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NSSGA’s Johnson addresses infrastructure at Roundtable

By |  August 9, 2021

During the 2021 Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference, Michael Johnson, president and CEO of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA), reflected on 2020 and the change infused by the pandemic. Johnson touched on developments in infrastructure and energy that will ultimately impact aggregate producers. He also explored the greater effects of consolidation on NSSGA and the industry at large. P&Q’s conversation with Johnson took place June 3, and it was edited for brevity and clarity.


STATE OF THE INDUSTRY

Photo:

Michael Johnson, president and CEO of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, is a regular speaker at the Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference. Johnson touched on infrastructure, energy and more in his remarks. (Photo: PamElla Lee Photography)

P&Q: It’s been 15 months since we last visited at the Roundtable, and so much has transpired over a year-and-a-half. The aggregate industry showed tremendous resilience and was fortunate to overwhelmingly be characterized as ‘essential’ or ‘life-sustaining’ by most states. How would you characterize the industry as it stands today, reflecting on the ups and downs experienced over one of the most challenging and stressful stretches of all our lives and careers?

JOHNSON: It has been an interesting 15, 16 months. We were the last trade show in Las Vegas before the town shut down. I mean, talk about changing. It was rapid change for everyone. Before we even left Vegas, we were the first association to do a hybrid meeting. When we were there, we knew that we had to do something different. We only had about 60 percent of our attendees able to show up in person due to corporate travel bans or concerns about the virus. So we started off before anybody else started doing something that was half online and half in-person.

And that set the stage for NSSGA for the next year-plus. I asked my team each and every week: ‘What are we going to do to deliver value this week? And how are we going to connect with our members?’

It starts [with being an] essential industry. I certainly never thought I’d be in a position where we were lobbying the Cyber & Infrastructure Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, but that’s where we were. And getting this industry declared ‘essential’ was the first big win of the pandemic for our government affairs team. Then, we had to go back and refine that language. Some of the states tried different things, and we had to go back and tighten that language. Our team did that, and they did it very well.

I think it’s going to be different going forward for all of us. Hybrid is here to stay certainly for NSSGA and the other associations. I think we’re going to have to adjust to the fact that people aren’t going to travel quite like they used to. But it’s really exciting. It’s fun to be back in person.

P&Q: How is NSSGA as an organization doing as the pandemic winds down? How challenging was it to keep your people ‘together’ while apart? What does the future look like for the NSSGA staff? How has the organization changed through the pandemic?

JOHNSON: We were absolutely tested. We were built on a model of sending you messages and asking you to come to meetings, to come see us at a convention – at an AGG1 or at a Legislative & Policy Forum. We had to change. We had to morph into something where we took the association and made it something we can take to you – wherever you were.

What we saw over the course of the last year was engagement went through the roof. I had folks tell me: ‘I’ve been able to engage with NSSGA like never before because it doesn’t cost me anything to do it, and I don’t have to take time away from my business.’ One of our smallest members said: ‘I paid more to attend an NSSGA meeting when you factor in the flights, the hotel rooms and the registration than I paid dues.’ For him, the evolution of participating in a lot of things online through virtual events allows him to engage with us in ways he never had.

We did a virtual Legislative & Policy Forum last year in which we had a record number of attendees and a record number of Hill visits. We’ve had to adjust. Our webinar product has been off the hook. We’ve seen numbers like we’ve never seen before.

The future for us is doing things in a hybrid manner. We got to capture the best parts of what we learned in the last 16 months and put them into practice for the future.

P&Q: The pandemic forced the cancellation of this March’s AGG1, but another AGG1 is right behind it and slated for March 2022. What are your expectations for AGG1 2022 at this early stage? Do you expect AGG1 to look and feel the same as when we last experienced it in 2019? And like the other NSSGA events, do you expect a trade show like AGG1 to develop a virtual component?

JOHNSON: I think trade shows have changed just like everything’s changed. I don’t know that we’ll see quite the same numbers. I hear from a lot of our companies that they learned some things during the pandemic. They learned that they can be very successful and that they can be very profitable without as much travel. A lot of them are saying: ‘Do I need to go back to that kind of travel?’

I’ve heard from a lot of companies that travel budgets have been cut fairly severely. I think they will continue to show up for the things that matter – and I think AGG1 matters. We’ve got great exhibitors and the equipment that [is brought] to that show allows them to do what they need to do to produce the rocks that build America.

I really think we’re on the precipice of needing more rocks than we’ve ever needed, which makes the trade show even that much more important. The latest and greatest equipment is going to be something that everybody’s clamoring for because they learned during the pandemic that they have to be more efficient. And the equipment that [manufacturers] are making and selling to our members allows them to be safer and more efficient in their operations every day.

So, I think trade shows are going to come back. Like association meetings, you’re probably going to see some changes. You may see some hybrid stuff. You may see some people doing a trade show that lasts all year. We’re looking at how do we take AGG1 and make it a year-round event where we have an online presence for our exhibitors so everybody can come visit – not just once a year at an in-person trade show.

There’s a hunger out there. You can feel it. You can see it in people. They want to get back to face-to-face, and I think you’re going to see the trade shows continue to be successful.


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