Events in early 2014 generated long overdue enthusiasm for construction and related industries.
After one of the coldest, harshest winters in recent years, recyclers and demolition contractors were no doubt eager for a change in scenery come February. Lucky for them, several industry events in Las Vegas not only provided warm weather, but also signaled a sunnier outlook for the industry.
The National Demolition Association (NDA), based in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, kicked off the spring convention season with its 41st annual convention at the Mirage in Las Vegas, Feb. 22-25. Much of the 2014 programming focused on construction industry trends, which offered many insights for demolition contractors whose businesses rely on steady construction activity. Grant Thayer, a senior consultant with the Raleigh, North Carolina-based construction consulting firm FMI, shared results of the firm’s 25th Annual State of the Construction Industry Report with convention attendees during the four-day event.
Thayer talked about what he described as a “significant steady climb in residential, nonresidential and nonbuilding structures.”
He said commercial and industrial construction activity is going up faster than inflation, making for positive and real growth. “Everybody should feel good right now because it’s been a long time since I have been able to say those kinds of good things consistently over time,” he told attendees.
One issue FMI sees facing the construction industry is recruiting and talent development has become more difficult as baby boomers’ great reservoir of experience and knowledge are starting to exit the workforce. Thayer predicts it will be a difficult transition. “You can’t hand off a relationship,” he said.
According to FMI research, construction firms also are working with a reduced talent pool. One way to counter this trend is by motivating and retaining the top performers at a company. “Developing internally, making sure you hang onto and motivate your folks is the best way to solve this problem,” he suggested.
Just one week after the NDA Convention concluded, a major construction industry show took center stage. ConExpo-Con/Agg drew tens of thousands of exhibitors and attendees interested in construction equipment to the Las Vegas Convention Center, March 4-8.
Nearly 130,000 people attended the ConExpo-Con/Agg and the International Exposition for Power Transmission (IFPE), making it the second-highest attendance in the shows’ history. The shows also set new records for exhibit space, number of exhibitors and education tickets sold. ConExpo-Con/Agg is held every three years, and this year the construction industry’s positive momentum was evident to organizers and exhibitors.
“The enthusiasm and traffic on the show floor was just incredible,” said Megan Tanel, ConExpo-Con/Agg show director. “Exhibitors cited the high quality of attendees. They told us these were serious buyers and reported robust sales to existing as well as new customers that exceeded their expectations.”
ConExpo-Con/Agg set a new record for exhibit space and number of exhibitors with more than 2.35 million net square feet of exhibit space and more than 2,000 exhibitors. ConExpo-Con/Agg featured a new Demolition & Recycling exhibit pavilion from the Construction & Demolition Recycling Association (CDRA) and the Technology & Construction Solutions pavilion from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).
Several national industry associations, including CDRA, held their annual conventions or board meetings during the show.
A positive outlook
It was during CDRA’s C&D World 2014 on March 5 at the Bally’s Las Vegas Hotel that Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Chief Economist Anirban Basu provided his positive outlook for the construction industry.
Basu, who also is chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group Inc., a Baltimore-based economic and policy consulting firm, told C&D World attendees the national construction industry is heading for growth.
While the nation’s debt will continue to rise, Basu said, construction spending, in many instances, increased from January 2013 to January 2014. Nonresidential construction spending for lodging (including hotels and casinos) is up 41 percent in January 2014 compared with January 2013, he said. Basu pointed out that construction spending dropped the most for nonresidential religious manners (including churches).
“We’re finally coming out of the recession,” Basu said, noting portions of the construction industry are growing. The housing market, for example, will continue to be a source of progress, he said.
He explained that certain regions of the United States will see advancements in the industry more based on activity in those areas. Import and export activity, as one example, will help grow construction activity, he said.
“Regions with rapid population growth, significant import and export activity, industrial output and energy production will lead the way,” Basu said.
Also speaking during C&D World 2014 was San Jose, California-based Zanker Road Resource Management Sustainability Director Michael Gross, who discussed the company’s potential future in brick recycling, the difficulty of recycling mattresses and how the company recycles unique materials, such as CDs and candles.
Paul Valenti, director of operations for Sun Recycling, a Southern Waste Systems (SWS) company, headquartered in Davie, Florida, talked about the company’s recent installation of a Wendt 60x86 metal shredder and how the company is using refuse-derived fuel (RDF) to take out ultralights (anything light enough to blow away, he explained) from C&D waste streams. He also discussed the challenge of PVC pipe recycling.
Kim Williams, president of Marpan Recycling, discussed the Tallahassee, Florida-based company’s daily operations, including its full-service material recovery facility (MRF).
C&D diversion differences
Later in the spring, C&D recyclers had the opportunity to hear from industry veterans during WasteExpo 2014, April 29-May 1 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. Anthony Colosimo, CEO of Des Moines, Iowa-based Phoenix Recycling, and Kevin Herb, president of Broad Run Recycling, Manassas, Virginia, both process C&D materials but have different ways to achieve their high diversion rates. The two recyclers shared their approaches to WasteExpo attendees during a session on the topic of C&D recycling.
Colosimo told attendees that Phoenix Recycling “processes a little differently than most places.” Biomass fuel makes up the majority of the facility’s end products. The company uses a negative sort to eliminate the material that it does not want in the fuel, including metals. The company uses an eddy current separator as part of its nonferrous separation process.
Phoenix produces a biomass fuel through a grinding process and can make its product into a pelletized or fluff form, depending on customer specifications. Colosimo estimated the facility achieves an 80 to 90 percent recovery rate from its process. He added that Phoenix does not own a landfill so it needs a high recovery rate “or it will cost us.”
According to Colosimo, biomass has the potential to offset coal consumption. He even referred to the Midwest as “the Saudi Arabia of biomass.” He estimated that the United States uses 45 million tons of coal per year for power generation. He suggested that power plants offset at least a percentage of their coal and replace it with biomass.
“All can cofire our product if they chose to do so,” he said. “The problem is they are switching to natural gas.”
Despite switching to natural gas, Colosimo said biomass can be used as a renewable fuel in these power plants that still have existing coal-fired boilers, even as they transition to using natural gas.
Unlike Phoenix Recycling, Broad Run Recycling produces a variety of end products from the mostly clean construction debris it receives. Wood, metals, aggregates, wood-derived fuel (WDF), rigid plastics and cardboard all are separated and recycled at the Washington-area facility. Being located in the nation’s capital and becoming a certified facility through Recycling Certification Institute (RCI), Sacramento, California, has resulted in facility growth, according to Herb.
Washington has a goal of being the “greenest” city in the country, and Herb said, “We needed a way to prove to customers, ‘I really am doing what I say I am doing.’”
He also pointed out that 90 percent of all U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) projects apply for C&D recycling credits. In a recently approved LEED Pilot Credit point, companies can earn an additional point toward certification for using a C&D recycling facility like Broad Run that has its diversion rate certified by a third party.
The facility is currently processing 650 tons per day and is on track to increase that to 750 tons per day by the end of the year, according to Herb.
The authors are managing editor and assistant editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
More opportunities to learn are available in the fall, including the Renewable Energy from Waste Conference in San Jose, California, Nov. 17-20. For a complete list of upcoming conferences, see our Calendar on p. 54.