Author Craig Cottongim's new concrete pump.
Author Craig Cottongim's new concrete pump.

Do you feel optimistic about the economy and the near-future of the concrete industry? Our family is, but more on that sentiment in moment. It's amazing that those of us who make our living in concrete are ever considered sane, especially considering the emotional roller coaster we ride every time economists discuss building trends and our unstable or unpredictable future.

Our industry is a collection of gamblers considering the huge risks we take every day. Will the rain hold off? Can we cover all of this concrete before the cold does its damage? Will these forms hold? Do we have enough daylight left? The list goes on and on. Still, in spite of the host of unknown circumstances, we plow ahead. Maybe we aren’t gamblers but simply adventurous or just plain brave?

Our family is not just optimistic about the next several years; we are hopeful for a surge in the concrete industry. We recently took a big step and launched our own business. I’ve been doing flatwork since the 1980s, so it seemed natural when the opportunity presented itself to start a business that we would begin with a flatwork crew. But we didn’t go that route.

My wife and I realized that there's an abundance of local concrete contractors already doing flatwork, so we came up with something different. I remembered that when we wanted to schedule a concrete pump, we had to wait a while. Why? Because there aren’t any pump operators within 50 miles of our town. So we took a step we never dreamed of before, but one that seemed to make the most sense—we bought a new line-pump. Crazy or bold? Time will tell.

It takes time to get your name out there and generate business. So in the meantime, we’ve taken on some flatwork projects while we build up our pumping business.

Visiting Dad

Old habits are hard to break, but I think this is a blessing. I recently traveled out of state to visit my dad who is in his mid-70s, and he passed on his troweling machine and a slew of tools. While we loaded up his equipment on my flatbed, he said, "It feels like I’m giving up and quitting, but I know I’m not able to use these anymore.”

I replied, “Don’t look at it like you are quitting, think of it as you passing on the baton to the next generation.” Also, one of our sons moved back from Texas to work with the family business, and I’m enjoying teaching him our trade.

An enduring benefit of working in concrete is that no one can hold you back but yourself. If you work hard, pay attention, and harness your ambitions, you can work your way up from being a laborer to becoming an owner.

One of the keys is being observant and finding your niche. It might not be what you imagined, but if you're passionate about concrete and have the drive, people will see your determination and you will be rewarded.