Talking Business: Bill Davenport

written by Business View Magazine October 11, 2014

30 minutes with Bill Davenport, the VP/communications for the American Concrete Pavement Association.

BUSINESS VIEW: Talk to me a little bit about the operation of the association as an entity – in terms of staff, how many people do you have working for you?

BILL DAVENPORT: We have the equivalent of about eight-and-a-half full-time employees, and we are the national association for the concrete pavement industry. We work very closely with regional and state chapter affiliates throughout the United States and Canada. Together, this very formidable force provides those same services that I talked about – technical support, promotion, advocacy and research.

BV: How many members do you have in the nationwide organization?

DAVENPORT: It’s about 425. We measure members by number of companies, not by individual memberships.

BV: In terms of the entities that make up that 425, is there a most-frequently recurring sort of one? Large company? Small company: What do you deal with most often?

DAVENPORT: No. Actually, I wouldn’t categorize it that way. Because we cover only concrete pavements – we don’t cover any other cementitious products or any other paving materials, we cover only the concrete paving materials – we represent a very broad swath of companies and organizations that includes cement companies, contractors, equipment/material suppliers, researchers and academia. So the way we characterize it is anybody that has involvement, interest and passion for concrete pavement is a member of the association.

BV: Are there any other nationwide organizations that are trying to appeal to the same members that you are? Maybe competition isn’t the right word, but that are maybe competitive in a sense with yours?

DAVENPORT: No, not for the concrete pavement industry. However, there are some allies – the Portland Cement Association remains a very strong ally. Cement is only one part of the material that goes into concrete. These days, concrete has add mixtures, aggregate chemicals and rock – very basic terminology. So the Portland Cement Association is one organization, the National Ready-Mix Concrete Association is another one. That association represents the companies that mix and transport concrete and what they call agitators, or transit mixers. You’ll recognize those as the big trucks with the big barrels that spin on the back. Those two organizations are national organizations that are on the same footing as we are, but they represent different aspects of the cementitious or concrete materials that go into our product.

In addition to that, we have some affiliations. We have technical partnerships with two organizations. One is called the National Concrete Pavement Technology Center, which is in Ames, Iowa and is basically a third-party research entity for the cement concrete industries. And then another organization that we have a very close technical working relationship with is the International Grooving and Grinding Association. I know it sounds like a ’60s dance step, but they represent companies that do more than just pavement grooving and grinding. They do what is known as restoration.

When a concrete pavement is placed, typically they’re designed to last 20 years, but typically they last 30, 40, 50 or even longer. What happens a lot of times, as the ground underneath shifts and changes and climatic changes, and wear and tear on the pavement, normal wear and tear, they will have to come in and basically take all of those slabs and level them. They have big machines that will come along with diamond grinding, and they will actually grind down the rough spots, making that pavement just as smooth and new looking as the day it was placed. And that’s a much less expensive alternative to repairing or replacing it. That organization also represents companies that do joint sealing and other types of restorative processes for existing pavement.

BV: Are there state or regional associations affiliated with yours that cover all 50 states? Do you have one in each state? Or are some of them grouped together?

DAVENPORT: No, we don’t. The primary reason for that is that some states do very little concrete paving. For whatever reason, culturally, they may be more oriented toward asphalt. Collectively, nationally and locally, we represent about 70 percent of mainline paving that’s done in the United States. By mainline paving, what we mean by that is highways, airports, urban arterials, major roadways and streets across the country. So while we’re not in every state, we represent the majority of what’s being paved and rehabilitated out there.

BV: Are there certain issues or priorities, or concerns that the members are talking about that get relayed through the main desk, through your office, that they want answers about or that they’re concerned with?

DAVENPORT: Unequivocally, I would say that the No. 1 issue that is on most peoples’ minds these days is funding. The funding formula is a bit complicated, because it involves both federal funding and then a state match – and it’s not a 50/50 match, it’s usually about 20 percent. But what has happened is that the highway funding has stagnated over the years and we, for example, with the last highway bill, we had many extensions. I think it was eleven. Historically, since 1956, the highway bill has been renewed, reauthorized and re-funded every five or six years. The downside of living on extensions is that it basically holds the funding at current levels. Material costs, labor costs go up, but the funding doesn’t.

What has happened is that the state agencies – these are the DOTs or the highway departments of all these various states around the country – they actually have less money and real dollars. So they and the industry are tasked to do more with less, and it is a real challenge because the demands on the roadway increase every year. There are more highway and roadway users. And, of course, we look at airports and streets and roads as well, but across all of these facilities, we’re using them more. That means that there’s more congestion, there’s more traffic, more wear and tear, and as a consequence, there are more road user delays, which cost business and industry. They create huge safety issues and inordinate delays.

