What we can expect from the next aggregate associations

By |  June 7, 2016

Trade associations have been around for a very long time.

Some reach as far back as the Middle Ages, to the guilds formed to safeguard the interests for trades such as cloth dying, horseshoeing, weaving and goldsmithing.

A number of trade associations in the United States were established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and those continue to serve their members today. It’s been estimated that there are now about 92,000 trade associations in the U.S. representing everything from aeronautics to zookeeping.

Whatever the industry or group of industries represented, the basic tenets of all trade associations are the same: preserve and protect the industry’s common interests; inform and educate members about macro- and micro-trends that are likely to have an industry-wide impact; and set standards, establish guidelines or create self-policing regulations that all members must abide by in order to be considered in good standing.

Associations also do much to generate a positive image of the industry with the public, legislators and regulators. These tenets have changed little over the years.

Our industry

The aggregates industry’s history of trade associations is fairly typical. Since 1903, it has been represented by no less than eight separate organizations, culminating with the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) in 2000. In those 97 years, producers of crushed stone, sand and gravel, and lime came to understand the value of banding together and speaking with one voice to the states and the federal government.

They had to overcome inherent prejudices and mistrust in order to come together. But they knew it was the right thing to do to keep the industry strong.

Probably chief among a national association’s activities is lobbying the Congress and the executive branch. Association lobbyists are generally experts in their fields, and legislators or bureaucrats rarely have the depth of knowledge lobbyists can have about the effects of a law or regulation on their special interest. This exchange can only improve the lot of the governed.

The trend of company mergers and acquisitions that was prevalent during the run up to the Great Recession slowed somewhat after 2008. It was a trend that posed challenges for the associations, as membership compressed and the pressure to raise dues grew stronger. Now, with the recovery moving forward, however slowly, the trend toward mergers and acquisitions is raising its head again.

This became an across-the-board problem for many associations, not just the aggregates industry. Others, such as the paving and cement industries, also faced the same kinds of problems.

So what does the future hold for trade associations? They’ve never been known to be on the leading edge of innovation, so they must keep reinventing themselves to remain relevant in today’s cyber environment.

The challenge is daunting. Retaining and growing membership, providing real-time news and information, and providing an added-value proposition aren’t easy. This is especially true when related industries are battling each other for dominance.

Maybe the time has come for all of the construction materials industries to step back and take a look at where they are headed as we move toward the second half of the 21st century.

The idea of a merger or consolidation of these industry associations might make sense. Asphalt, concrete and cement companies might consider setting aside their differences to unite, as difficult as that may sound. They can do it, just as the aggregates and plastics industries did.

If the construction materials industry speaks with one voice in Washington and around the country, it will be heard much more loudly than any one of these associations can be heard by itself.

Gus Edwards is a former representative of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, having served as executive vice president and, at one time, as president and CEO. He can be reached at r.a.edwards3rd@gmail.com.

Photo credit: Ron Cogswell via Fair / CC BY

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