Concrete Block and Brick

SIC 3271

Industry report:

This category covers establishments engaged in manufacturing concrete building block and brick from a combination of cement and aggregate. Contractors engaged in concrete construction work are classified in the construction segment (see Vol. 2, Chapter 3: Construction Industries), while establishments primarily engaged in mixing and delivering ready-mixed concrete are classified in SIC 3273: Ready-Mixed Concrete.

Although the concrete block and brick industry had slow and fluctuating growth in the 1980s and early 1990s, the strength of the public works segment boosted its performance in the late 1990s and into the early years of the first decade of the 2000s. The value of concrete block and brick shipments climbed steadily between 1997 and 2008, from over $2 billion to $5 billion. Employment was about 20,000. Dominant states in the industry include Pennsylvania, California, Texas, and Michigan.

The first solid concrete block patent was granted in 1832, and the first hollow concrete building block patent was in 1850, both in England. Harmon S. Palmer patented a concrete block machine in 1900 in the United States. Since then, the use of concrete block has continued to increase in popularity because of the product's durability and economy. The industry also advanced in product quality, production and distribution methods, and installation procedures. Concrete's fire safety compared to that of wood has been a major factor in its appeal. In the early days of the industry, small concrete manufacturing facilities sprouted up rapidly in most urban areas in the United States because they needed to be located near their users' destinations. The cost of a block machine was $100 in 1906, and the potential business opportunities appealed to entrepreneurial instincts.

The National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA) was an affiliate of the Portland Cement Association in the 1930s. The NCMA became independent in 1942 and has since supported concrete block producers, machinery manufacturers, and related interests. Since its founding, the NCMA has conducted research and testing on concrete block products and structures.

Establishments in this industry tend to be relatively small, local operations, since it is generally not economical to ship concrete block and brick more than 50 miles because of its weight. For this reason, companies in the industry have grown by organizing or purchasing added concrete block and brick production operations in new areas. In addition, most of the companies that produce concrete block and brick also produce other concrete-related products, including ready-mixed concrete, concrete pipe, or various precast or prestressed products, such as building structural parts, which can be fabricated centrally and shipped to locations where they will be installed.

Most concrete block and brick establishments have one or more competitors in their areas of operation and compete in price, location, service, quality, and reliability. They also compete with other building products, such as lumber, clay brick, and steel.

In 2007 the concrete and brick industry continued its sustained growth. Structural block controlled two-thirds of the market, but demand in decorative concrete block and pavers were gaining some ground. Demand for concrete products for commercial construction exhibited stronger gains, while nonresidential demand decreased. Sales of concrete blocks for chimneys or fireplaces and sewage construction dropped, while concrete products used for fences, paving, and landscaping would post gains. Market research supported projections that the concrete and block industry would increase 2.2 percent annually to 15.9 billion units, reaching $7.9 billion by 2012.

According to industry statistics, an estimated 1,161 establishments were engaged in manufacturing concrete building block and brick from a combination of cement and aggregate in 2008. That figure dropped to 1,033 establishments in 2010. Industry wide employment decreased from 19,662 workers in 2008 to 17,727 in 2010. Shipment values in 2010 dropped to $1.66 billion as the economic recession stopped construction projects. The majority of operations were located in Florida, California, Texas, and Pennsylvania.

Major segments within this industry were concrete block and brick; standard concrete, or cinder, blocks; drystack interlocking concrete blocks; and concrete blocks manufactured for landscape or retaining walls. The concrete block and brick segment accounted for 34.6 percent of industry share with product shipments valued at $463 million. Manufacturing of standard concrete or cinder blocks also held 34.6 percent of the market, but shipments for this segment totaled $611.1 million. There were about 16 manufacturers of drystack interlocking concrete blocks with product shipments totaling $357.1 million. The concrete blocks manufactured for landscape or retaining walls segment added another $62.2 million to the industry's bottom line.

The Freedonia Group projected a rebound in the residential construction market that was expected to boost brick and block demand 12 percent annually to 12.4 billion units with a value of $8 billion by 2014. Although costs might increase more for brick and block during that same time, those increases were not expected to be as volatile as they had been in prior years. Demand for decorative block products were expected to remain stagnant at least until the commercial building sector recovered from the economic recession.

Concrete block and brick are not the primary product line for any of the large companies in the industry that manufacture concrete block as one part of a group of products in the concrete segment and in other construction-related fields. Leading corporations within the industry included Glen-Gery Corp. of Reading, Pennsylvania; Featherlite Building Products Corp. of Austin, Texas; and Clayton Block Co. of Lakewood, New Jersey.

Glen-Gery Corp. had 900 employees in 2008. Company revenues dropped from $175 million in 2008 to $120 million in 2009. Featherlite Building Products Corp., a subsidiary of Acme Brick Company, which produces more than a billion bricks per year, operated seven block producing facilities. Acme Brick Company posted sales of $450 million in 2008 with 2,602 employees. Clayton Block Co., with an estimated $50 to $100 million in revenues, produces a multitude of block shapes, sizes, and textures serving contractors, landscapers, and homeowners.

Research to improve the characteristics of concrete block and produce different features to fit varying users' needs and desires is ongoing. New exterior-appearance attributes, such as ribbed, fluted, and split-faced surfaces, have been developed to meet the needs of innovative architects for the walls of buildings. Blocks of lighter weight have been created by mixing different raw material aggregates with the cement and water. New uses have been found for concrete blocks, such as in drainage systems. Research also has been conducted on ways for concrete block to be constructed automatically into building walls.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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