masonry contractors, tradesmen and allies.