Did you hear the news? The price of a barrel of oil has reached $100. There is concern gasoline will approach $4 per gallon. What do you think this will do to the price of asphalt? The eco-friendly movement isn't going away. Whether you want to discuss LEED, sustainability, global warming, or water quality, concrete fits these programs rather well. Also economists are saying the impact of the sub-prime loans may push our economy into a recession. What do you think that will do to the number of construction projects there will be available to build?

There is, however, an opportunity to turn these three items into an opportunity. That opportunity is concrete parking lots. Whether you are talking conventional concrete parking, pervious parking, or even roller-compacted concrete, it is time to doggedly pursue this market segment.

Years ago those of us who were trying to promote concrete had to inform buyers that investing much more upfront money at bid time was a wise decision. We had all of the data: life cycle costs, better lighting, manufactured with local products, and little or no maintenance. In the long run, we said, we were a better buy. This all made sense, but it rarely worked. Why? Jerry Larson, of the Indiana Ready Mix Concrete Association, says it best: “If the show costs $8 and you only have $5, you are not going to the show.”

The good news is that the upfront costs of concrete parking lots now are in the ballpark of asphalt lots. If it's an equivalent section, a concrete lot can be less expensive than an asphalt one. The pieces are in place for you to use a three-prong approach to promoting and building concrete parking lots.

You, the contactor, are the first prong. There are many opportunities for you to become well versed in the areas needed to ensure successful construction of concrete parking lots. Start by seeking out the American Concrete Institute's (ACI) Flatwork Certification. The American Society of Concrete Contractors is also an excellent resource. Take the lead and get familiar with ACI 330, Design and Construction of Parking Lots. Make sure you fully understand what is needed to install a quality concrete parking lot.

The second prong is the ready-mix industry. They are facing the same issues as you are: higher costs and less available work. They too would rather make the pie bigger as opposed to beating each other up over the limited available work. Ask your ready-mix producer about the Buildings Under Design program. This online service tracks future concrete projects. Use this tool to get in the door early. The earlier you are involved in the process, the better your chances are for building a concrete parking lot.

The third prong is your support group. You may not know it, but you and your ready-mix producer have tools available to competently discuss both the design and construction requirements of concrete parking lots. The National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA) offers software, Concrete Pavement Analysis, that not only designs the parking lot based on ACI 330, but analyzes the proposed asphalt section. In addition, the NRMCA offers CAD drawing services. By using these services, your team provides your architect with a proposed design thickness and a digital CAD drawing that shows your proposed joint layouts.

The stars have aligned for us in the concrete construction industry. Our competition is facing all-time high costs, while our industry is more desirable than ever with the growing demand in LEED building and sustainability. We can even help water quality by using pervious concrete. Let's not look back and see that we have missed a real opportunity.

Christopher R. Tull, PE, is owner of CRT Concrete Consulting LLC, Fishers, Ind. He is a consultant to the Great Lakes Cement Promotion Association. Tull can be reached at 317-270-4428 or at christull@sbcglobal.net.