After more than two decades at the helm, Ed Sauter, executive director of both the Tilt-Up Concrete Association (TCA) and the Concrete Foundations Association (CFA), entered part-time retirement at the end of 2014. During the time Sauter served as executive director of both associations, they flourished. He is credited with helping both the CFA and TCA establish themselves as educational resources and moving their industries forward.
Sauter began his career in the architecture/engineering/construction industry when he received a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Iowa State University in 1972 and became a registered and NCARB-certified architect. In 1992, events unfolded that brought him into his leadership roles at the TCA and CFA. Here, Sauter talks with us about his time at the associations.
Q: How did an architect end up running an association?
Sauter: It’s a bit convoluted. While practicing as an architect, I got involved as a consultant with Composite Technologies Corp. (CTC), a company that manufactured insulated sandwich wall systems for the cast-in-place, tilt-up, and precast construction industries. I went on to become the CEO of the company. I was elected to the TCA board while with CTC. I left CTC while on the board and when the executive director for TCA resigned just before the World of Concrete, I was asked to serve until a new executive director could be hired. That was 23 years ago!
Q: Did you miss being an architect?
Sauter: No, I feel that I’ve had a bigger impact on the construction industry in my work with the associations. I still do just enough architectural work to maintain my registration since it helped to be a construction professional in my position.
Q: How did you get connected with TCA and CFA?
Sauter: Larry Clark, who was on the board of both the CFA and TCA in the early ‘90s, was instrumental. I had other contacts within the group as well, including TCA president Murray Parker and Bob Foley. At the time, tilt-up construction was thriving in California and Texas but only beginning to be accepted in other parts of the country.
Q: What are the biggest developments in tilt-up over the past 25 years?
Sauter: The development of admixtures has greatly improved concrete and its properties. Things like laser screed technology have made it possible to produce extremely flat floors, enabling a level of quality that formerly was attainable only in a controlled manufacturing facility. Equipment technology developments have had an impact. We can lift panels today that had been unmanageable.
The introduction of super braces has eliminated the need for knee braces in most applications and enabled the creation of taller panels. In fact, I predict that we will reach a panel height of 100 feet within the year. Other products have reduced dependence upon manual labor and made the industry safer. For example, ground release hardware has reduced the need for people to climb ladders to release bracing. Helical anchors allow bracing of panels to the ground instead of the slab.
The use of tilt-up has grown from an annual 128 million square feet of installed wall panels in 1995 to 350 million square feet of wall panels, which enclose nearly 800 million square feet of floor area. Our membership has also grown during that time, reaching 450 member firms before the recession in 2007.
Q: Has the feel of the tilt-up industry changed? Is it more professional?
Sauter: It has become more professional, due in part to the TCA Company Certification Program. I am impressed by the level of quality control and depth of safety programs that I see in companies today.
Q: How has the concrete foundations industry changed?
Sauter: We see the same increased professionalism. The CFA has also moved from a role that was focused on teaching construction methods toward educating members on how to run a business.
Q: What developments have occurred in the foundations industry?
Sauter: There are new technologies in the foundations industry that reduce the need for manual labor. Boom trucks lift forms into and out of basements and gang forms allow for the positioning and stripping of large areas of formwork all at once. Total Stations allow for quicker, more accurate, and less costly layout of complex foundations.
Q: Do the two associations have a different character?
Sauter: While both serve the concrete construction industry, the residential foundation industry has a much different set of needs than the tilt-up industry. So the mission and focus of each is completely different. The member companies are also very different. TCA membership is diverse, as it includes architects, engineers, and developers, in addition to contractors and suppliers. Many contractor members in the TCA are larger companies. Members of the CFA, who mostly come from family-owned and -operated companies, see the association as extensions of their own businesses. While the diversity may be somewhat less, CFA membership still involves architects, engineers, contractors, local and national suppliers, and builders that are concentrated on higher quality residential structures.
Q: What trends do you see defining each of these businesses over the next five years?
Sauter: For tilt-up, there is room for market penetration in the Northeast, Midwest, and Southeast, as well as in Latin America. And in most markets, there is room for continued expansion in tilt-up; we will continue to move beyond the box and create unique structures using tilt-up and we will see expanded use of tilt-up in schools, office buildings, and retail facilities.
For the foundations industry, firms will continue to become more professional and business-oriented, creating positions for CFOs, for example. By focusing on issues that affect their businesses, such as insurance and labor issues, they will improve their margins.
Q: What people in each made a difference?
Sauter: Some of the same people who were instrumental in getting me involved in the association business: Larry Clark with L.D. Clark and Murray Parker, a pioneer who made Nova Scotia into a hotbed of tilt-up activity.
Early on, Don Musser, who was with the Portland Cement Association, worked with those who had a vision for an association representing the tilt-up industry. Dave Kelly (former chief engineer of Meadow Burke) was a go-to expert and Bob Foley at CON/STEEL was an enthusiastic disciple. Shawn Hickey (president of SiteCast Construction) is a consummate educator and Clay Fischer (owner of Woodland Construction) is the quintessential association member.
For the foundations industry, Bob Sawyer, as the first director, had real vision. Larry Clark introduced me to the CFA. Joe Carr and Doug Staebler, the CFO of Custom Concrete, were always willing to share their knowledge. The Herberts are another family company helping to move the industry forward.
These folks are just a few of many.
Q: What’s next for you?
Sauter: I don’t plan to fade away or lose my perspective. Mitch Bloomquist (TCA) and Jim Baty (CFA) will be executive directors of the respective associations and I plan to be involved in the individual and company certification efforts of both groups, work on special projects, and help at the World of Concrete and respective annual conventions of each association. In my spare time, I hope to inventory my wine cellar.
Kristen Dispenza is a writer for Constructive Communications Inc.