It's fair to say World of Concrete did not surprise many people this year. We all thought attendance would be down, and it was. And we all thought that talk of future business prospects would be a main topic of conversation, and it was.

And this is not altogether a bad thing. One person at a booth for a concrete repair company in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center told me that the people manning that booth preferred a smaller event. The tire kickers and tourists stayed home. Only people who were serious about buying and learning about new products came to Las Vegas the first week of February. At least that's the reasoning from a few people.

On the economic front, Edward Sullivan, chief economist with the Portland Cement Association, forecasts a small uptick in portland cement consumption this year. The 5.2% increase is a jump from what he admitted was “a very small base,” but we'll take it. After all, cement consumption was 54 million metric tons off the recent peak in 2005. Sullivan doesn't expect “some semblance of normalcy” to return until 2014. “The industry right now is in very difficult times,” he said at the show. “It will be a 10-year recovery, from peak to trough.”

It's hard to see where any type of meaningful recovery will blossom in the near future. Lost equity in homes and unemployment fears are continuing to hamstring consumers. “The stimulus is just now starting to create jobs,” Sullivan said. “Job creation is critical.” Good news did come out on the show's last day: Nationwide unemployment fell in January from 10% to 9.7%.

With home foreclosures expected to continue this year and home inventory still above average, the economist expects a “tepid” increase in home construction in 2010, with more substantial gains in 2011 and beyond. Sullivan expects other sectors of the construction industry will turn around painfully slowly. Stimulus spending and stabilizing of state budgets will lead to some public sector growth in the second half of this year, while we will have to wait until 2012 for commercial construction to edge upward.

After the current downturn, the Portland Cement Association forecasts robust cement consumption over the next 20 years.
PCA After the current downturn, the Portland Cement Association forecasts robust cement consumption over the next 20 years.

Still, tens of thousands of construction veterans would not have left their homes and families to attend the show if they did not feel bullish about the industry. Even Sullivan had good news about long-term prospects. He sees portland cement consumption increasing to 140 million metric tons by 2020 and to 170 million metric tons by 2030.

All of the new products inside the exhibitors' 1300 booths clearly show that the industry is not standing idly by and waiting for the economy to turn around. “January was the second or third best month in our history,” said Kevin Davis, director of sales at Kryton International, a manufacturer of concrete protection and waterproofing products based in Vancouver, British Columbia. “We're encouraged by what we're seeing out there.”

Speaking of encouragement, it was great to see 170 people attend CONCRETE SURFACES' Concrete Polishing Luncheon and Forum. Look for coverage of the luncheon and of the Artistry in Concrete projects in our April issue.