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Shortages, higher cost in concrete labor and materials

image Denis Gee, Vice President, Structure Tone Southwest, Dallas, TX

DALLAS/FORT WORTH - What are the “hot button” issues in the concrete industry? Labor and material shortages continue to be issues in our industry. Qualified concrete labor is spread so thin that it can be hard to maintain quality. We’re celebrating our 40th anniversary in business this year, and part of the reason we’ve been able to maintain that success is we’ve built really great relationships with our subs. We treat them very well and we request the best of the best from our partners so we know we’re building at the highest quality possible.

    As for materials, the law of supply and demand is certainly at play. Combine the high demand with the labor challenge related to truck delivery drivers and the issue is compounded even further. We aren’t seeing this issue quite as much with cement as we are with aggregate and sand.
How would you describe the state of the construction industry in general terms?
    It’s very busy in North Texas. We’re not quite at the peak we saw in 2007 before the economy dipped, but we are extremely busy. I don’t think the industry has the labor to return to the pre-2007 peak, but the demand certainly seems to be there.
Have you experienced an increase in business? Slowdown?
    An increase for sure. What’s driving that is the almost 400 people a day who are moving to the Dallas and North Texas area. That population growth quite literally affects almost all sectors, from housing, to office buildings, to restaurants and all the other services that people rely on.
How has this increase affected your com-pany and how you conduct business?
    We have been able to expand into new markets considerably. For decades, Structure Tone Southwest was known as a commercial interiors contractor. But in recent years, we have expanded to not only build out the interiors of all kinds of spaces – corporate, restaurants, retail, manu-facturing, etc. – but also built a solid busi-ness in ground-up new construction as well. We recently even became a Certified Tilt-Up Company given how much new tilt-up construction we have been doing. We continue to conduct our business the same way we have for 40 years – with our focus on our clients and our partners – but we’re able now to bring that business to many more avenues.
What are the major changes in the concrete industry in recent years?
    What I have seen is more a change in the real estate market than concrete specifically, but those changes are affecting concrete. We are seeing more and more of what used to be called “value office” buildings – now called Suburban Class “A” buildings. The traditional office building was all glass and steel, but now concrete tilt-wall options are supplanting that since they are more economical to build and maintain.
Have there been any recent changes in legislation affecting the concrete industry relating to transportation or the environment?
    In the past you could put a batch plant on site for a large job, but the laws have changed to no longer allow that. Now it takes so long to get a temporary batch plant permitted that it doesn’t make sense. We are back to buying concrete from ready-mix suppliers. A few concrete contractors have built their own batch plants but those plants aren’t mobile, so they still aren’t batching right on site.
What is the most significant challenge your industry faces?
    The No. 1 challenge is finding qualified labor. We have been trying to combat that by sticking with our name-brand, qualified concrete subcontractors that know us and that we have built a terrific relationship with over the last four decades. But it’s tough – everyone wants to work with them.
What are the cost increases relating to your industry?
    In the last year, we’ve seen concrete raw material prices go up 10 percent and labor by 15-20 percent.
What is on the horizon for your industry?
    Aside from continued labor and materials challenges, I see two main changes affecting how concrete is used:
    1: The finishes that we’re putting on tilt walls is starting to change. There are more options now than ever before. The technology of the raw materials has improved so we can now put all kinds of new materials on the wall panels, like form liners or brick. We’re beginning a project soon that is using stained concrete tilt walls; you don’t see that very often.
    2: Height limitations are being stretched. It’s not uncommon now to see a six-story tilt-up building. The industry has learned new techniques for building tilt walls and for bracing them.
    With offices in Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio, Structure Tone Southwest is one of only a handful of general contractors across the U.S. to become a Certified Tilt-Up Company. –mjm

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Melissa Jones-Meyer dfweditor@constructionnews.net