PACA develops new playbook in Pennsylvania

By |  February 7, 2023
The Pennsylvania Aggregates & Concrete Association’s Annual Meeting late last year in Hershey, Pennsylvania, included a 40th anniversary commemoration. Photo: PACA

The Pennsylvania Aggregates & Concrete Association’s Annual Meeting late last year in Hershey, Pennsylvania, included a 40th anniversary commemoration. Photo: PACA

Aggregate producers know the value they bring to their communities. The benefits, of course, are aplenty.

Historically, though, producers have not been great at communicating the benefits to those living outside the confines of the industry – the general public, for example, or public officials.

Leaders at the Pennsylvania Aggregates & Concrete Association (PACA) recognized this shortcoming in recent years, though, and they crafted a strategic plan in 2022 that emphasizes communicating the tremendous value the industry provides.

“We use the analogy that water comes from a faucet and electricity from a socket, but no one knows where infrastructure comes from,” says Jeff Detwiler, president of materials at New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co., who is now chairman of the PACA board of directors. “Society appreciates it, but they don’t know enough about it. We’re essential to everybody, and we need to promote that.”

If Pennsylvania’s aggregate producers don’t effectively promote the benefits their businesses provide throughout the commonwealth, they fully realize that their ability to operate is only going to get harder.

Housel

Housel

“We’ve always been a quiet industry, but [communication] has to be a dialogue and not a monologue,” says Bob Housel, president of Masters RMC who served as PACA board chairman prior to Detwiler. “Hiring a well-respected communications partner has gone a long way with that.”

Now working alongside La Torre Communications, a Pennsylvania-based public relations and public affairs firm, PACA leaders feel they’ve taken a significant step to bolster their communication objectives.

“The challenge our industry has is the lack of a narrative,” says Peter Vlahos, president and CEO of PACA. “This is not just within our state, but across the U.S.”

Sustainability focus

The variety of messages aggregate producers must convey in Pennsylvania is similar to those of other states.

Sustainability, for example, has become more central to regulatory discussions in the Keystone State. This is an area where producers must do more to build dialogues, according to Vlahos.

Vlahos

Vlahos

“As you’re talking about CO2 emissions, what’s fascinating is when you look at the market for a quarry,” he says. “The rule of thumb is to have one in a 50-mile radius. As we’re looking at population expansion that pushes quarries farther away, not only are you increasing costs because of the transportation component but you’re increasing CO2 emissions.”

Also, misnomers exist about aggregates and their various capabilities. This is another area where producers must speak up, making their voices especially heard with Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) officials.

“Pennsylvania has a lot of different types of rock, and they have varying impacts on what we do for concrete and asphalt,” Housel says. “As PennDOT changes their specifications in terms of requiring more things they want to see in their product, they’re selectively eliminating certain aggregate sources in parts of the state. That puts the burden on importing aggregates from another part of the state that’s farther away.”

Eliminating aggregate sources doesn’t have the carbon emissions impact public officials intend to achieve, either.

“That’s another conversation where we have to provide the big picture in terms of aggregate availability,” Housel says. “It’s not just ‘do you have it,’ but ‘do you have the right kind.’”

DOT developments

Because PACA has a more diverse membership than some state associations – one that includes ready-mixed concrete and cement producers – the organization has other unique issues it wants to prioritize with its state DOT.

“In addition to the burden of specifications, there’s always this push to not impact the traveling public more than you have to,” Housel says. “There’s been a push to do more work at night.”

But finding people who want to work nights is easier said than done.

“PennDOT has special requirements where they want you to bring in a whole other set of people to work at night,” Housel says. “That’s been a real struggle.”

It’s been so much of a struggle that some ready-mix providers paused to evaluate the effectiveness of the business they do with PennDOT.

“There are some sticking points that are making people consider other opportunities,” Housel says. “The industry and states have to come up with a way that we can accomplish what we want to do.

We would all like things to be as good as they possibly can be, but at some point, if you want to get things done on a fairly timely and economic basis, you’re going to have to compromise and figure out how to make this full infrastructure thing work.”

Better opportunities could be ahead because of a change in state administration, with Gov. Josh Shapiro – a Democrat – taking office.

“We hope we’re going to find the opportunity for a dialogue and that both sides will be heard in trying to find solutions,” Vlahos says.

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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