Houston concrete producers are enjoying a classic example of a construction boom. Driven by one of the country's fastest-growing populations, demand for concrete and concrete structural units is rising to near-historic levels.
Ben Beard, president of the Texas Aggregates and Concrete Association, says producers have learned several valuable lessons between construction booms. "While they're currently enjoying a great market, our board recognizes that public image is our No. 1 goal."
In south Texas producers struggle to meet demand. A cement shortage caused by a higher-than-predicted construction demand in the entire state has been exacerbated by a state regulation that has changed railcar delivery patterns and limited deliveries to many producers.
This year, these occurrences are rarer for the most part. Cement suppliers have responded by increasing distribution capabilities. Railroads have addressed the railcar shortages. More cement is being imported. Producers are increasing fleet capacity and trying to establish new plants to increase customer service, but this has become more difficult. Environmental regulations have toughened, especially in regard to water management.
Most importantly, there's the problem of public perception. To counter a poor image, the association has produced a videotape that explains how plants work and how they help the local economy.
Consolidation has been seen as the key to survival. But the local construction market has drawn new producers as well. One new producer, Frontier Materials, has overcome the challenge of transporting aggregate from far-away mining operations by building a large train-unloading facility.
Producers of ornamental precast concrete are sharing in the growth. Their biggest problem is meeting demand.
Pipe production in the Houston market is at near-capacity levels as the Houston area is enjoying a 5-year transportation upgrade program. Specifiers must choose between plastic and composite material pipe, which have low initial costs and installation ease, and concrete pipe, which has a proven track record of service life exceeding 30 years.
While the Houston-area boom presents producers with supply-and-demand problems, quality is one issue that isn't a public affairs concern. The Texas DOT=s Louetta Bridge and the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority=s current $215 million city street reconstruction project are giving quality concrete a better image.
Quality concreting is receiving another boost as Master Builders Inc., Cleveland, opened the first of four Regional Technology Centers that features product exhibits, demonstration areas, and classrooms for education and seminars.
Keywords: Houston, Texas, cement shortage, Frontier Materials, Ark Concrete Specialties, cast stone, CSR Hydroconduit, Master Builders