Developing Strong Foundations for Cast-In-Place Contracting

Concrete Foundations Association

As important as it is to keep up with the latest developments in safety, it is tough for typical, cast-in-place concrete contractors to find the time to get away from business to educate themselves in industry trends. This is why the Concrete Foundations Association (CFA) stepped in to save the day. The association works exceptionally hard to serve companies that specialize in in-situ concrete casting.
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The association recently returned from the 2018 World of Concrete (WOC) exposition in Las Vegas, thought to be the biggest in over eight years. “I think WOC had a completely new vibe this year. Operators needed to come to Vegas to catch their breath. 2017 was a long, successful year for many, and 2018 looks to be even stronger, from what attendees were reporting and what indicators predict,” says James Baty, CFA Executive Director.

The Concrete Foundations Association’s wealth of indispensable resources makes it not only well-respected by a great number of the industry, it is also has the added benefit of a recognized Fellow of the American Concrete Institution (Baty), chosen for his diverse and extensive participation to the American Concrete Institute. The association’s 2018 convention takes place from 19 to 21 July at the Zermatt Resort in Midway, Utah. This is the ultimate opportunity to connect with peers, make invaluable industry contacts and learn how the association has affected industry health and standards.

The Concrete Foundations Association was born out of necessity. In 1974, two suppliers realized the dire need for an organization that could set industry standards, advocate on behalf of private contractors and increase both consumer adoption of the product and the overall quality of cast-in-place concrete. After over forty years of loyal service to the trade, most of its pioneering companies still head up the movement, often represented by generations of the same families whose diligence has brought about massive industry growth and improvement.

Members benefit from a surprisingly diverse host of helpful services. The CFA gives contractors access to privileged information, resources and support when the going gets tough. Branding and recognition opportunities, like the Projects of the Year awards and Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) task force accreditation, drive industry excellence. Member companies also have access to extensive research and professional technical staff who do vast amounts of legwork, like the thousands of hours spent as part of code committees. Members are part of a community of seasoned peers who are happy to support each other by comparing notes and sharing expertise. A dedicated hotline also allows industry-related queries to be put to peers for feedback.

In addition to all its contributions, the association challenges member companies to learn from each other as it sees this as the only way of raising standards. This, in a sense, is one of the greatest assets to be gained from becoming a member, as owners get to apply what they learn to their businesses. Internal group support means that members also often lend each other equipment, crews and the like. In fact, CFA members have even been known to form task forces to address issues related to their mutual interests.

The CFA is structured to ensure nimble service delivery through its graphics/branding, communications and member services and certification program managers as well as its accounts department and market specialists for web production, maintenance and publication production. A twenty-person board of directors leads the organization, guiding its development with the help of its personnel, safety committee, OSHA task force and certification committee.

It is very proactive in developing resources through technical case studies, and while this process is mainly led by members’ needs, it is often prompted by the organization itself. These programs seek to improve and support workforce development, safety, acquisition and education and address common issues in the field. While the company does not have branches, as such, it does operate in thirty-nine states throughout the U.S and several Canadian provinces.

The association’s real growth began when Ed Sauter “temporarily” took the reins in 1993. It was much smaller than it is today, with meager resources and limited scope. With the support of its business-minded board of directors, Ed’s vision of making the CFA great came to pass as he spent the next ten years securing its position and built an impressive member base while his firm secured the relationship to manage the Association.

Today, Executive Director James R. Baty II continues the momentum, taking over for his former partner. He has a passion for concrete that was ignited while he was studying architecture at Iowa State University. At the time, he worked for an insulation system manufacturer that provided systems for precast, tilt-up and cast-in-place concrete wall construction. After gaining over ten years’ of hands-on, concrete expertise, James joined the CFA where he now improves technology, technical awareness and safety in the industry.

“When the recession and shaky development practices rocked the market, member companies endured through diversification and creativity, many remaking and rebranding themselves. Most of the companies that folded were not part of networks, going it alone with no access to knowledge bases and the strength of support the CFA members have access to,” says James. He is proud of the association’s member companies, many of which are multi-generational, family-owned enterprises built through hard work and perseverance.

“They have built their service, product and quality on their own backs and painstakingly learned to solve problems individually. They have carefully implemented visionary technologies where relevant, but have also remained loyal to time-honored products and proven procedures,” he says.

The CFA also empowers contractors by giving them direct involvement in protocol design. In the nineties, the association was part of developing a residential concrete code known today as ACI 332 that is referred to by the International Residential Code (IRC). It has been revised four times since its first publication and has set the standard for best practices in residential foundation casting for over a decade.

The association is particularly trusted by its members to test and prove the reliability of the methods and materials that are commonly used in the field. A good example of this function is an interesting low-temperature concrete foundation research project it led from 2002 to 2004. The study unequivocally disproved the outdated data that the industry had relied on for over fifty years. Industry tools like the ACI 306 Guide to Cold Weather Concreting and protocol development were significantly influenced by this evidence.

In addition to its many other invaluable contributions to the field, the association also offers a certification program that allows individuals to demonstrate their knowledge and permits companies to verify that a project will be executed with quality. After more than ten years, this program is still in use. While the American Concrete Institute now runs the individual certification within its suite of certification programs, CFA still offers a company certification that builds into quality assurance, safety and other critical market values.

Over the course of its existence, the CFA has also developed many resources to educate and guide contractors in navigating complex OSHA regulations, and James is particularly passionate about the CFA’s work with OSHA. The result is a much-improved culture of preemptive safety actions that translate into better-protected labor forces.

The association’s role as a change-maker in the industry has gone beyond its founders’ wildest imaginings. From humble beginnings, it has grown to have over six management and company-focused programs proven to change firms for the better. Its voice has become one of authority, yet the prospect of change is not always met hospitably.

“Some do, some don’t, and some won’t welcome change. Regardless, we have committed to stepping up as the voice for this industry and casting as big a net of support as possible. At the very least, those who won’t change have the opportunity to periodically reconsider their position when they receive our news,” says James.

There have been rapid changes in getting its voice heard over the past few years, with social media and branding forever speeding ahead to keep pace with the latest trends and technology. The association welcomes a new generation of people who often search in less traditional places for answers to their questions and provides companies with top construction science education.

James Baty’s view of the CFA’s future is optimistic. “I believe the CFA will continue to elevate its positive influence on companies across North America. I believe we will make a large impact on career-path development that will help companies to attract and advance employees,” he says.

One of the association’s primary goals is to see more true craftsmen become established in the industry. “Through their attention to quality, safety or economy, these are the people who truly impact the success of projects,” says James. To this end, the association is set to see even more attendees at its Concrete Foundations Convention next year, to further develop an industry understanding of the power of craftsmanship.

Its focus on quality construction education will no doubt go a long way to close the gap between the current construction boom and severe labor shortages. “Hard work and a love of the trades built America, as it did around the world. We have let a highly-driven world of technology and human service convince us that we are only successful with a degree and a loan to pay back,” he says.

James believes that overcoming social prejudice against the trades is of the utmost importance if the industry is going to succeed in kindling an understanding and appreciation for trade work in Generation Y and Z. He advises that companies should start by reinventing themselves from a management position to make their companies an attractive place to work. Transparency is also an important factor, as younger generations want clear information on management’s plans for advancement, personal improvement, ownership and partnership.

“There is much more room for advancement in today’s world of the trades than there is in the over-populated fields pushed through higher education. Not that we don’t need higher education, but we can never turn our backs on the value of working hard at a trade, going home and enjoying the fruits of your labor,” says James.

September 18, 2019, 12:09 AM EDT