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Ten years of big developments

The past decade brought advances in fleet management technology, plant equipment and materials, along with merger and acquisition activity and new market demands certain to shape ready mixed and manufactured concrete in the 2020s. In ready mixed, producers incurred higher costs of EPA 2010-compliant diesel trucks, but realized new quality control, customer relationship and cost management opportunities from GPS, telematics, Internet of Things tools and data analytics.

Precast producers gained share this past decade by gearing up for bigger, heavier products and continuing to offer alternatives to traditional cast-in-place concrete, especially on projects where weather, schedule predictability and site safety factors were pressing concerns. Precast/prestressed concrete producers continued to benefit from more agencies approving design-build project delivery, a trend most abundant in the successor to the Tappan Zee Bridge linking New York and New Jersey. For concrete masonry and veneer stone producers, 2010-2019 ushered casting, molding and pigment blending or dispensing technology to support new color and finish offerings for homes, buildings and hardscapes. Concrete masonry producers, along with their peers in precast and pipe, saw the emergence of a major player—Pavestone, Rinker Materials, Argos and Boral block assets, and Midwest Block suitor Quikrete Holdings Inc.

The past decade opened on a most sour note: Concrete shipments that had hit record levels were flat lining in a five-year trough that would defy past construction business cycles. A lingering recession could only restrain concrete and upstream business dynamics so long. Depressed share prices factored into one of the most consequential events in construction materials: Martin Marietta Materials’ 2011-12 pursuit of a merger with Vulcan Materials Co. The latter company’s successful challenge of the proposed union triggered belt-tightening that improved its standing on Wall Street, which in turn funded a string of bolt-on acquisitions in the Southeast and West.

Left to pursue other targets, Martin Marietta seized the moment in 2014 with the Texas Industries acquisition. The deal strengthened its hand in Lone Star State aggregates production and brought it back into the cement business. Thanks to pre-acquisition maneuvers at TXI, it also netted a footprint in ready mixed production that which Martin Marietta could vertically integrate with greater market command and returns than prior Texas operators.

TXI was one of two major, heritage producers to change hands during the past decade. Its tie up with Martin Marietta was followed four years later in a deal more than double in dollar value: CRH Plc and Ash Grove Cement Co. Much as TXI made Martin Marietta a key player (> 5 million yd. annual production) in ready mixed, Ash Grove positioned CRH as a top five operator in North American cement production, with capacity in the 10 million ton/year range.

Ash Grove strengthened what for CRH Americas Materials was already a banner decade, following the 2015 acquisition of the Holcim (Canada) cement, aggregate and concrete businesses tied to the Lafarge Group and Holcim Ltd. merger. On this side of the border, the purchase of Lafarge North America and Holcim (US) assets helped Summit Materials and Eagle Materials boost cement production and distribution capabilities across the Great Lakes markets.

Summit Materials has built a respectable cement, aggregates and concrete portfolio since its launch in 2009, but closed its first decade quietly. Eagle Materials ended the decade with a near doubling of cement production and distribution capabilities through multiple deals with Lafarge North America and Cemex USA. This year’s split of Eagle’s construction materials and gypsum wallboard businesses will create a second American company, alongside Summit, heavy on cement assets and listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

From Wall Street investors to embodied carbon-minded architects to tech-savvy contractors, the new decade will invite additional demands for major and independent producers. Those committed to safety, workforce development, pricing discipline and innovation will rise to the occasion.