By Ron Hyink
It didn’t take long for Ty Gable to step out from under the unsettling “stranger in a strange land” cloud at the ICCX (International Concrete Congress and Exhibition, www.iccx.org) in St. Petersburg, Russia. In fact, the conference, which was held May 18-20, 2005, attracted attendance from throughout Eastern and Western Europe, and the NPCA president was invited to speak to the international group as well as represent the precast concrete industry in North America.
Gable described how precast concrete is being used in North America as he highlighted several prominent projects in both above-ground and underground applications. His presentation generated considerable interest from among the Russian attendees, whose precast industry is getting back on its feet after years of stagnation – despite that they are experiencing the same mounting cost of materials as the rest of the world.
“They were interested in what the increases were in North America and what the North American producers were doing to manage those increases,” said Gable. And their concerns are understandable. Russia has been rolling up its sleeves for new construction as well as for extensive renovations over the past decade, and the contrasts are hard to miss: Plant tours, as part of the ICCX, revealed that dilapidated factories and outdated equipment and production methods work side-by-side with new factory construction and modern technology. And throughout the city, neglected housing units as well as government buildings often stand next to newly renovated ones. Slowly but surely, the Russians are rebuilding their cities and seem eager to embrace influences outside the country.
“Russia is an emerging economy,” said Gable. “The construction industry is growing and is poised for more growth.” He explained that precast concrete now plays an extremely important role in Russia, not only because of the material’s durability, but also because of the time it saves in construction.
It is exciting to watch as Russia’s economic focus turns toward housing, commerce and infrastructure, said Gable. And it’s refreshing to see Russia’s industry leaders willing to seek and share knowledge outside the country. “The world is increasingly a smaller place, and we can learn from other producers around the world,” said Gable. “We can also share our knowledge of the products and of the materials, and in so doing, when we share technology across the globe, we improve the industry as a whole.”