Ten years. Wow. This marks my 10th anniversary as a regular contributor to The Concrete Producer. Our managing editor tells me I am the longest-running contributor to the publication, except for a couple of the in-house contributors at Hanley Wood. This is my 84th column, which has appeared continuously since July 2005.
In my first column, “A View Into Our Crystal Ball,” I set forth eight observations I thought would challenge our industry. Ten years later, I was right about six, but missed two, and one by a country mile. The six I got right are:
- Consolidation will continue, and in a big way. It certainly continued, well into 2008, and then the brakes hit hard. But watch out, it’s coming back. We may have had a pause in activity during the last few years, but consolidation is here to stay.
- HR will continue to be a challenge. It was then and still is.
- More sophisticated marketing will play a key role in growth. Look how much marketing has changed in the last 10 years, from the technology that envelops our industry to newer ways to win customers and business.
- Mixers will continue to become more sophisticated. So true. Look at the systems in a 10-year old mixer, and compare those to the newest offerings from the major manufacturers. And the self-driving trucks of the future will emerge sooner than later.
- Permitting and compliance will become more daunting than ever. Twenty years ago, siting and permitting a plant was far less challenging than today, and it’s getting tougher.
- Technology will continue to be the key driver in efficiency improvements. No surprise here. What we didn’t see is how technology has grown to be a key driver in a company’s sophisticated marketing efforts.
So which two did I blow?
- Will cement shortages be short-lived, or will they continue to haunt us? I said cement shortages would be like the oil shocks of the 1970s, and shortages would come and go, but would be here to stay. Well, I missed that one. I never counted on the agility of our domestic cement industry, which scrambled to fill demand with an unprecedented amount of imported cement to meet the needs of the 2005-07 boom years. By those peak years, imports amounted to 30% of all the cement sold in the country, ending that era of shortages.
- Total concrete volume in the U.S. could reach 500 million cubic yards by 2010, up from 430 million cubic yards in 2004. That was our biggest miss of all. But we were not alone; every major industry group and trade association shared our view and saw life through rose-colored glasses. All of us thought the music would never end. Valuations were sky-high, the industry was generating enormous amounts of free cash, and the mood was high. In 2010, the industry produced 257 million cubic yards, almost half of our prediction. And this was down from the all-time high of 458 and 456 million cubic yards in 2005-06. But the 2008 financial crisis that gave rise to the Great Recession was probably toughest on the construction industry, which is the last major segment of the economy to fully recover. For instance, in 2015, our firm estimates about 340 million cubic yards will be produced nationally, or about 120 million cubic yards off our peak 10 years ago, a number we haven’t seen since 1996. We still have a long climb to the industry high.
But the best part about the last 10 years has been all of the industry people I’ve met, and all the friends I’ve made. Starting with the wonderful folks at The Concrete Producer and its parent, Hanley Wood, I’ve never met a nicer, more talented group of publishing professionals. And around the country, I count so many readers as my clients, friends, and colleagues, from owners of small and large ready-mixed producers, to trade association professionals, to executives at the biggest multinationals. I consider myself lucky to have made so many friends and acquaintances.
So with a special thanks to all of you who have followed my musings all these years, here’s to the next 10!