Forward Momentum for 2012
Better Roads Staff
Consistency is key from a regional perspective. The majority of operators in all four regions expect production quantities to remain about the same. That said, operators in the North Central region were the most optimistic with 34.8 percent anticipating an increase compared to 13.0 percent calling for a decrease. Producers in the South are still skittish on demand; they were the only region with more respondents anticipating a decline (20.9 percent) than an increase (16.3 percent).
In 2011, employment levels were slightly more stable throughout much of the aggregate industry. Overall, 27.4 percent (9.6 percent fewer than in 2010) of respondents said the work force decreased throughout the year, while 20.8 percent said their work force grew.
Crushed stone and sand & gravel operators were the most likely to report having a smaller work force (41.0 percent), while sand and gravel operators were most inclined to boost their numbers (33.3 percent). Crushed stone only operators had the most stable work force segment with 58.3 percent indicating the size of their work force was about the same as during the previous year.
From a regional perspective, the South’s declining production levels were reflected in its staffing; 46.5 percent of operators there reported work force declines. The most growth was seen in the North Central region where 26.1 percent of respondents’ operations grew their numbers.
By worker category, other hourly labor was the category to experience both the highest increase (13.2 percent) and the highest decrease (27.4 percent). The number of women in the workplace grew, as it was the only category to report more work force expansion (10.4 percent) than contraction (6.6 percent).
Competition for sales has dominated operator concerns during the last four years. While the number who ranked it as a major concern diminished this year (25.5 percent), nearly 60 percent more called it a minor problem. Taken as a combined total, almost 85 percent noted it as a challenge — 25 percent more than the next most widespread problem.
When asked how they were dealing with this issue, many respondents indicated that they have lowered prices to seal the deal, including break-even pricing. Some vertically integrated operators noted using package deals to streamline costs. Others say they are analyzing markets, implementing long-term strategic planning, and exploring new and growing markets. Customer service, customer contact, and a focus on quality are among the business strategies being employed to maintain customer loyalty.
Other concerns, such as regulatory compliance and aggregates availability, are increasingly important to this year’s respondents, but the dominance of competitive sales indicates that the aggregate industry — while in a better place than recent years — remains intensely focused on each job and each customer.
Improvements may be modest and regional, but they do, indeed, appear to be real. If these results and those forecast for 2012 bear out, then the aggregate industry needs to ensure that objects in motion stay in motion. From there, it’s a matter of increasing mass and velocity.
Methodology, Objectives, and Sources
The objective of the 2012 Aggregates Manager Forecast Survey was to determine business, production volume, spending, and workforce trends. In November 2011, Aggregates Manager e-mailed questionnaires to a random selection of readers in the crushed stone and sand and gravel, crushed stone-only, and sand and gravel-only industries. A total of 106 useable surveys were completed.
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