The ongoing cement shortage continues to be a major pain point for many firms in the concrete construction industry, but having hard conversations early on can set your project up for success, according to one contractor.
Keila Lombardozzi, a superintendent with Arizona-based DCR Construction, said the cement shortage and the challenges it poses can be a touchy subject in the industry.
“No one likes to talk about it, but have the conservation (with all parties) and have it early, as soon as possible, so that you can have an effective gameplan because this is a reality,” she said while addressing the topic at ACI’s Concrete Convention in San Francisco in early April. “This particular challenge isn’t unique.”
The shortage is impacting nations across the globe, according to the National Association of Home Builders. It is “being driven by the dearth of one of concrete’s main ingredients: cement mix,” the association said in a March press release. “This has resulted in price increases across the board, and there does not appear to be any relief on the horizon.”
The price index for concrete products grew almost 15% from January 2022 to January 2023, according to the Associated General Contractors of America, while the price index for cement grew by 17.6%.
Lombardozzi said being open about material challenges can increase transparency for all parties involved in a project. She shared some of her experiences from working on a project for tech giant Meta in Mesa, Arizona: a $5 billion campus encompassing 2.5 million square feet of data center and administrative space.
She said her firm was responsible for laying more than 200,000 yards of concrete. "For our particular cement shortage issue, we had multiple contributing factors,” she said, citing scheduled maintenance for a cement production plant and high overall demand.
Be honest with all parties
Lombardozzi said it became clear that cement shortages would impact the timeline of the project, so she said her firm held “open and honest discussions” with the producer about setting a weekly allotment for the project.
Once the producer agreed to the allotment, Lombardozzi said her company drafted a formal letter to Meta so that the project owner was on the same page as the construction team. She said discussions with the general contractor and other trades working on the project followed.
“Get people involved because people will jump on that bandwagon to work as a team to figure out the best way to execute the project,” Lombardozzi said.
Be an advocate for your suppliers
She also advised attendees to defend their concrete suppliers and said advocating for them when they’re dealing with issues beyond their control can build mutually beneficial relationships.
Lombardozzi said during the Meta project she became an advocate for her concrete supplier “and they did the same for me. We worked together as a team and set the expectations about critical placements,” she added. “You can’t just cowboy up and go with it all the time. Just make sure you set those expectations early.”