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Being the youngest child in the family – that is until my little brother came along when I was 14 – I was often the object of torment from my older brother and sisters. When I complained to my mother, her advice was always the same, "Just ignore them and they will go away.”

I was in Reno recently, speaking to an audience of industry people on a topic that everyone in the concrete industry should already know. A question at the end of the presentation went right to the point of "ignore it and it will go away." The question, was, "Why don’t we already know this?" I could only respond that I have come to realize that construction is still a one-on-one, look-me-in-the-eye, direct contact industry. Construction people want to put their trust in other people, get the straight information from someone they trust, shake hands, and know who to call when they need help.

The Portland Cement Association (PCA) knew this in pre-television time when 600 field engineers staffed 40 regional offices with core information, (see my article Concrete InFocus, Winter 2017) that was delivered to consultants, Departments of Transportation, cities, counties, architects, and others. During the time of the PCA field engineer, the concrete industry experienced explosive growth. At the height of concrete promotion in the 1950s, the field engineer’s work was bolstered by celebrity endorsements from Bob Hope, Robert Young, Art Linkletter, and golfer Sam Snead, who all pitched concrete roads as "the sweetest ride yet."

But then during in the last half of the 20th Century, we came to believe that concrete, on its merits alone, would sustain the robust markets it had enjoyed. No one thought that asphalt would be a threat for paving or wood for high rise buildings. And when the PCA field engineers were phased out, concrete promotion in many parts of the country was ignored and concrete usage began a decline. It was ignored, and it went away.

In 2002 I attended a meeting in Chicago to review the newly released international building codes. The adoption of the International Building Code (IBC) for commercial work and the International Residential Code (IRC) for residential was highly anticipated. We saw the inclusion of insulating concrete form (ICF) construction for the first time, but that’s where the good news stopped. Also included were details on frost-protected shallow foundations, a detail that allowed for a reduction of 75 percent of the concrete used in stem wall construction. In the commercial arena, it was the first time we saw details for steel studs, fire-resistant drywall, and sprinklers allowed in place of compartmentalized concrete fireproof construction. It was also the first time we saw wood frame construction taller than 2.5 stories in the low- to midrise market, at the time a dominant detail in apartment construction. That was a wakeup call for me, realizing that while the concrete industry was ignoring promotion, our competition was not.

Recently, some states have created new promotion groups where none had existed since the demise of the PCA field engineer. States with consistent promotion programs have been able to expand and grow their concrete markets. Some have concentrated on diverse paving programs that include parking lots. Others have devoted themselves to structures, both traditional cast-in-place and ICF, and have some ongoing success. But many states and regions still have no active promotion efforts and as they continue to ignore it, concrete continues to go away.

The internet has changed the way we do business, but nothing can replace the human element of the construction industry. We have tons of information posted on NRMCA’s website, but people have become skeptical, trying to sort core information from opinion. They want a face and a handshake before they can trust the information. Each NRMCA Parking Lot Boot Camp we conduct reinforces this. We could take all the information in a Parking Lot Boot Camp and place it on a website, but I guarantee you it would not be as successful as the interaction, brainstorming, and motivating results we get from the personal interaction a boot camp creates.

Summer is a busy time. We don’t think about concrete promotion when we’re worried about how we will fulfill tomorrow’s orders. But during the winter, when trucks are idle and orders are slow, hopefully we think about what we can do to promote and sell more next season. We teach in Parking Lot Boot Camp that you drive by opportunities every day, no matter what the season. We teach that those responsible for promotion are no longer just the field engineer and professional promoter but all of us. Let’s not ignore concrete opportunities. We don’t want them to go away.

This article was first published in the Summer 2018 issue of Concrete InFocus.

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