Each year, Concrete Construction holds its Annual Industry Roundtable prior to the American Society of Concrete Contractor's Annual Meeting. This year's roundtable took place Sept. 17, 2009, at the Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort outside of Atlanta.

Despite recent setbacks in the industry, the topics discussed at this year's roundtable centered around the current challenges faced by contractors: sustainability; the relationship and communication with designers; concrete testing; and employee training and certification, to name a few.

Following are some excerpts from the discussions.

Joe Nasvik

Gregorski: What is the overall sense of the commercial and residential concrete construction industries?

Tull: In terms of the economy, I think people see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the end of that tunnel may be long. For residential construction, I see growth even further down the road due to foreclosures and the backlog of homes currently on the market. I am thinking residential may rebound around the spring of 2011.

Winkler: Obviously, there's not enough work to go around; we don't see it changing until maybe 2012. This year was OK because we had a good backlog coming into 2009, but the next two years are going to be tough. We haven't seen the real tough times yet, which will be the next 18 months.

Padelford: In the Atlanta area, the residential and commercial markets have come to a screeching halt. Condos are overbuilt, and it may be three to four years before any new high-rise condos are built. We have a lot of work going out the door, but the problem is that we used to have four or five contractors bidding on a job. Now there are 30. Probably 20 of them do not have any business bidding on the job because they are just trying to find work. It's hard for us to put a bid out when other bids are below our base cost. There is no profit available.

DeCarlo: We face the same issues. The amount of bidders on a job is just unbelievable. I've never realized how many contractors are in my area, or that come to my area to bid a project. A lot of people are bidding work that they should not be bidding because they are not experienced at the particular job.

Houck: We see credit being an issue. We talk to a lot of national developers who don't have the credit to build projects. We see commercial coming back, new projects, in late 2011 or 2012. Residential? The feedback has become more positive since some of the inventory is now being eaten up through the government home buyers' credit program. We are starting to hear from home builders that we have worked with in the past, at least in California.

Gregorski: Where is the sustainability issue with contractors?

Tull: As a consultant, I hear contractors saying, ‘If you can't help this project earn LEED points, I don't want you on my team.' I think it's here to stay.

Houck: Many cities are creating their own sustainability initiatives for projects that need to be at a certain level. It's happening more and more.

DeCarlo: With government projects, you are going to see a lot of LEED involvement because they are not looking at cost. Because of the economy, I think for a long time, you are going to see a lot of private owners building as cheap as possible.

Houck: What I heard from owners is that they like the idea of LEED but they think more about sustainability: how does it work and how does it fit into the construction budget.

Winkler: What about the most economical design being the most sustainable? If I am using less concrete then that may be a greener design, but you may not get any credit for that.

Nasvik: I think there is a difference between green and sustainability. Green is focused on the here and now, how much energy can be saved at this moment, how much CO2 can be kept out of the atmosphere at this moment. Sustainability is longer term. You are looking at the lifetime of a structure or a pavement. So for example, someone could order ‘a load of green concrete' by taking some cement out and replacing it with fly ash. Sustainable concrete, by contrast, would be someone who says, ‘I want a bridge with a service life of 100 years. Design me a mix that will do that.' The mix may have fly ash or other pozzolans—it'll be a mix design that reflects a long life period. When you think that way, your mind is traveling beyond green; you're thinking about sustainability.