As we head into the last quarter of 2013, the construction economists have completed their number crunching and are publishing their economic forecasts for the coming year. The trend for 2014 will likely be heading in a positive direction, but it’s not a stretch to note that the manufacturing sector of the economy has been severely stressed in recent years. The pressures on small manufacturers – like most precast concrete producers – are almost unimaginable these days. As precasters, we deal daily with challenges that include the uncertainty of future health care obligations, growing OSHA mandates, heavy-handed EPA regulations and, unfortunately, unscrupulous business practices by unqualified producers.
But even with all of those concerns, when you talk to most longtime precasters, they’ll tell you they wouldn’t want to do anything else. It’s a rewarding business, and what makes it rewarding are our employees, the relationships we’ve built over the years and the places our businesses occupy in the community. We’re manufacturers with a strong presence in most communities. We employ local people. We utilize locally sourced materials. Most of us contribute to our communities as volunteers and through support of youth programs and other service activities.
We are proud to be United States and Canadian manufacturers! We still manufacture products here in our plants in North America, and our production facilities keep people working, keep contributing to our communities and continue to provide tangible products of value utilized in the construction and maintenance of our vitally important infrastructure! As the economic forecast trends in a positive direction, there are opportunities ahead for us as manufacturers, but we face a very different environment than six or seven years ago.
The days when you could fill orders just by answering the phone are gone. In this new economy, we have to think outside the box and find ways to build our businesses beyond just making sales. Reaching out to our elected officials to educate them on what we do and how our plants operate or to show them how fly ash, for example, can be repurposed into the concrete mix rather than sloughed off to a holding pond or landfill. We need to connect with specifiers and contractors on a personal level – making visits to their offices and bringing them into our plants to educate and advocate. We need to engage with our municipalities, our statehouses and our national government on policymaking. Anybody who has been paying attention knows that the infrastructure is failing. As precasters, we can make a strong case for precast solutions that offer not only long service life, but resiliency in disaster-prone regions and sustainable opportunities for LEED builders.
We have a wonderful story to tell! A long and successful history of manufactured products that have and will help build our countries – roads, bridges, drainage systems, buildings – the list goes on and on! We need to be telling our story – because we can tell it best!
A strong marketing program will be a critical requirement for success in the new hyper-competitive construction environment, and the National Precast Concrete Association is set to unveil an exciting new set of marketing tools for its members this fall. That program, combined with a national marketing push from NPCA, will continue to enhance our visibility and viability and will strengthen the relationships we maintain with government officials, specifiers and contractors – the people who determine what materials are used in jobs. If we combine strong marketing with strong relationships, then we’re well-positioned to be the local, sustainable, job-producing infrastructure builders in our communities. If we educate, advocate and engage, we have a bright future indeed as a dynamic precast concrete sector on the edge of a growing modern construction industry.