Q. You currently are the executive director at the Precast Concrete Association of New York and vice president of Concrete Engineering Solutions. How did you get started in the precast concrete industry?

A. Well, I didn’t do it the easy way.

I was born and raised here in Binghamton, N.Y. I went to SUNY-Broome Community College for civil engineering and did not go on beyond that, except I did finish a business degree from Empire State College later on in life.

After community college, I started out on a nuclear plant in in Scottsboro, Ala., working for the Tennessee Valley Authority. I was doing prepour inspections on the construction site. I wasn’t down there very long and came back to Binghamton. I did a few jobs here. I ended up going to work for U.S. Testing Corp on a nuclear plant near Cleveland, Ohio. I was actually on that project for seven years, from 1977 to 1984.

I eventually went from US Testing Corp to the on-site concrete supplier, National Mobile Concrete Corp. I became the QA site manager for the concrete production on the nuclear plant.

In 1984, I moved back to Binghamton and was working for a local ready-mix supplier. That wasn’t working out very well, so I got a job with Binghamton Precast and Supply. That was my first job in the precast industry.

I worked for Binghamton Precast for 11 years, until 1997. I was the head of quality control and engineering. While there, we worked with a local engineer. Eventually, I went to work for that firm, Delta Engineers, to basically start a specialty precast engineering group.

We thought that there might be a market for that type of specialty in the precast industry, and it turns out we were correct. That group, which is still a major member of NPCA, provides a lot of work for precasters all over the country.

I was able to get enough experience work experience to take the P.E. exam in 2000 and get my professional engineer’s license in New York.

When I left Delta in 2013, my intent was to semi-retire, because I was asked to take over as the executive director of the Precast Association of New York. So I took that position plus my intent was to work part-time for another small firm called Concrete Engineering Solutions. At the time in 2013, there was two of us working part-time, and now, almost 10 years later, we’ve got seven full-time people doing specialty precast engineering.

The need for that continues to grow and continues to keep me busy, even at the ripe old age of 68.

Q. The Industry Influencer feature is dedicated to individuals who have made a difference through their many contributions to the industry. Who can you point to as an influence in your career?

A. A lot of it was my first opportunity of being in precast. Jay Abbey, the owner at Binghamton Precast, gave me an opportunity there. And then a fellow by the name of Ralph Verrastro. Ralph was the president of Delta Engineers when he brought me on. I brought the precast knowledge, and he brought the engineering knowledge and together we grew that precast specialty engineering group into something pretty substantial. Ralph was big influence on me and continues to be even though he’s not at Delta anymore. We’re still good friends.

There’s a number of friends that I’ve made and people that I’ve gotten to know over the years, but I think those are probably two of the big ones.

Q. Looking back at the entirety of your career, from those early days at Binghamton to Delta and now PCANY, what do you think are some of the most significant accomplishments of your career?

A. Well, I think it’s building relationships with producers from around the country and clients. In my many years of this, I’ve kind of gained a bit of a reputation as someone that knows what they’re doing.

I don’t know of any major single accomplishment, but it’s just being able to build a reputation and build relationships.

Q. You mentioned being the executive director of PCANY, whose memberships includes producers, suppliers of equipment and services and professionals. What do you think is the value for precasters to join associations like PCANY?

A. These affiliate groups like state and regional associations seem to have two purposes.

One, and this is primary for the New York state group, is to have a single voice when working with the New York State Department of Transportation, which is where a lot of our members’ work comes from. And, so, we’re constantly working with them. We meet with them twice a year to go over their specifications and specs and requirements and things like that to try to work out issues.

We find that the state authorities prefer working with a group rather than just individual producers. So that’s one aspect of it.

And the other is, of course, marketing. New York does that primarily through a monthly newsletter that we get out to a lot of engineers, producers and others.

And, so, those are the two main drivers. And, of course, there’s also networking. And one of the unique things about the precast industry is, even though they’re competitors, they get together and talk and share things. It just makes the industry strong. A lot of industries just don’t seem to take that approach. And I think it’s unfortunate.

Q. You’re a long-time member of NPCA? What are the advantages of being involved in the association?

A. From a business standpoint, when I started at Delta in 1997, that was my first The Precast Show, which was in Columbus.
I haven’t missed one since.

We’re able to network and meet so many people and basically develop a specialty engineering business that is still going strong today. Without attending and being involved in NPCA, people would not have known about us.

And, of course, I’ve developed a lot of good friendships. And my position at the New York association probably would not have happened if it weren’t for my involvement in NPCA.

Q. You’re often a speaker at NPCA events, including a quality control course at The Precast Show 2023 in Columbus. What do you get out of doing that, and what do you hope the people you’re speaking to get out of it?

A. I get a lot of joy out of doing it. I actually enjoy teaching classes. And I always learn things when I do that because when I pick a topic and sometimes I’ve got to dig into it a little bit and create the class. I tend to learn things from it as well. So, you never stop learning in this industry.

I certainly hope that my experience helps younger people and others in the group that can gain from my experience.

Q. You’ve seen a lot of changes in the precast concrete industry over the course of your career. What do you think are some challenges or obstacles that the industry is facing right now? What kind of opportunities do you see ahead?

A. We used to be very concerned about competing materials such as plastics and composites. I don’t think they’ve made as much of an inroads as what we expected years ago.

But I think the thing that the industry really needs to concern itself with now are the environmental issues. There’s a lot of concern about cement usage and carbon content.

There’s basically two ways as an industry we can attack that. One, of course, is by gaining as much knowledge about it as possible. I know NPCA is putting out programs to bring that education to light.

The other thing is to really use it to our advantage.

I’ve often said that, if you want to use less cement, than you ought to be using precast because we can make our products with less concrete and get the same structural advantage and less waste.

So really, there’s a real advantage to using precast when the objective globally is to reduce carbon emissions.’

We’re also constantly looking for ways to use precast in more and more applications. When I first started in the industry back in the ‘80s, most structures were designed to be cast-in-place. So the big opportunity there was to try to convert cast-in-place objects to precast. There’s a lot less of that now because now almost everything is specified with precast if possible.

Q. If you were talking to somebody who is just starting out in the industry, either on the production floor or maybe leading their own company, what advice would you give them?

A. My advice is to learn as much as you can, take advantage of the educational opportunities that are out there. Learn specifications, read the specifications. Get help when you need it.
That’s really the best advice I can give anybody is to just learn as much as you can.

Heather Bremer is the digital content director at NPCA.