The president of Knife River Corp., and current president of NSSGA, talks about infrastructure funding, association membership, and Sir Winston Churchill.
By Mark S. Kuhar
What is the biggest challenge the aggregates industry faces in 2011?
Our greatest challenge is to get Congress to pass a long-term highway funding bill so we can get necessary infrastructure projects bid and put our people back to work. Every day a funding bill is not passed, the need for highway and bridge repair, maintenance and replacement increases. We’re already 30 years behind keeping the quality and reliability of our country’s 4-million-mile road system in proper condition.
Our foreign economic competitors spend considerably more on transportation infrastructure and will continue to grow faster economically than us if we do not make transportation a priority. America’s economy is dependent on a strong highway system, which is continually deteriorating due to insufficient funding.
On another front, the construction industry is facing increased regulatory burden from the current administration. These rules are hindering our ability to do business in this brutal market. We must be of one voice against overregulation and unjustified regulation on our industry.
We need to support and promote leaders and their decisions that grow our industry and expand our markets. We also need to continue to support NSSGA’s work with the national and state coalitions to help us build the public fires needed to get Congressional and administration attention.
Should stone producers diversify to stay competitive?
The industry has been looking to diversify for decades, but I do not believe we should get too far from our core business lines, except to produce more environmentally conscious and sustainable products. If we move too far away from the foundation of our operations, we could dilute the quality of our business. We are starting to see more niche products for our aggregates such as porous asphalt and permeable concrete, however I do not see the industry producing huge volumes of these materials for several years. Our market will rebound, but it is important that while we are providing a crucial product for our nation’s infrastructure that we work hard to conserve and protect resources, so we remain viable for generations to come.
How important is state and national association membership to success?
Nationally, NSSGA has been our vital link to Capitol Hill, each new administration and key regulatory agencies that directly affect our industry. Through NSSGA we have been able to unite and provide necessary education and communication tools to help make our industry more visible to Congress, national coalitions and the national media.
On a state level there are nearly 15 associations dedicated solely to the aggregates industry and many more combined with other industry sectors. It is important to be members in these organizations because they are our direct connection to governors, state legislatures, state agencies and local media.
NSSGA’s grassroots and political action programs are important tools for the industry. Joy Wilson, Pam Whitted and the entire professional staff have worked with our members at the federal and local level to make sure our message is heard. ROCKPAC has grown 400 percent in the past 14 years, and great thanks goes to the chairman of ROCKPAC, former NSSGA Chairman Paul Mellott of the Mellott Company, who spends countless hours increasing our campaign support.
What moves has your company made in the area of sustainability?
Knife River Corp. continually looks for ways to make our business more sustainable. Our employees innovatively looked for ways to recycle aggregate materials, save fuel, reduce emissions and incorporate independent recycled materials into our products. We work in step with NSSGA’s Guiding Principles for sustainability, which include intertwining environmental stewardship, social responsibility and economic prosperity.
Knife River Corp.’s environmental responsibility has a two-fold approach. First we must make certain we are in full compliance with all applicable local, state and federal environmental laws and regulations. Secondly, we work to establish and protect wildlife habitats, wetlands and other important resources while looking for ways to become a more sustainable ( a.k.a. “green”) organization.
Our greatest social responsibility metric, which is also a core business value for Knife River, is our commitment to the health and safety of our employees, companies working with us and the public traveling in our work zones. We, along with the industry as a whole, have seen a consistent and continuing decrease in safety incidences for more than 10 years.
Strong community relations are necessary to the strength of our organization. We need to be good stewards within the communities we work and live and involve our neighbors and appropriate officials in planning and permitting our projects. Knife River works hard to give back and our employees do an outstanding job of being charitably active.
(MDUR, Inc.’s downloadable sustainability report for 2010, entitled “Building a Strong America” is accessible at: http://www.mdu.com/Documents/Corporate%20Responsibility/MDURSustainabilityReport10.pdf and Knife River Corp.’s 2010 corporate responsibility report, entitled “Bringing Back American Values” is accessible at http://www.kniferiver.com/Sustainability/Documents/2010-2011CorporateResponsibilityReport.pdf.)
When your company attends ConExpo-Con/Agg 2011, what will you be looking for?
Knife River Corp. will be looking for everything connected to improving our productivity while assuring a safer and healthier workforce and communities where we operate. We’re interested in dust minimization and monitoring technology, stormwater runoff management system improvements and mobile equipment improvements for the safety of our employees.
One of our priorities for Knife River Corp. is to become a greater advocate for the industry. One thing I’d like to say to all our industry peers across this country it is that NSSGA needs you to help communicate, analyze, and advocate the solutions that will position the aggregate industry to grow once again.
What's the best piece of business advice anyone ever gave you?
“We make a living by what we receive, we make a life by what we give” – Sir Winston Churchill.