Is the Sky Falling?
Although there was a larger increase in the number of producers reporting concerns about aggregates availability and permitting (19 percent in 2008 vs. 16 percent in 2007), the 1-percent increase in the number of producers reporting regulatory compliance problems drew more individual responses. Numerous respondents described regulatory officials as “too heavy handed” and regulatory requirements as “time consuming.”
After peaking at 17 percent in 2006, concerns about retaining workers have held steady at 12 percent. An important difference, however, is that several years ago, most reports in this category dealt with finding enough workers to ensure the desired production. That equation has now flipped with many managers reporting that they are scrambling for enough jobs to keep workers busy. “Our challenge is keeping our workforce fully employed and fully motivated to stay with us,” one producer noted. Managers report using techniques such as open communication, shortened workdays and work weeks, and “one-on-one communication” in an attempt to stave off personnel cuts.
Throughout the last quarter of the year, after surveys were returned, many sites were unable to continue to carry regular payroll and pink slips became more prevalent.
In mid-November, Luck Stone Corp. announced plans to lay off or reassign approximately 17 percent of its work force. “These people have been and will be our greatest asset, and this has been an extremely difficult decision and one made after exhausting all other cost-cutting options,” President and CEO Charlie Luck IV told the Richmond Times Dispatch. “Our company is 85 years old, and the depth and length of this one is unlike anything I’ve seen before. Within our company, we project that 2009 will be the lowest year in the cycle; then there will be a flat year in 2010.”
Several days later, Vulcan Materials Co. said that it planned to lay off 19 percent of the 200 employees in its Mideast division. “I think the decisions and actions that we are taking are reflective of the economy as a whole,” Tom Carroll, director of business development and external affairs for the division, told the Winston-Salem Journal. “We will continue to evaluate our business on a regular basis and make adjustments as needed.”
Hope for the future
Although the condition of the aggregates industry – and the nation’s economy – is undergoing tremendous challenges, 2008 closed with the potential for better results in 2009. On Dec. 6, President-elect Barack Obama appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and described his plans for a two-year turnaround.
“We need action and action now,” Obama said. He said his plan to create 2.5 million jobs includes rebuilding infrastructure, improving schools, reducing dependence on oil, and saving billions of tax dollars.
“We will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our nation’s infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s,” he declared. “We will invest your precious tax dollars in newer and smarter ways. We will set one simple rule: use it or lose it. If a state doesn’t act quickly to invest in roads and bridges in their communities, they’ll lose the money.
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