In little more than a decade, the U.S. concrete industry’s share of the important mid-rise building market shrunk by at least 10%, thanks in part to an ambitious initiative by wood industry associations. Bolstered by new products like cross-laminated timber, the marketing campaign advocates for greater acceptance of softwood lumber products in construction, adoption of favorable building codes, and even tax breaks for wood construction. This has helped increase the percentage of wood-constructed buildings in the mid-rise market from about 23% to 40%, according to the American Concrete Pumping Association (ACPA).

Concrete industry associations are fighting back.

Using its 2016 national convention as a launching pad in April, the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA) unveiled Build with Strength, a multimillion-dollar coordinated industry campaign to educate the design/build and code communities about the benefits of concrete construction. With a branded website serving as home base, NRMCA is using multimedia content, webinars, live seminars, social media, technical assistance, and rapid-responses strategies to build an advocacy network that supports concrete’s position in building codes, standards, and rating systems.

“All of us in the concrete industry know we offer a superior construction product that delivers safety, durability, and strength,” says NRMCA President Robert Garbini. “What this campaign is about is spreading that message to the audiences that are either unaware or are reluctant to embrace concrete as the standard bearer of durability.”

Portland Cement Association, another player in the fight for concrete, has been urging officials to adopt stronger codes that result in structures that are more resistant to energy consumption, fire, high-wind loads, and water damage—in other words, codes that favor the strength and resiliency of concrete. It is an ongoing effort that gained momentum in May 2016 when the White House announced federal and private-sector initiatives to make communities more climate-resilient through building codes and standards.

However, that same month saw the Timber Innovation Act (S 2892) introduced, a bill that proposes a research and development program as well as federal grants to accelerate the use of wood in the construction of tall buildings (more than 85 feet high or roughly seven or more stories). In response, NRMCA, ACPA, and other building trade organizations began meeting with members of Congress to ensure the bill does not become law. Their key message is the federal government should not choose sides in a free-market competition over building materials.

ACPA Executive Director Christi Collins further explained the origins of the concrete industry’s battle with wood and how contractors can help regain the market share in this video taken at World of Concrete in January 2016. Other industry efforts to promote concrete in construction include the Concrete Joint Sustainability Initiative , which was formed in 2009 and is backed by ACPA, NRMCA, PCA, and at least two dozen additional industry associations.

Concrete associations are making a concerted effort to reach the building design community and code administrators to stop market share loss to wood. How important are their efforts to your business?

Very important38%
Somewhat important23%
Not very important5%
Not important at all5%

Source: The Concrete Producer

What producers say

Most concrete producers don't see wood as a threat. Forty-one percent say their business is not affected by the wood industry’s efforts to modify the building code to allow timber frame in taller buildings. An additional 20% expect to see only minimal impacts. Twelve percent do not know how their business will be impacted.

“Wood has its limitations and will not have a big effect on us,” explains a producer based in Rhode Island. Other producers questioned the soundness of any decision to build with wood, especially in hurricane- and fire-prone regions.

However, 61% of those surveyed do feel that concrete industry associations’ initiatives to stop market-share loss to wood are somewhat to very important to their business. Ironically, this percentage equals the amount of those who say they will feel little to no impact. As one producer explains, it’s important to have an advocate.