There’s an acknowledgment among many experts in the industry that we simply need to invest money for the long term in restoring and rehabilitating, preserving, but also strategically constructing new highways and roadways. But because of the funding issue and the gridlock in Washington, D.C., that funding has been very hard to get put into motion. And what we’re pushing for, what we’re advocating for, what our members want, is a long-term well-funded highway built.

One other aspect of this is that the primary funding mechanism that goes to federal aid highway programs is the Highway Trust Fund, and people in Congress, people in the industry, people in the agencies will all agree that the Highway Trust Fund is badly broken – it’s about to run out of money. Congress is debating a short-term solution to that, but what we’re hoping is that they will develop a longer-term perspective on this and a longer-term solution. Because what is in place now isn’t working, and there are some very serious issues that are tied to this. Not only will 700,000 people be out of work if they don’t fix that trust fund, but we’ll also see business and commerce impacted. We will see our stature in the world market decline. The short answer is that we want to see a federal aid highway program enacted on a long-term basis with the requisite funding to get out there and do the job that needs to get done.

BV: As far as your membership, and ways that you as an association go about engaging them, what sorts of things have worked or resonated most often – is it events? Is it publications?

DAVENPORT: All of the above. We do publications – although, recently, we’ve been keeping pace with the digital age and are producing a lot of technical information in terms of web apps and online information. We have workshops and training events. We have web-based training programs, live classroom programs. We have networking opportunities. Because of the broad swath of members that we cover, all of those things are important to our members, collectively.

BV: Five years from now, what do you think will occur? What are you hoping will occur? What are the priorities for the association? You mentioned the long-term highway funding, but are there other things as well?

DAVENPORT: One of the keys to our success in recent years is the use of thin-concrete overlays to repair distressed roadways and, particularly, asphalt roadways. Everybody has heard of blacktop, and blacktop is placed over concrete. But we’ve had this technology for many, many years to place concrete over asphalt. And, it’s working. There’s more of it being used every year, in large part because of the volatility in oil prices. Asphalt oil is a derivative of oil processing, so as oil prices go, so too does asphalt prices. So those concrete overlays are increasingly important.

We are continuing to look for solutions that will help the state agencies and the contractors place thinner sections of concrete overlays, thinner typically is associated with less expensive. We’re doing everything that we can to do more with less, regardless of what the culture is, we are trying to return the greatest possible value and return on investment of highway, roadway and airport dollars by using technology.

Another aspect is sustainability – that is a very important initiative to us as an industry. People wouldn’t really think of roadways as being green, but nothing can be further from the truth. Concrete roadways are inherently much more sustainable and we are continuing to educate the marketplace, as well as the public agencies about the environmental and sustainable aspects of concrete. It really comes down to cost, performance and sustainability, and those are the key drivers that we continue to push forward with and we anticipate doing so in the next coming years as well.

BV: You mentioned specifically the long-term highway funding and getting things straightened out in Washington. In your own expert opinion and heart of hearts, do you think something is going to get done? Are you optimistic? Is it an administration thing? If Congress and the White House are on the same side of the aisle, will things get done a little easier? How do you see that going?

DAVENPORT: We’re optimistic about it. The administration has been, in the past few months, really pushing hard to find solutions to the Highway Trust Fund. We think that Congress will eventually come around. Highway funding has not typically been a huge political issue, although it has become one, just because of everything that’s going on in Washington, D.C. But I think most members of Congress would acknowledge that highways, roadways and airports are extremely important to their constituents. It’s the way they get from point A to point B. It’s the way people enjoy time on vacation with their families. There are safety and security aspects of well-built, well-funded roadways.

Look at Florida for example. You know you can’t have roadways that are in poor condition that are all jammed up if there’s an emergency evacuation like a hurricane. So there’s an acknowledgment in Congress, but unfortunately, there seems to be other issues that tend to block that highway bill from being passed in a timely fashion. And again, the funding is something that we’re dealing with on many, many fronts as a nation and we certainly do not look at federal funding as an entitlement. We look at it as an investment. We have plenty of models that suggest that nations that invest in their transportation infrastructure tend to be the ones that are leading the world in terms of business, commerce, defense and more.

You can point to India and China as some good examples of nations that have emerged economically and one of the underpinnings of that economic advancement is their interest in infrastructure. We can’t keep operating as a cutting-edge 21st century nation with roadways and airports and ports, and facilities that are throwbacks to the mid-20th century. We’ve got to modernize. We’ve got to make that investment, or we’re going to see the nation’s stature decline and put us in a very vulnerable situation on many different fronts.

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