Last fall, a young man approached me during a break at a conference and asked if I had a few minutes to visit with him. The event had an understandable air of gloom, as ready-mixed concrete production had plummeted to levels we have not seen since 1995.

The recent Concrete Industry Management (CIM) graduate was afraid he'd lose his job, as rumors of additional lay-offs were rampant at his company. He even wondered whether his choice of college curriculum, and career for that matter, was the right one. He clearly had serious doubts about the future of our industry. Here is how I responded:

“You made a terrific choice in the CIM curriculum, and a terrific choice of industries for your career. The economic times we are experiencing will be with you for the rest of your life. Like my parents who lived through the Great Depression, you will be forever careful in the choices you make in your personal and business life.

“You will be more thoughtful and less reckless in your decision-making, and you will develop a laser-sharp sense of efficiency and operational skills driven by the financial necessities of our times.

“PCA expects a recovery to 111 million tons of cement by 2013 from a projected 71 million this year. That translates into almost 350 million yards of concrete. While not a record, it would be a great recovery from this year's 265 million yards in just three or four short years.

“Concrete is the most basic building product that drives every aspect of construction. Nothing can be built without it, maybe with the exception of inferior asphalt roads.

Strong numbers

“As America recovers, concrete will lead the way. And as our nation grows and prospers, and our population approaches 400 million people over the next 25 years, our industry will double, and possibly triple in size. That means thousands of additional plants, tens of thousands more ready-mix trucks, and maybe 100,000 new jobs when you consider the impact ready-mix production has on the workforce in the aggregates, admixtures, and capital equipment industries that support us.

“You will be at mid-career in 25 years. You will look back at this recession and will remember everything you learned about being a better and leaner producer. And you will still have another 20 or 25 years ahead of you, with an opportunity to impart the wisdom of your experiences on other young men and women. At that point, I think you will agree that your career choice to be part of an industry as vibrant as this one has been historically, and which will be again soon, was the right decision.

“Imagine what the industry will look like in 40 or 50 years. How could you not want to be a part of that?”

We were interrupted as we neared the end of our conversation. I introduced other people to the young man, and as we parted ways, I realized later that I didn't get his business card. But I think I got through to him.

So if that young man is reading this, please drop me a note and let me know how things are going. I plan to catch up with you in 25 years and gloat that I was right. Of course, I'll be 83 and just as bullish on the industry as I am today.

Pierre Villere is president and managing partner of Allen-Villere Partners. E-mailpvillere@allenvillere.comor telephone 985-727-4310.