Bob James, promotional director for the Oklahoma Ready Mixed Concrete Association (ORMCA), has found himself leading concrete's race to stake out its share of the new construction in and around Oklahoma City.

First came the meeting of insulating concrete form manufacturers that established a promotional effort for concrete homes. Then came the visit of some city officials to an auto dealer's parking lot, which shows off the state's largest whitetop paving project. And then came the presence of a Portland Cement Association booth promoting safe rooms at a national symposium on tornadoes, sponsored by Oklahoma State University.

This new wave of urban settlers has provided a much-needed boost to the economic growth of Oklahoma City. With growth comes opportunity, and area concrete producers are making sure they don't miss their share of prosperity.

Ben Fuller, current ORMCA president and director of sales for Dolese Brothers Co. Inc., attributes successful concrete promotion in Oklahoma City to the strong leadership of the area's concrete producers. He points out that each producer has created individual operational niches that have helped served the overall market very well. "But when it comes to promoting, we have always worked together," says Fuller.

In a city where asphalt has ruled most city streets and lumber has been the preferred framing material, James and his hard-working group of producers are helping to convince engineers and specifiers that concrete should be their preferred building material.

Not too far from Oklahoma City, Gary Smith, owner of Dealers Auto Auction of Oklahoma, built his auction lot out of concrete. Smith believes concrete pavement helps increase bid prices. Cars look better and, during hot summer days, concrete's surface helps keep bidders happier and cooler.

Late last year, Smith signed an agreement with a national company to establish a second auto auction lot. To be in full operation within 3 months, Smith turned to the Schwarz brothers for help.

Charles and Philip Schwartz are two of eight siblings involved in managing several ready-mixed concrete plants, two sand and gravel operations, and the paving business. Smith's challenge to the Schwarzes was rather daunting. There was the short project lead time, the need to work in the winter, a large surface area, and of course the cost. Both brothers thought ultra-thin whitetopping was the answer.

Everyone on the project thought the results were outstanding. When James heard of the project and the exciting ingenuity it would take to accomplish the results, he knew he had something to promote.

In November 1999, Schwarz helped the Oklahoma Ready Mix Concrete Association conduct an open house for 62 industry leaders, transportation officials, building development leaders, and municipal officials at the auction lot.

The project has proven to be a springboard of promotional success for area producers. Riding the wave of the current boom, the Schwarz family enterprise has been growing into a full-service producer.

Creating an engineered product to meet the needs of the large commercial projects has become commonplace for Fuller's charges. Dolese Brothers has a sophisticated concrete lab that gives Oklahoma City engineers a method of taking concrete to new levels.

This past summer, Fuller's group helped out on one notable project heralding. Near the Metro Church in Edmond, Okla., a suburb, a concrete cross stands 100 feet high with a 60-foot crossbeam. Ed Strurm of Strurm Engineering Co. convinced church elders that concrete would be a more economical material choice than the original steel cross in Texas they wanted to copy and would still impart their message.

Strurm's design engineers asked for a lightweight mix design with a 6000-psi strength requirement. But finishers placing the mix on the jobsite also needed a high-slump mix so concrete could flow around each member's heavy reinforcement. After several trials, the cross not only has received positive feedback from Metro Church visitors, but it also has brought Strurm Engineering a national award. The National Council of Structural Engineers Association selected the cross as a "Best Structure."

Owner of a small company, Kelly Goddard has adopted a marketing plan primarily focused on the residential market. After the 1999 tornado devastation, Goddard found one gleam of hope in the havoc. Goddard Concrete supplied the product for the concrete "safe room" that has become the poster child for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)'s program. Since last spring, Goddard has become more involved in promoting concrete. Using her wealth of residential contacts, she has been working with local FEMA and Small Business Agency officials on behalf of her customers. And she's found it a rewarding experience. "We've come to realize that we're not just hauling material, we're building our neighbors' homes," she says.