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Plowing through in Pennsylvania despite complex circumstances

By |  July 27, 2020
Photo: Rod Martin

Martin

Looking back, this summer could have unfolded in any number of ways for Pennsylvania’s aggregate producers.

The state’s governor originally deemed quarries as “non-life-sustaining,” although a proactive industry lobby in Pennsylvania quickly reminded the administration how essential producers are to construction.

Still, Gov. Tom Wolf (D-Pennsylvania) shut down construction projects that were deemed nonessential for a stretch this spring, creating ripple effects upstream with materials producers.

“He had construction locked down in Pennsylvania for maybe a month,” says Rod Martin, owner at Martin Stone Quarries who also currently serves the Pennsylvania Aggregates & Concrete Association as board chairman. “That definitely hurt the producers, especially the concrete and asphalt producers. Asphalt wasn’t allowed at all. Concrete was, but there wasn’t much construction.”

Fortunately, Pennsylvania’s aggregate producers slogged on. Most did not miss a beat, Martin says, including his company.

“We didn’t slow down at all,” Martin says. “We figured we would build stockpiles. We have customers in South Jersey who were smart enough to do all of their roadwork and not slow down at all. They were doing twice as much roadwork because no one was on the road. They were busier the first three to four weeks [of the pandemic] while Pennsylvania was slowed down.”

Once construction was permitted to resume within Pennsylvania in early May, the floodgates seemed to open for producers.

“We’re getting through the backlogs now,” Martin says.

Looking ahead

Martin Stone Quarries has been providing aggregate and infield mix material to southeastern Pennsylvania and surrounding states since 1953. Photo: Rod Martin

Martin Stone Quarries has been providing aggregate and infield mix material to southeastern Pennsylvania and surrounding states since 1953. Photo: Rod Martin

Martin is confident those backlogs will sustain many of Pennsylvania’s producers through 2020. That presents a promising ending to a year in which outlooks were pretty bleak just a few months ago.

“In March, we thought the bottom was getting ready to drop out,” Martin says. “We’re fortunate it didn’t happen for us. We figure we’re going to be just as strong through the end of 2020 as we were last year. 2020 is going to be a good year.”

But 2021 could be trickier within the Keystone State – and elsewhere.

“We’re not sure what next year is going to bring,” Martin says. “The Pennsylvania DOT (PennDOT) is talking about an $800 million budget shortfall over the next two years. That will definitely hurt. We’re not a contractor; we just supply them, but we can adjust our production accordingly.”

That the federal government has not delivered a major infrastructure bill of late adds to the frustration.

“It’s a shame,” Martin says. “Both sides of the aisle know we have to do something.”

Whether or not a big federal bill is delivered, producers like Martin will continue to plug along.

“If you’re only in the concrete or asphalt business, you would have been struggling through this,” Martin says. “But there aren’t many guys in Pennsylvania who do that. Most are vertically integrated. As long as you have the aggregate as a backstop, you’ve been able to get through this.”

Additionally, Martin says the producers who draw on their experience from the last recession will find ways to plow through this latest economic downturn.

“The toughest thing is the unknown of how long this is going to go,” Martin says. “I think we all learned from 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. We learned our lesson and what we need to do to get through tough times like this. Next year might be a struggle with budgets, DOTs and things like that, but once we work our way through I think we’ll be OK.”

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

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

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