Can widespread municipal construction requiring the use of masonry be a reality in 11 years?
By Chris Mayo
Pick up a newspaper, turn on the news, and listen to the radio. It won’t be long before you hear about our struggling economy. The talk may begin with Wall Street or the banking industry, but the floundering construction industry eventually will be included in the report.
When times are tough, our instinct often is to tighten our belts and weather the storm. But some strategists suggest that during tough times, we should look for opportunities. In many ways, Vision 2020 is a case and point.
Vision 2020 was born through a cooperative effort between the National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA) and the Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA). During a meeting in 2008, the two groups recognized that identifying areas of common interest through which they can work together simply makes sense. They concluded that the masonry trades have lost some market share during the years, and a concerted effort to regain and, ultimately, surpass what was lost will be of great benefit to the industry as a whole.
Mackie Bounds, president and CEO of Brazos Masonry Inc. and VP of the MCAA, was the originator of the idea for Vision 2020. “We were trying to come up with strategies to recover some of our lost market share, and there were lots of ideas being tossed around,” says Bounds. “But most of them were things we’d touched on before, like calling key accounts, or talking to architects and engineers. I suggested that we needed to forget the old ideas and adopt a grassroots strategy: talk to city councils, state and federal legislatures, and school boards, and encourage building code mandates that require new construction be masonry.”
Generating an idea is one thing, but generating a workable plan is another. The group looked at municipalities that have adopted ordinances requiring a percentage of masonry construction. Bounds was familiar with Farmer Branch, Texas, for example, which requires 70 percent of new commercial construction be done with masonry products. The group asked, “What if?” What if there were a concerted effort to make this happen in municipalities across the United States and Canada?
“Vision 2020 is a grassroots program that will create an army of small groups of promotion people to approach cities, counties and municipalities across the United States and Canada, and explain the advantages of building with masonry products,” says Bill Holden, president of Block USA (Birmingham, Ala.) and immediate past-chairman of the NCMA. “We’ll ask communities to insure their own success by mandating that a percentage of their new buildings are done with masonry.”
Ann Wolter is a consultant for Vision 2020 and the coordinator of www.MasonrySystems.org, a website created to serve as a unified source for information on masonry. “We’re asking people to share a long-term vision for their communities and have a laser focus on an end goal,” she says. “We need to understand the challenges that our communities are facing and focus our efforts on the true, long-term owners of buildings: municipalities, school districts, and state and federal governments. No one has a greater stake in the quality of what’s built in our communities than the communities themselves. Masonry and masonry guidelines add value, beauty, durability, safety and tax-base stability.”
The most exciting characteristics of Vision 2020 are in the long-term aspect and the emphasis on focus. Although masonry trade associations have collaborated in the past, the collaborations historically haven’t been goal driven for the long term.
“Vision 2020 unites our industry,” says Bounds. “Over the years, we’ve become fragmented, with everyone pushing their own product and their own expertise. People see brick, block, stone, marble and granite as separate products. What we need to do is present a marketing plan for wall systems, regardless of the product. In the long run, we’ll all benefit.”
The makeup of the teams is one key to the plan. Ideally, they’ll consist of influential people from the contracting and manufacturing sides who live in or near the localities where they are promoting the plan.
“The mistake a lot of organizations make is that they come up with great marketing plans, and then they send people from outside the community to promote them,” says Holden. “There is rarely enough follow-up. As a result, community leaders listen politely and then forget about implementation.”
That’s not to say there won’t be input from afar. Another important aspect is the set of tools with which the teams will present Vision 2020.
“We realized we could put together a tool kit for the teams to take to communities,” says Holden. The NCMA and the MCAA have collaborated to create a comprehensive tool kit consisting of Power Point presentations, a website (www.MasonrySystems.org), and facts and figures that highlight the advantages of a masonry approach.
Selling a Shift in Thinking
The group is adamant about the opportunity the green building movement affords the masonry industry. Wolter points to the longevity and low maintenance of masonry. “Masonry buildings don’t need to be recycled or rehabilitated after a few decades,” she says.
Holden says that longevity is an integral part of explaining the advantages of masonry. “Just look at all the masonry buildings in Europe,” he says. “A lot of them have been there for centuries and have required very little maintenance. Simply by virtue of the reduced need for re-building or large-scale maintenance, masonry is cost-saving in terms of dollars and environmental impact.”
The conversation only begins with longevity, however. “Masonry is more environmentally friendly than other types of construction,” Holden says. “Mold isn’t a problem. It’s fireproof and performs far better than other types of construction in regard to sound transference. You don’t have to kill trees to build with masonry.
“There are almost always concrete, pre-fab wall, and block and brick manufacturers within a reasonable distance of any locale,” he continues. “Think of the savings in emissions and transportation costs, compared to transporting steel studs or lumber in from other parts of the country.”
Wolter says they will be highlighting all the advantages of masonry construction. “Masonry buildings simply cost less in the long run, and compared to stick frame or steel stud systems, the initial construction costs and the time it takes to complete a structure are competitive,” she says. “But, the real key to Vision 2020 is to shift the way municipalities visualize growth. Municipal leaders have the right to control the quality of growth in their communities – to insist on buildings that will last, increase in value over time, and keep their citizens safe and make them proud. Total masonry construction can be a big part of the answer.”
“I used to dream that something like this would happen,” says Bounds. “I just wasn’t sure I would ever see it. The name means two things: We’ve opened our eyes to the possibilities, and by the year 2020, we will have achieved our goal.
“In the past, we used a lot of different methods to educate people about our products,” he continues. “In fact, we used to try to sell our products to each other. Now, rather than sell to each other, we’ll share to advance the vision. The future of the MCAA will be directed by Vision 2020: decisions, goals, planning – everything. We’re talking about a total re-making of the masonry industry.”
Thanks to the hard work of NCMA and MCAA leadership, the framework is in place. Teams are being formed, and the tool kit is ready for distribution. Even in a struggling economy, or maybe even partly because of it, the ideas behind Vision 2020 may be just what communities are looking for as they begin to focus more on environmentally sound, cost-effective infrastructure.
Chris Mayo is a freelance writer based in Albuquerque, N.M.