Industry leaders in Missouri talk business (Part 1)

By |  February 14, 2023

The following discussion, which was edited for brevity and clarity, took place during a roundtable of aggregate producers at the Missouri Limestone Producers Association’s 2022 Annual Convention. The roundtable involved three aggregate producers – Farmer Companies’ Kirk Farmer, Martin Marietta’s Ward Nye and Summit Materials’ Scott Anderson – with P&Q managing editor Jack Kopanski serving as moderator. Look for Part 2 of the discussion in P&Q’s March 2023 edition.

Topics discussed during a producer roundtable at the Missouri Limestone Producers Association’s 2022 Annual Convention included the workforce, sustainability and community engagement. Photo: Dan Kleinsorge

Topics discussed during a producer roundtable at the Missouri Limestone Producers Association’s 2022 Annual Convention included the workforce, sustainability and community engagement. Photo: Dan Kleinsorge

P&Q: How would you characterize 2022 for the industry, and what are your expectations for 2023?

KIRK FARMER (FARMER COMPANIES): I would say 2022 had a lot of promise, and we just could not get in front of the inflation. I bet you everybody in this room would say the same thing. We thought it was going to be a great year, and we just could not get in front of the runaway inflation.

WARD NYE (MARTIN MARIETTA): I would describe 2022 as ragingly OK. Housing came into the year pretty strong, and then we obviously saw housing shimmy. Nonresidential this year was just odd. We had people like Amazon saying: ‘Look, we’re going to back off on some of what we’re doing.’ You saw some aspects of this year that were green shoots, and we saw some other things pull back.

SCOTT ANDERSON (SUMMIT MATERIALS): When I took my first leadership position, my boss told me leadership is just solving problems. I feel like 2022 [required] a lot of leadership. We had a lot of problems. Inflation, labor challenges, supply constraints – we got hit with a lot. I was really proud of our teams. We were very busy [and] we fought a lot of challenges, but we still inched out some growth.

P&Q: What are some steps that need to be taken to expand the availability of skilled labor in the workforce?

NYE: We’ve partnered with some schools that have a unique emphasis in our space. The other thing we need to start thinking about is where are the other places we can go with a very targeted approach.

Here’s my guess: If you get the dialogue [and] you get them in your office, you’re probably going to hire them. The trick is getting them to engage with you. When I’m talking to people who are in high school, a community college or college, and they’re not at the Missouri University of Science & Technology or the Colorado School of Mines and you say: ‘I’m in the aggregates business,’ they’re glazed over a little bit. Once you start saying: ‘Let me share with you why this is not a job, but rather, why this can be a career,’ it’s a fundamentally different conversation.

Kirk Farmer


FARMER: The conversations we’re having with our team are how to retain the younger workforce. The older generation can work, work, work, and they can do 20 percent overtime and grit it out. People in their 30s and 20s burn out so fast when they have to do a little bit of overtime. So, we’re having those kinds of conversations as to how on earth we can keep those people; how we need to reach them, keep them engaged and wanting to do the work.

Our older workforce is great, and we don’t want to lose them. But they’re going to age out. It’s really hard to find the farm kid or the kid who really wants to come to the mine, the ready-mix plant or the paving crew and put in the extra time for that money. That’s where we’re struggling. We don’t have the solution. We have to use a little bit of technology – that’s what these kids want to see.

ANDERSON: The other day, my son said: ‘Dad, I should have been a heavy equipment operator. They’re making good money. They get to run equipment and the equipment nowadays is pretty nice to run.’ I don’t think that message gets out.

We have to be very targeted and get the message out, and really focus on career development for these guys; show them that pathway to a career. [Summit president and CEO] Anne [Noonan] is working to create a path from a quarry to a CEO position at Summit Materials. That is pretty exciting for the guys on the front line to see that kind of vision.

P&Q: What are some methods you’re employing to retain workers?



ANDERSON: We’re using a lot more social media to attract talent. We’re looking into apps that give us more connectivity. We just invested in what’s called a learning management system. We’re able to offer our employees training online at flexible times during the day. They can pick the course they want to work on to advance their careers. That’s something we’re just rolling out, but I’m excited about it.

NYE: We talk a lot about the fact that safety is a value in our company. The other thing we’ve done: We have a 401(k) for our employees, and we also have a pension plan for employees. Five years after you’ve worked for Martin Marietta, you’re vested in the pension plan. [In 2021], we upped the increase in the pension plan for hourly employees. If you spend 25 or 30 years at Martin and you’re an hourly employee, you can retire between your 401(k), your pension and Social Security, basically, at full compensation.

FARMER: We’re beginning to target the turnover that we see largely in the first six months. If we can get employees to stick around for a year, the chances of retaining them are a lot higher. Whatever tool or connected device you can reach them on is pretty key in those first few months to make them feel like they’re valued.

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