College basketball fans are not likely to see a "Got Concrete?" ad campaign appear on television during March Madness, but that could come if the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association is successful in gaining support for its pending checkoff campaign. The effort ups the ante for material producers at a time of increasing competition among interest groups that back construction's core commodities of concrete, steel, lumber and asphalt.
Board members of NRMCA gathered in Las Vegas on March 3 to vote on whether to move forward with a checkoff campaign. The board's affirmative decision now takes the campaign to producers around the country and, ultimately, Congress to drum up support for a program the Dept. of Commerce would eventually oversee.
The bill could take years to become law. Under the terms of the 20-page draft bill, which is available for download at www.rmccheckoff.org, ready-mix- concrete producers would pay a fee for every cu yd of material produced. The funds then would be managed by a steering committee comprising 30 producers of varying company sizes. However, before Congress can consider the proposal, NRMCA must demonstrate it has the support of the majority of producers, not just in the number of firms but also the total volume of annual production.
Officials at NRMCA are optimistic about that outcome, however, and say it could give the mom-and-pop and large concrete producers alike more promotional buying power. "The industry is essentially saying it's going to assess itself for using the money for promotions, technical research and education," Robert Garbini, president of NRMCA, told ENR during a phone interview this month. If the campaign assessed 10¢ per yard, for example, it could generate around $30 million a year, Garbini estimated, noting the ready-mix business produced 301 million cu yd of concrete last year.
"It raises a significant amount of money for the industry to promote itself," Garbini explained. Final terms of the bill have not yet been set in stone, he added. A joint effort between the Mason Contractors Association of America and the National Concrete Manufacturers Association is pushing a similar campaign for concrete block at www.cmucheckoff.com.
Traditionally, trade groups have used national checkoff programs to promote agricultural commodities such as beef, pork, soybeans and the like, and construction materials are relatively new to this arena. In January 2012, softwood-lumber producers began paying assessments of 35¢ per thousand board-ft under a program administered by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. The assessments, which could later grow to 50¢ per unit, provided the Softwood Lumber Board with a budget of $11.5 million last year.
Critics argue that while such programs can be beneficial to producers, the consumer eventually picks up the tab. However, supporters counter that checkoff campaigns provide high returns on investment and reduce industry infighting between producers. The allure of consolidated promotion has other industry groups closely watching the campaigns.
"It has been mentioned because we see the other groups doing it, but we have not actively pursued a checkoff program," says John Cross, vice president of market development and finance for the American Institute of Steel Construction.
Asphalt backers say the NRMCA campaign would detour Congress from important national matters. "We need to fix the Highway Trust Fund," says Jay Hansen, executive vice president of the National Asphalt Pavement Association. "Anything that distracts us from fixing the Highway Trust Fund is not helpful to the industry." Garbini notes that the concrete checkoff bill would prevent promotion, research and education funds from going to support main-line paving operations.
Meanwhile, the concrete lobby already has drawn criticism from other campaigns, such as the Concrete Sustainability Hub at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In December, MIT received $10 million from NRMCA and the Portland Cement Association, bringing concrete's investment in Cambridge to $20 million since 2009. MIT's latest report says rigid pavements increase vehicle fuel efficiency by up to 3%, but NAPA disagrees. "How they are treating asphalt is not accurately represented in what's happening in the field," says Heather Dylla, NAPA director of sustainable engineering. "It's very, very complex math that does not follow pavement design."