No doubt, 2008 will be a tough year. But not for the reasons you may suspect. Sure, there's the dramatic drop in volume because of the residential construction decline. And there's the effect of higher fuel prices on deliveries. And providing the clincher is the uncertainty caused by a national election.
These factors are significant, yet they are also cyclical. Our industry has adjusted to these factors in the past.
There are other reasons why 2008 may be one of the toughest years our industry has ever faced. Managers face three important questions whose answers will shape the next decade:
1) How will the declining value of the U.S. dollar against the euro affect capital investment? Concrete production is no longer local. European concerns may want to use this temporary (?) currency advantage to accelerate their investment in our industry. But not how you think. In adddition to acquisitions, foreign investors will strengthen their competitive advantage with plant upgrades and other efficiencies. Producers who fail to invest now may find themselves behind the technology curve and at a disadvantage when sales rebound.
2) How will the declining U.S. dollar affect material availability, quality, and pricing? The price of importing portland cement will rise, especially when you add transportation costs. And there's the ever-shrinking supply of raw aggregates. Producers who fail to investigate performance mixes and non-traditional ingredients will be vulnerable to variable market conditions.
3) Will Americans pay for a better transportation system? The results of the 2008 election will foretell the future of our transportation system. Are voters fed up with poor roads, weak bridges, and crowded airports? Probably yes. But are they willing to base their vote on these issues, or will other polarizing issues place these needs on the back burner again? This factor will affect every producer's expansion plans. Will it be better to upgrade inner city plants? Or should producers focus on suburban growth? Will there be a greater need for precast elements?
Despite these uncertainties, our industry is poised for a long-term rebound.
Our cover story "Certifying Success" reports on the positive effects of contractor certification. This has been especially true for pervious concrete. For the first time in my 30 years in the industry, we have provided documentation of not only a quality product to the marketplace, but evidence of quality installers. As a result, pervious pavement will strengthen our product at the expense of asphalt.
In our World of Concrete coverage, you'll notice that the National Steering Committee for the Concrete Industry Management program is again hosting an auction (page 80). Proceeds will add another $500,000 for workforce development. The more than 100 CIM students attending WOC (many looking for jobs) is evidence the investment is paying dividends.
But perhaps the greatest reason for optimism will be found at GREENSITE in the South Hall. Acceptance of sustainable building techniques is more than a fad—it's an economic reality with positive payback for producers.
Our only barrier to sustainable growth may be our self-imposed prejudgments. As an industry, we need to agree on concrete's message and be consistent in our marketing. So, we have started a column, GreenSite. Like the WOC event, Green-Site will provide insights on how concrete's “green” qualities can influence material selection, construction practices, and final use of structures to ensure a better planet.
This is the year you need to come to World of Concrete, Jan. 22–25. You will find answers to many of the questions you are asking. Just as important, there will be tens of thousands of like-minded folks with whom to share your thoughts.
I hope to see you later this month in Las Vegas.
Editor In Chief