What Are We Fighting For?

Jim Vlcek, Editor,
Concrete News

On the heels of the most over-hyped, non-event of the millennium, the Y2K bug, we thought you would like to hear what some of your peers in the industry, ten of the nation's top concrete professionals, had to say about challenges they are facing now, and what advice they would offer others to improve their business in the future.

The following are portions of recent interviews with these leaders, chosen randomly from 100 diverse companies in our industry...ranging from concrete contractors, specialty concrete companies, engineering companies and from one of the premier concrete testing laboratories in the world. All have one thing in common....they are very focused and they are very bullish on their potential and the future of concrete construction.

A predominant concern for most companies in 2001 seems to be rising labor costs, and the difficulty of recruiting and hiring a quality workforce. Gaining market share by solving ongoing, quality control issues, along with control of the concrete mix design seem to be a common New Year's resolution. Please read on to gain the specific insight these industry leaders have to share.

Curt Meidling, Co-Owner

JV: Tell me about Meidling Concrete.
CM: "Meidling Concrete will continue to be a highly specialized company focusing on repair work for all concrete applications. We will continue to carve-out this segment of the concrete construction business."
JV: What do you perceive as the most significant challenge facing your company for 2001?
CM: "Our resolution for 2001 will be to improve our training programs. We'd like to get new crews competently trained and up and running and on the job site in the shortest amount of time. We'll also be examining, testing and purchasing new, innovative equipment in order to improve the quality and consistency of each completed job."
JV: What one piece of advice could you give other concrete professionals to help improve their business for next year?
CM: "Work hard to build and maintain relationships. Meidling will also be working hard to increase our awareness with both new and existing Distributors in order to keep our presence top-of-mind in the industry. Like everyone else, we'll be present at World of Concrete next year with our eyes and ears open for new ideas, new products, additives and new contacts."

Vittorio Tiramani, VP
ACF CONCRETE, Laval, Quebec

JV: Tell me about ACF Concrete.
VT: "ACF is a specialty company. We specialize on industrial floors. Although we're very well known up here in Canada, our market is not really an expansive market per-say...we have to work hard each year to maintain the relationships and business we get each year. Basically, we'll be working with most of our same contractors...and working very hard and diligently to keep those people happy."
JV: What do you perceive as the most significant challenge facing your company for 2001?
VT: "As I said previously, our main thrust will be to keep our good contractors happy and well-serviced. We've learned over the years to keep a good balance with bidding. All or most of our work is done with private tenders...we've found over the years that "time" kills all deals. We want to get in and out of the bidding process as quickly as possible. We'd like these people to have some interest in our company on the front-end as well as when we get the job. We like to pick and choose what we do. We don't want to be all things to all people. We like to be sure of what we're capable of doing before we bid the job. We stay away from most public bidding...it just takes too long and we find that it turns into a number's game...it makes more sense for us to stay on the private side. We try to maximize our business by what we do best. We also have a good relationship with all our suppliers.... within 24 hours, we can get most anything we want for whatever job we have...even some of the harder-to-get supplies."
JV: What one piece of advice could you give other concrete professionals to help improve their business for next year?
VT: "Stay with what you do best! Be careful not to over-extend yourself. If you want to do that, do it over time and be careful with the bidding and your overhead. Keep your good people happy. Focus your bidding where you know there's some interest. Public bidding takes at least six-months to work with, and they just don't have the interest that we'd like to see up front. We can turn around some of the private work in a little as two or three months. Unless that's a big part of your business, stay away from public bids. Things are a little different for us up here in Canada...I'm sure in many parts of the US, concrete companies can get about any business they want if they think they can do it. Up here we have to pick-and-choose every job we get!"

George Seegebrecht, PE and
Ronald Burg, PE, Vice President
CTL, Inc., Skokie, IL

JV: Tell me about CTL.
GS: "Construction Technology Laboratories, Inc. is considered one of the industry's most reputable and respected concrete testing laboratories. Many companies use the CTL labs because of our impeccable reputation for accuracy, and impartiality in the performance testing and the reporting of our findings."
JV: What do your perceive as the most significant trend or challenge facing your company for 2001?
GS: "I personally trouble-shoot concrete problems all over the world for quite a few years. Probably the most exciting trend I'm seeing right now is remote concrete monitoring over the internet. We're working on a "big-dig" right now in the Boston area...the federal reserve bank. It's a huge project...and a huge undertaking. My colleagues have been working on this for two years before it was even started. The dig went on and the water tables were lowered. The sediment that occurred immediately set-off alarms here in our Chicago offices...letting everyone know something had to be done immediately.

