April Greer

As the building construction industry came out of the recession, the concrete industry suddenly woke up to discover that timber construction was making significant in-roads into the low- to mid-rise buildings market that had traditionally been almost completely dominated by steel and concrete. For aggressively taking this fight to the design community through the Build with Strength program, Robert Garbini, president of the National Ready-Mixed Concrete Association, is one of this year’s Most Influential People in the Concrete Industry.

“Between 2005 and 2009 we lost production of 200 million cubic yards and residential construction wasn’t coming back quickly so we had to look elsewhere,” says Garbini. “We decided to switch gears and move to direct promotion and the first focus was local paving—local streets, intersections, and parking lots.” The initial approach was to talk with the big customers like Walmart and Costco and that eventually morphed into trying to convert specific projects to concrete. “That was the initiation of the Design Assistance Program (DAP) and that’s when we started adding engineers to our staff to work on local projects.”

The DAP has had great success converting both new parking lots and repairs of asphalt lots to concrete. NRMCA engineers provide complete drawings for an efficient and durable concrete pavement. This focus on individual projects has been so successful that NRMCA recently added a DAP for buildings. “The wood industry and the steel industry have design-assistance programs and when something is successful I think it’s OK to emulate that.”

As the recession deepened in 2010, the wood industry went on the offensive. “When residential construction collapsed the softwood guys decided they needed a new market,” says Garbini, “so they made a push into nonresidential/commercial buildings with multifamily and low-rise commercial construction, they had no place else to go. They did a check-off program and started to push money into promotion and making some headway. We told our members, the ready-mix producers, that the future of concrete is in the buildings market—mainly four- to 12-story buildings—and the battle is with wood and steel.”

In March 2015 NRMCA’s members—the nation’s ready-mixed concrete producers—approved a check-off program to generate money to reclaim the buildings market. The result, in April 2016, was Build with Strength, a coalition of architects, builders, engineers, emergency services personnel, and policymakers who recognized the benefits of building with concrete. “It’s been having an impact. Some of our members have put it onto their trucks and hardhats. When you think about it, it’s the ready-mix trucks, the “cement mixers”—that represent concrete to most people. They may not recognize a ready-mix plant or a precast plant but they’ve all seen the trucks.”

There are many concrete-related associations in North America, but NRMCA stands out as the leader in fighting to protect and build our markets and to strengthen concrete’s image with designers, builders, and owners.