Most concrete producers have interests outside of their businesses, although running for U.S. Congress is one of the more ambitious. But that’s just what our cover subject, Jim Spurlino, owner of Spurlino Materials, did this past spring as a Republican seeking to replace former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner in Ohio’s 8th congressional district. Although ultimately unsuccessful, his bid points out the diversity of the people in this industry and the role as community leaders that so many accept.

Today, concrete producers are an upbeat group, with high expectations for this year and next, as shown by this year’s TCP Survey, with 68% predicting higher revenues for 2016 and only 9% expecting contraction. Despite the painfully slow rate of growth over the past six years, we have seen huge progress from the dismal days of the recession when producers were losing money on every load of concrete. Producers are increasing prices, adding product lines, expanding their customer base, and buying new equipment, particularly technology. This last partly in reaction to the ongoing difficulty of finding drivers and the never-ending quest for increased productivity.

But producers remain cautious and uncertain about the future, especially in the face of current and anticipated regulations. From employment laws to environmental regulations, concrete producers sometimes feel like they are rowing upstream. Take the situation with fly ash. Although the demand is there, whether for LEED points or for increased concrete quality, the supply is very tight in some regions partly due to new environmental regulations on coal-fired power plants and the very low cost of natural gas. But Thomas Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association, is confident that fly ash’s future is secure. “It’s doubtful that natural gas prices will stay this low forever. As natural gas prices creep up, coal will be dispatched at a higher rate.”

Even with all the headwinds, we move into 2017 with optimism. The five-year, $305 billion highway bill, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act will help. And once this crazy election is over, regardless of who wins, we should have a few years of predictability in Washington.

On another note, we bid a fond farewell to Sharon Rehana who served as editor of The Concrete Producer for the past two years. Sharon has taken a job as editorial director of a group of plumbing magazines—good for her but a sad day for us. Nonetheless, we will continue to publish informative content to help you do your job better and feel like you’re a part of the concrete community.