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  • Region 2 Producer Views Checkoff as Chance to Take a New Approach
10-inch lightweight concrete masonry units are ready for cubing and delivery to a job-site some 100 miles away in Alabama.

Block producer John Sisson watches as fresh 10-inch grey CMU come off the line at his Tupelo, Mississippi plant. The day of our visit is so cold that steam is coming off finished units leaving the warm kiln.

Even though a rare ice storm is threatening the area, the line has to keep running: thousands of these block are destined for a major automotive support building under construction roughly 100-miles away in Alabama.

Ultimately, they will serve as 44-feet high, three-hour fire rated walls protecting a plant that will make electric car batteries. Without a doubt, this order is a major job for the small regional producer.

“We're shipping those for use in an industrial complex for a major manufacturer that realizes fire must be contained, and in order to protect their investment, that involves several hundred thousand blocks. So, I mean some people really get the picture and some people don't. Some people think long-term, some people think short-term,” says Sisson.

Sisson, involved in concrete block production and masonry since 1976, says big orders like this have definitely dwindled over the years.

“I've seen a great loss in the gray block market in my region,” says Sisson. “We've lost a great part of our sales due to competitors’ aggressiveness. It has cost us a lot of sales.”
Masons install the CMU into 44-foot high fire rate walls for an industrial plant near the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama.

Tackling a Trend

Talk of a national checkoff program interests the longtime producer who views current efforts as a great opportunity to reverse the trend of declining sales.

“I think this is a great chance for us to really tackle the bread and butter part of our industry and increase sales in gray and architectural concrete block by focusing our energies and our money directly into the sale of those items,” he says.

“As a small producer I’m also interested in how this would re-energize our concrete block sales, how we're going to combat competitors’ aggressive tactics that are eating into our sales nationally, such as the lumber industry."

"I'm interested in how the dollars would be used to focus sales of our concrete block rather than take a shotgun approach.”

Changing Perceptions

Sisson also views the checkoff as a chance to take a totally new approach. “State organizations, national organizations have all tried and succeeded in many ways but we're going have to try and create a way that we, nationally, can get people to think about concrete block as a solution to a longer-term problem. I think concrete block needs to be looked at as an investment, personally.”

As the block on the conveyor enter the cuber, Sisson reflects on one area he definitely feels a national checkoff could help: changing developer perceptions.

“We have to do a better job convincing people that paying just a tad more might protect their investment for a lifetime, rather them investing in a four-story apartment that will burn down in one-hour versus a concrete block structure that would remain and keep the fire contained and isolated.”

Tupelo Concrete Products, located in Tupelo, Mississippi, is part of the checkoff’s proposed Region 2 which includes Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. John Sisson has operated this plant since 1995.
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