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An Interview with Ron Summers


Ron Summers, executive vice president, CalPortland Co., took over as chairman of NSSGA for 2012. Rock Products spoke with him about his goals for the year in this exclusive interview.

By Mark S. Kuhar

ROCK PRODUCTS: As you begin your term at the helm of NSSGA, what is the number-one thing you would like to accomplish?

SUMMERS: I believe that the most important task at hand is ensuring that we have a long-term, fully funded transportation bill at the federal level. As an industry we need to continue to educate legislators as well as the voters that our country can no longer afford to ignore the condition of our highways, streets and roads. Adequate repair and even replacement of some highways are necessary as well as the ongoing continual development of improvements necessary for 21st century mobility and commerce. We need a strong transportation system in place with a long-term funding mechanism simple and straight. We can never lose sight that one of our main responsibilities is to educate the public as well as our legislators and neighbors, fellow business people, emergency services and schools about the need for safer, better and more efficient road networks coast to coast.

ROCK PRODUCTS: What can aggregates producers do at the grassroots level to move transportation funding legislation through Congress?

SUMMERS: All producers have the ability to advocate for strong transportation legislation to their respective representatives. Advocacy is not something that everybody finds to be easy, so it is important that we collaborate with our local state associations as well as with national construction trade associations to drive our message. Advocacy is something, that when done well at the local level, has profound effects at the national level. Every producer can utilize the materials that NSSGA has developed to communicate our message in their own local districts with their federal representative. In fact, it probably makes a more lasting memory that a constituent stop by a congressional district office in-state to personally deliver our message than association members visiting the representative in their Washington, D.C., offices. My recommendation is to get engaged and play an active role in advocacy for transportation funding.

ROCK PRODUCTS: Your home state of California is a bellwether state for trends, innovation and regulatory activity. What can the rest of the county learn from California?

SUMMERS: California wants to lead the nation and the world, in developing environmental regulations that are far reaching, as exemplified by the CARB (California Air Resources Board) greenhouse gas rule that’s more stringent than other states and federal law. Innovation is many times the result of such regulation. When you look at the focus on recycling of materials going on in California, it is not difficult to predict that many products and solutions will arise from the recycling effort of construction materials.

ROCK PRODUCTS: Do you foresee a situation where dwindling reserves, or unpermittable reserves, will require more and more imported aggregates from Canada and Mexico to meet West Coast market demand?

SUMMERS: In certain metropolitan areas permitted reserves are located farther and farther away from the downtown development area. Transportation costs to transport products via truck and trailer are now in favor of rail. In the Bay Area, trucking costs are sometimes less competitive than barge costs due to the volumes transported. It is a possibility that in several large metropolitan areas we may see imported aggregates take the place of locally produced aggregates that find themselves geographically disadvantaged due to transportation costs.

ROCK PRODUCTS: How important is state and national association membership to business success?

SUMMERS: NSSGA is the industry hub for all legislation on Capitol Hill. We need to continue to provide education and communication to Congress as well as being at the table with other similar minded national coalitions being covered by the national media. At the state level association memberships provides a link for our members to state and local legislatures as well as the local media. Grassroots political action is vital to our industry. NSSGA and state associations have developed the tools that we need to use to carry our message to legislatures, agencies, the media and, when necessary, to the public.

ROCK PRODUCTS: What moves has your company made to use technology to your advantage?

SUMMERS: In some major metropolitan markets it is conceivable that in the not so distant future recycled construction materials will be increasingly used as aggregates for certain types of construction projects. Due mainly to Sustainable Development (and by the way, NSSGA has as one of its Guiding Principles, a commitment for Sustainability – socially, environmentally and economically) and LEED in particular, we have seen an increased demand for recycled concrete aggregate as well as crushed concrete aggregates. Recycling will be the way of the future where not conflicting with strict specifications for particular performance. The architectural community is driving the construction industry in this direction and, where technologically feasible, the sooner we get there the better.

ROCK PRODUCTS: AGG1 has become a yearly destination for aggregates producers seeking to stay competitive. What did you pick up from the latest show?

SUMMERS: AGG1 is a great place to network with others in the industry. Benefits from this past show included reviewing with vendors what is new in the market for belt scales, conveyor idlers, conveyor pulleys as well as many other industry related items.We visited with several lab equipment manufacturers about equipment needed for new specifications in California. Also, I had the opportunity to discuss how to cope with the economy and the importance of getting a long-term national highway bill with colleagues in the industry. We also took home several concepts, ideas and equipment that can potentially reduce our environmental footprint. We were able to go through the show with others on our team and share opinions on equipment or concepts, which provided for a good mentoring opportunity.

ROCK PRODUCTS: What's the best piece of business advice anyone ever gave you?

In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words; people, product and profits. Unless you've got a good team, you can't do much with the other two. -Lee Iacocca