Analysts are calling 2004 a "transition year" for the U.S. economy. Concrete construction and equipment manufacturing are expected to rebound after several stagnant years. By mid-year, cement gurus are forecasting a moderate rise in interest rates, which would begin to cool down the record-high home-building boom and spur more nonresidential starts.

COMBAT READY People took notice of mobile camouflaged volumetric mixer at World of Concrete, which drew 55,000 visitors.(Illustration by Guy Lawrence for ENR)

"Softer second-half residential construction activity is expected to be offset by marginally higher nonresidential and public-spending activity," said Edward J. Sullivan, the Portland Cement Association’s chief economist, who addressed the press at the World of Concrete, held Feb. 17-20 in Orlando.

The show is an annual tradition for concrete contractors and producers, attracting 56,000 this year, down 23% from 73,100 last year. Show director Tom Cindric said he is hopeful that next year’s event will bring 75,000 people into Las Vegas, where the show will be permanently located.

Sullivan, based in Skokie, Ill., forecasted a 1% growth in cement production this year but said double-digit gains in 2005 through 2007 is feasible. Much of this hinges on the federal highway program, which PCA believes Congress will reauthorize this year at an estimated $311 billion. Total public spending is expected to post small gains as state budget problems continue, Sullivan added.


There was no shortage of vendors whose attitudes reflected the mildly positive outlook. "I’m optimistic that we are going to see as much as a 5% increase in the next year," said Randall J. Korach, president of Tremco Inc., Beachwood, Ohio. Roger Hall, marketing director of LaFarge North America, Herndon, Va., agreed. "I don’t see why we can’t have 5% growth this year," he said.

Heavy equipment suppliers signaled increased manufacturing activity, unveiling plenty of eye-catching machines on the show floor. Visitors had the opportunity to sit in the cab of a camouflaged mixing truck on its way to a U.S. Army delivery. Cemen Tech, Indianola, Iowa, brought the mixer, which sat atop an Oshkosh PLS 10x10, heavy-duty chassis. The mixer body has a "rollback" mount, which allows users to detach it from the truck and mix concrete on site.

"We sell five to 15 units in an average year," said Josh Walters, Cemen Tech’s national sales manager. The firm is partnering with Oshkosh Truck Corp. in a four-year contract to supply the army with 38 units this year, a total sales potential of $10 million for Cemen Tech.

DECADENT? Lavish “Big Blue” pickup attracted
serious inquiries.

International Truck and Engine Corp., Warrenville, Ill., used the show to display its new line of diesel engines that meet January 2004 U.S. highway emissions standards. But attendees in the booth were far more interested in "Big Blue," a medium-duty, 7000-Series truck chassis fitted with an 8-ft pickup body and crew cab that comfortably seats six.

The truck is a production version of a promo model built last year called "Big Red." It attracted contractors and military visitors alike, who called the $80,000 behemoth "a pickup on steroids." Some said they plan to use it for off-road hunting trips; others wanted one to complement their Hummers.

Booth staffers said they had thousands of inquiries during the show, sold 10 units the first day and expected to sell 40 more before the event was finished.

(Photos by Tudor Hampton for ENR)