The Portland Cement Association does not want to be perceived as opportunistic after any disaster. Take Hurricane Katrina. The concrete booster is purposely waiting to begin its advocacy of concrete systems until rebuilding efforts commence, says Bruce D. McIntosh, PCA's staff vice president for communications.

That's not to say PCA lacks passion about the properties of its material of choice, among them its mass. Concrete systems have "an advantage in resisting high winds and the debris they carry," says McIntosh.

Unlike the American Institute of Steel Construction Inc., which is both a promotional, technical and a standards-writing body, PCA is almost purely about promotion. It does market and economic research on cement production and concrete, it lobbies for its causes, and its staff participates in standards and code development. PCA also supports technical research and testing on concrete, including the behavior of high-strength concrete in fire. Like AISC, PCA is market focused, touting concrete structures for its features, among them its ability to insulate, for many building types.

Willing to Compete

PCA "wants to make the market larger by promoting [advances in concrete]," says Jay P. Gleason, president of the Skokie, Ill.-based group. "We are more than willing to compete for our share of the market."

That share has crept up recently. According to McGraw-Hill Construction Research & Analytics, concrete has 23% of the buildings market, up from 19% in 2000.

In the concrete world, standards development is the domain of the American Concrete Institute. "We're a technical organization, we don't promote concrete," says James R. Cagley, 2005 president of Farmington Hills, Mich.-based ACI. But "as a result of ACI products�reports and standards�we would hope people would find it better to use concrete for given projects," says Cagley, president of structural engineer Cagley Associates, Rockville, Md.

Neither PCA nor ACI have an equivalent of AISC's Steel Solutions Center. At ACI, engineers with questions have historically had to pay a $4,000 to $5,000 fee for an answer. The question is treated like a code change. "By the time you get an answer you don't need it anymore," says Cagley.

That is about to change. ACI plans to launch a help line, free to members, later this year. The service is part of a new benefits package that will also offer up to eight hours of Internet-based continuing education each year, also free. Cagley says the benefits are a response to declining membership. In 1991, ACI had 19,000 members. Currently, there are 16,000.

The benefits will likely be welcomed by engineers, who say ACI is not "user-friendly." Ronald O. Hamburger, a principal in the San Francisco office of Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc., says ACI offers fewer services to its members than does AISC. AISC is supported by deeper-pocket steel fabricators, who have a big interest in promoting steel, while ACI is run mostly by engineers and academics, says Hamburger.