One company is currently using this remote sensoring technology to apply sensors to damaged concrete. They're repairing spalled concrete and installing these sensors in order to monitor the electron flow and the activity involved in the corrosion process. All of this will be related to the Internet, so you can constantly monitor this kind of activity. This remote monitoring will enable you to monitor the entire building (or perhaps just problem areas) from the convenience of your office rather than visiting the building.

My colleagues are also test monitoring the Seattle stadium to measure concrete flexion with all the massive weight applied on the structure during games. The Architect involved wanted an additional safety measure. The Seattle stadium project was actually a referral from the Boston project and they were impressed."
RB: "Concrete mix designs are going to become more and more complex and more engineered for a particular purpose. In the past, we typically saw Portland cement, sand, stone and water. The trends in the future will be to mix several chemical admixtures. In the future, it will be more important (because good quality aggregates are becoming harder and harder to find) to be selective with what goes in your mix. To make the analogy.... we used to bake chocolate chip cookies with just a few ingredients. Now we're using a myriad of ingredients; nuts, M&M's, etc, etc. to make chocolate chip cookies tailored to the changing needs of the customer. The concrete business is leading toward the same thing."
JV: What one piece of advice could you give other concrete professionals to help improve their business for next year?
GS: "Don't hesitate to rely on all the resources you have available. We get a lot of calls here. Many of these calls are after-the-fact asking us to evaluate problems out in the field. The "ideal" situation would be for companies to call us early in the planning stages of their projects where and when we could help solve problems before they become problems. I would also say to keep in close relationship with ASTM, PCI, and ACI so you have as many cutting-edge resources available as possible."
RB: "Rely on research. Read your ACI manuals and keep active in your technical, professional organizations, which are a depository of ideas, innovations and solutions. Be more active in getting involved in your own mix design. As premium quality aggregates become harder to find...it's more important than ever to understand your mix design before the pour".

Phil McKeone, President

JV: Tell me about Daedalus Construction.
PM: "Daedalus Construction specializes primarily in structural, poured-in-place concrete. We've been in business since 1977."
JV: What would you perceive as the most significant challenge facing your company for 2001?
PM: "Every day is a challenge. Every job is a challenge. Our challenge is to keep improving year-after-year! We're going to step up to the plate and take the responsibility to do a great job...not only next year...but every year!"
JV: What one piece of advice could you give other concrete professionals to help improve their business for next year?
PM: "You and your company are the only "walking book" your customer knows. Know your ACI...and know it well! Make sure you don't pass the buck! You're the go-between the owner and the concrete. Prior to the pour, many things become "canned"....you're paid to know more than anybody else does...step up to the plate and back it up! The owners look to you for the answers...you need to be the expert! Many times the written specification put there by the Architect or Engineer on the blueprint is not the only thing the owner needs to look at. Don't rely on the specs alone. Specs sometimes are not 100% right for every given concrete situation.

David Rossetti, Sr., Owner

JV: Tell me about D.J. Rossetti Concrete.
DR: "We specialize in large scale, commercial, industrial, institutional, elevated/graded slabs on deck and road and bridge work. We also specialize in cast-in-place concrete. Basically...it's all slab work.
JV: What do you perceive as the most significant challenge facing your company for 2001?
DR: "My advice would be for concrete contractors to control their mix design in order to assure the quality of the in-place product. Don't just take any concrete from the concrete ready mix companies that they want to sell you. All 4,000 psi concrete mix designs do not finish, dry or shrink the same. Control your own destiny...by taking control of the concrete mix design. This is the single biggest thing that has led to our success over the last several years".

"We also have carved-out a niche in the slab industry in the northeast. We'll be looking into TEA-21 road and bridge construction. Because of the TEA-21 Act of the twenty-first century, there will be a considerable volume of work for the next few years repairing and replacing federal highways. As a result of the federal gas tax, approximately two-hundred-thirty-billion-dollars will be spent in the transportation sector. This concrete work will filter down from the federal government to the state governments. The state DOT's will be using that money to fund projects; transportation, repair, road and highway and building new transportation infrastructure".
JV: What one piece of advice could you give other concrete professionals to help improve their business for next year?
DR: "We don't place any concrete unless we have a say on how it's made! We have an onboard, staff concrete engineer whose job it is to keep a close eye on this area. This single factor has made the largest difference in our business!"

