By: Pierre G. Villere

It’s 2020. Goodness, where did the year go? I am positive the boxes of Christmas decorations that came out of the attic did not have any dust on them, as it seems they just went back up there weeks ago, not months. But most importantly, we stand on the starting line of the third decade of the 21st century, with a full 20 years behind us. How our industry has changed.

This New Year’s Eve was spent once again with great friends, watching fireworks displays and popping the cork on more than one bottle of champagne. Interestingly, it was spent with some of the same friends we were with 20 years ago on New Year’s Eve of 1999, when we played Prince’s chart-busting song 1999 and did the obligatory popping of champagne corks as we ushered in the 21st century with much anticipation.

But we had no idea how much the first 20 years would change our lives. Last month, I mentioned I would write about the decade ahead and what to expect as our industry makes the march through time, and the pace of evolution quickens. But the past 20 years have been something to witness, as we take for granted the advances our industry has made.

Technology. Without a doubt, technology is the biggest theme of the last 20 years, and at its root is the emergence of broadband internet and cellular telephony, and how it has changed our lives. I stood in a Blockbuster video store on a cold Saturday afternoon in the dead of winter in the late 1990s, and watched the throngs perusing options for a Saturday evening of movie-watching at home as I told my wife this was all coming to an end someday soon. She gave me a puzzled look, and I explained that the coming of broadband would supplant our need to get into a car on an icy afternoon and ride to a video store to rent a movie on a DVD, only to drive back to return it the next day. She looked at me like I was crazy.

Back then, Blockbuster had expanded internationally throughout the 1990s. At its peak in November 2004, they employed 84,300 people worldwide, including about 58,500 in the United States and about 25,800 in other countries, and had 9,094 stores in total, with more than 4,500 of these in the United States. Today – gone. So are point-and-shoot cameras. And flashlights.

Computing power. Broadband and cellular, coupled with ever-smaller personal devices with ever-increasing computing power, have revolutionized our industry, drastically reduced the amount of paper we generate, and most importantly, given us real-time information on production and sales activity. This has allowed us to ever fine-tune the efficiency at which we operate, and the information we generate to make the strategic decisions that drive the success of our businesses every day.

And what lies ahead only promises to catapult that efficiency even further, as aggregate operations become more automated and therefore reduce the headcount necessary to produce a ton of material, a much-needed advance as we face the never-ending challenge of recruiting skilled labor.

Safety. The last 20 years brought so much more than just technology; a clear and significant advance was made by our industry in the complete transformation of our safety culture, where safety became the over-arching priority in all aspects of our operations, from extracting to crushing to delivery.

Of course, many other advances were made in the equipment and automation we utilize in our industry, encompassing technology advances that allow us to produce a ton of material more efficiently and safely, much more so than in 1999.

It has been a great, if not startling, 20 years of growth and advancement, and it is thrilling to think of what lies ahead. As I stand on the edge of my own seventh decade, I think about those boxes of Christmas decorations, and how more quickly they seem to come down each year. It makes me think of the words my godfather, who was in his 80s at the time, wrote to me in a letter when I was in college as he reminisced about his life: “The river of time flows faster as it nears the sea …”.

I can’t wait for the next 10 years.

Pierre G. Villere serves as president and senior managing partner of Allen-Villere Partners, an investment banking firm with a national practice in the construction materials industry that specializes in mergers and acquisitions. He has a career spanning almost five decades, and volunteers his time to educate the industry as a regular columnist in publications and through presentations at numerous industry events. Contact Pierre via email at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @allenvillere.

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