After several years of stagnation, the precast concrete industry is finally turning the corner in the recovery from the Great Recession. The National Precast Concrete Association’s annual Benchmarking Report, released Aug. 15, shows a growth of 2% in sales volume in 2012, which is a small but significant number, according to Ty Gable, NPCA president.

“The growth in the precast sector typically trails the rest of the construction industry by about a year,” Gable said. “Based on history and anecdotal evidence from the first half of 2013, we are confident that the upward trend is continuing in 2013. But we’ve still got a long way to go, and we won’t see sales volume that approaches the peak years of 2006 and 2007 any time soon.”

NPCA’s Benchmarking Report is compiled from a voluntary annual survey that is sent to all precast concrete companies in North America. The survey is conducted by Industry Insights, an independent research firm. It includes sales mix data, profit model ratios, and compensation and benefits summaries from participating companies. The 2013 survey was completed by 75 precast concrete manufacturers representing 181 plants.

Gable said that during the recession, the precast concrete sector lost about 40% of its sales volume from the peak in 2007 and is now at a level similar to the industry’s size in 2000. The number of companies has also declined from its peak. NPCA estimates that there are about 2,800 precast concrete companies in North America, which is about 20% fewer than six years ago. “We’re recovering, but we still face challenging times,” Gable said. “Based on what we’ve seen so far in 2013, we would expect about 4% growth this year, so the trend is in the right direction and we see a lot of opportunity ahead in new technologies and emerging markets for precast.”

Here are key findings from the 2013 NPCA Benchmarking Report:

  • According to the data collected from the Benchmarking Report, the precast concrete sector grew by about 2% in sales volume last year to $15.4 billion.
  • The sales volume of the septic tank sector grew by 14%, which follows the recovery of the housing market.
  • The building products sector increased last year by 9%, which includes categories such as architectural wall panels, a comparatively small but growing line of business. Growth of 30% in this sector indicates that specifiers are increasingly selecting precast concrete panels for new building designs.
  • The traditional core categories of sanitary, wastewater, transportation and utility products remained steady.
  • Profit margin increased from 2.5% to 4.9%, which is still below average but gets closer to levels that are historically more normal.