Ron Schuster, President

JV: Tell me about CECO Concrete.
RS: "We're the largest in our industry. We work over 2000 construction employees at any given time. We specialize in forming concrete that is elevated in the air. We're really a specialty contractor...specializing in the forming of concrete. We don't actually pour it. CECO was founded in Omaha, Nebraska back in 1912. Next year, we'll be in business for eighty-nine years".
JV: What would you perceive as the most significant challenge facing your company for 2001?
RS: "Our strategies for the future (including 2001) will be to invest in new and better technologies. We're searching and investing for more time-saving and better equipment to make our work lighter and less labor intensive...because we have a hard time finding qualified workers. That's been our focus since about 1997, and we all work very hard at finding new and better equipment and ways to form concrete buildings that save labor. Every region has it's own challenges. We find that it's pretty much the same problem for us as far as finding qualified workers nationwide. I think most companies share the same problem".
JV: What one piece of advice could you give other concrete professionals to help improve their business for next year?
RS: "You just can't go out there without a plan and hire a bunch of people and expect to succeed! We spend the time and money to invest in the latest equipment because we simply can't find "qualified" workers. We can find plenty of labor...but qualified workers are another story."

Norm Scott, PE, Chairman of the Board, Past President, ACI

JV: Tell me about The Consulting Engineers Group.
NS: "We are specialty engineers and we primarily deal in precast concrete. We will continue to be very bullish about that segment of the concrete business. We feel that the precast business is going to continue to grow into all the concrete market segments in the coming years. PCI is even pushing to get precast into single family dwellings which will be a tremendous leap forward for this segment. I have been very fortunate to have been named past President of The American Concrete Institute and The Past Director of The Prestressed Concrete Association."
JV: What do you perceive as the most significant challenge facing your company for 2001?
NS: "Our biggest push next year will be to more closely examine the benefits and qualities of self-compacting, self leveling, flowable concrete products. Since we're an extension of many companies' engineering departments, we also feel the 'push' will be toward companies going to even greater outsourcing....which is a major part of our business. In order to accomplish this, we're planning to invest our time and efforts in researching integrated computer assisted design and drafting. We'll be looking at the possibility of getting into 3-D CAD cutters and the hardware and software to make it all happen. We're also looking at the 'design-sharing' aspect between manufacturers, architects and engineers. This full-circle aspect of all the key players working together makes great sense to us. We feel this will be the inevitable trend of the future for this industry and our company."
JV: What one piece of advice could you give other concrete professionals to help improve their business for next year?
NS: "Try to always keep on top of the emerging technology. For instance, in the precast industry, we'll be keeping a close eye on the self-compacting concrete. This is about the third generation I've seen of super-plasticized concrete. These products are readily available from most ready mix concrete companies. These concrete mix designs require two or three different admixtures and a very precise control of the gradation and mix of the concrete. Some ready mix companies understand the concept. Some are still not quite up to speed. This type of concrete is enough of a different animal that it will make a big difference in the way concrete is thought of in the future. Some of the precasters are currently using this product with good results. I think everyone should keep an eye open to these kind of improvements, because they'll be the wave of the future."

Carl Burnett, General Superintendent

JV: Tell me about Potter Concrete.
CB: "Potter Concrete specializes in "tilt wall" panel concrete construction. We also do super-flat slabs and slabs with laser screed.
JV: What do you perceive as the most significant challenge facing your company for 2001?
CB: "We have to work next year toward eliminating cracking in the interior floor slabs. Even though we're sawing...many times, cracking is still a problem.
JV: What one piece of advice could you give other concrete professionals to help improve their business for next year?
CB: "Find out your problem niches and work towards improving. We'll be working closer with our Potter Concrete quality control people and our ready mix companies to work toward minimizing this problem. Heat and evaporation are a real problem down here. Before we float...we use a lot of evaporation control spray-on's with and without shake-on hardeners, especially on interior work and paving jobs to help control plastic shrinkage cracks. It gives us more set-up and trowel time. It's also getting tougher and tougher to find good labor. We'll be challenged next year to get more laser screeding equipment. A laser screed saves about 20% in labor costs and makes the job go much faster too. Between Dallas and Austin, we own six laser screeds now and more to follow. We also have lasers on our blade...so we can set-up flat pours with a blade."

