Carlo Ditta Ready Mix Concrete's Joseph Ditta is certain New Orleans will prosper  again.
Carlo Ditta Ready Mix Concrete's Joseph Ditta is certain New Orleans will prosper again.

On Sept. 17, curators for the New Orleans Museum of Art planned to close at least one chapter of the area's post-hurricane recovery efforts. When the New Orleans cultural landmark reopened last spring, the marquis event was the unveiling of “Katrina Exposed,” a collection of photographs, which chronicled the storm's effect on the city.

Later this month, the same gallery will host an exhibition with a happier theme, and hopefully provide a prediction of the city's next chapter: “Carnaval!”

The transition indicates residents are moving forward since Hurricane Katrina struck Aug. 29, 2005. It's been more than a year since the storm “they knew would eventually come” finally came. Around the city, there are other signs that things are approaching some sense of normalcy. One of these is the familiar sight of ready-mixed concrete being delivered.

Trailer town

A few miles south of the museum, one of Joseph Ditta's drivers pulls his mixer onto hollowed ground to discharge concrete on the grade of the streetcar line.

In a previous era, the maneuver might have earned the driver a ticket. But today, several finishers are anxiously waiting for the fresh concrete to fill the slab form. Along the famous line, sounds of mixers, backhoes, and boom trucks have replaced the distinctive clang of the streetcar bell, where crews work to restore service, which is scheduled to restart next year.

Ditta, vice president of sales and marketing for Carlo Ditta Ready Mix Concrete in Harvey, La., says work like this shows that the area is not only getting back to normal, but “there's also a renewed emphasis on quality, and we needed that.”

Business is coming back, says Ditta. Initially, most of the work came from U.S. Army Corps of Engineer projects, as engineeers worked to repair damage from Katrina and prepare for the next hurricane season. But in the last few months, more work has come from regular commercial and even some residential customers. “We're fortunate most of our customers are well-established New Orleans businesses, whom we've dealt with for two or three generations,” says Ditta.

His operations didn't suffer much storm damage, other than flooding in the main office. The entire computer and IT system was lost. Like thousands of the plant's neighbors, Ditta has been forced to operate from not-so-temporary housing.

Ditta, a third-generation producer, has faced several problems since the storm. First there's the challenge of increased costs. “We're in a market where labor, aggregates, and fixed costs have been stable for a long time, but all that has changed,” he says.

Most important has been the availability of quality labor. Some of the producer's drivers moved away after the storm. But most are long-term residents with strong ties to the community and to the producer. “It's difficult right now to find new drivers with the skills of our regular employees,” says Ditta.