Batchman Chuck Scott monitors the controls at the Cemex batch plant in Sloan, Nev.
Batchman Chuck Scott monitors the controls at the Cemex batch plant in Sloan, Nev.

I couldn't help but be impressed by all of the equipment at World of Concrete in January. For a market that has struggled for the past three years or so, the concrete innovations just keep coming.

And we are about to get a double-dose, as CONEXPO-CON/AGG returns to the same venue this month. Concrete production equipment will be joined by earthmovers, mining equipment, aggregate processors, drilling equipment, construction vehicles, and more.

Also on the equipment front, I just read the U.S. Census Bureau's 2009 Annual Capital Expenditures Survey, which was released in February. The results are quite humbling.

The U.S. construction industry spent $19.8 billion on capital expenditures in 2009, a 52% drop from the $40.8 billion the previous year; $15.2 billion was spent on equipment and $4.6 billion on structures.

Specifically, the special trade contractors industry spent $8.6 billion, down 56%. The building construction industry spent $6 billion, which the bureau says was not significantly different from 2008. The heavy and civil engineering industry spent $5.1 billion, a 68% drop.

Construction industry unemployment has been stuck north of 20% for the past two years, so it's not surprising it accounted for the steepest drop in capital expenditures. But we're not alone. Capital expenditures for many industries also fell by double-digit amounts.

No one reading this can take comfort in such news. But after producing our March issue, I think there is a silver lining. In our cover story on page 22, Don Last, southern Nevada and Utah operations manager for Cemex, talks about how the producer was planning a new plant to keep up with the then-surging Las Vegas market. “Our concern had been the ability to keep up with demand,” he says. Then, it all collapsed. “Nobody predicted the downturn with any accuracy.”

Cemex did not gauge the market correctly. But I have a feeling the Sloan plant just south of Las Vegas is going to pay big dividends for the Mexico-based producer. The plant uses modern, efficient, technologically advanced equipment, just what Cemex will want when the market comes back. The plant was built to manufacture 400 yards of concrete/hour but the market is not yet ready to absorb that amount of concrete.

Last sees signs of a turnaround, and speculation is mounting that areas that have suffered the most—Nevada, Arizona, and Florida—may bounce back first. Having the latest equipment puts manufacturers in the best position when the recovery gains momentum. The plant in Sloan, Nev., will be at the top of its game when the good times roll again.

An App for That

Staying current on the latest U.S. economic news can be confusing. Some government websites are very difficult to navigate, even after typing a query into a search engine. Sometimes you don't even know which government agency reports which data.

I recently found an app for mobile devices that conveniently groups all of the latest data together for you. It is timely and you no longer have to surf various government websites. The free A2Z Economy Indicators Online app is available for the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Android devices. Its reports include construction spending, housing, home prices, durable goods orders, unemployment, consumer credit, and more.