Mike Fennessy, President, CEO

JV: Tell me about Stampcrete.
MF: "Stampcrete International is the world leader in the manufacturing of highly specialized concrete stamping tools, colors, hardeners, release agents, stains, sealers, reinforcing fibers. We now have over 700 specialty contractors in over 30 foreign countries using our products. Stamped concrete is becoming more and more accepted throughout the world as giving an incomparable look and texture in the huge designer landscape market".
JV: What do your perceive as the most significant challenge facing your company for 2001?
MF: "Launching new systems....We were going to wait a year or two to launch the newest of our systems...but we plan to roll out the 'Mirage' and the 'Re-New-It' systems as soon as we can in 2001. These are brand new systems for Stampcrete that are designed to go over existing concrete. When finished, the "Mirage" system will essentially look the same as our classic stamped application. We use a specially designed resin with a dry powdered mix. We apply over a prepared existing concrete surface that has been crack repaired and properly cleaned. All older concrete is not necessarily a good candidate...especially if it has larger cracks and an unstable foundation. Small cracks are OK, and this system will look great. Most applications can be done using this application. The "Mirage" is a three-eights-of-an-inch thick, troweled-on, stamped, colored and sealed overlay. The "Re-New-It" is a system where you spray a grout mix and resin combination from a gun and hopper and then knock it down with a trowel...it can be colored and broom-troweled too...and it looks like new concrete...without the high cost. You can also achieve different textures and colors".
JV: What one piece of advice could you give other concrete professionals to help improve their business for next year?
MF: "Work hard to improve your market penetration. Think out of the box when it comes to expanding or promoting your product. The market penetration for stamped concrete systems is under two-percent. Ninety-eight-percent of the American population have yet to hear about stamped concrete, imprinted, decorative concrete. The only people that know about it are the people in the industry. We have a huge job yet to do in educating the general public in the features and benefits of the Stampcrete system. Gaining this market penetration will be much easier when we have done our homework with everything in place before we venture out of the box. Concrete companies should ask themselves what their potential for growth is."

Mike Hozella, Regional VP

JV: Tell me about Cutler Associates.
MH: "Cutler does a lot of specialty tilt-up concrete work on very large projects. We also do a lot of design-build projects. We have in-house architecture and construction. We also have our own, in-house engineer...that separates us from a vast majority of our competitors. We concentrate on two major markets...one being the corporate-industrial market, for most of the tilt-up and large slab work. The other market being the colleges and universities which are a very strong niche market for us. Our business is growing in this area. By reputation...we are able to bring the design, turnkey construction aspect within these niches to a real fast track....that's what's led to our success.
JV: What do you perceive as the most significant challenge facing your company for 2001?
MH: "Getting the adequate supplies and materials delivered to where our jobs are located has been an ongoing problem for us. The size of our jobs has gotten bigger and bigger over the last few years, and given the speed we have to pour these massive jobs, it has grown into a major timing challenge to orchestrate some of these pours. Cracking is always a problem too. Given the nature of our work, curling can also be a problem. Even though we do all the cutting-edge techniques in the industry with saw cutting, etc. in order to control cracking and curling, it's still one of our major concerns. Cutler Associates spends a lot of time and effort with the pre-pour meetings, etc. to lessen these problems.
JV: What one piece of advice could you give other concrete professionals to help improve their business for next year?
MH: "My company does a lot of quality control along the way that pays great dividends when the job is finally complete. We "man" our jobs with more than enough supervision...but it pays off in the end. We look at every possible factor that could go wrong and work to prevent that from happening. We are intimately involved in our concrete mix designs up front of the pour. We also pay a lot more attention to the quality of the sub-grade to make sure it's sufficient to produce the kind of quality job we demand. We've learned from experience that it's not just the quality of concrete or the mix design that makes the difference. We take a lot of pride in preparing the subgrade with the proper fill and compaction. We take a lot of time with our subgrades to make sure we don't run into surprises later.

Closing thoughts...

The fact is, in the year 2000, more than 441 million cubic yards of concrete will have been placed...at a total in-place concrete cost of about $88 billion dollars. After all is said and done, by the end of the year, this should shake out to about a 13-percent increase over 1999. Although the industry is poised for growth, the experts are predicting a slight decrease next year in total cubic yards to slightly over 433 million cubic yards. Most of the major players I've talked with are taking an optimistic stance in the face of a slight downturn. Many of them have already weathered the good and the bad times for decades and know that growth comes with the faithful adherence to some simple, basic business strategies, while keeping their heads out of sands, taking note of shifting tides, and adapting to new market conditions as soon as they become known.

We hope you have found this series of interviews interesting and enlightening. Your comments and questions are always welcomed.
-Jim Vlcek

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© 2001 L&M Construction Chemicals, Inc. | ConcreteNews December 2000-January 2001.

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