Like baby formula, the manufacturing capacity of basic construction materials is highly dependent on a few key plants. One such plant is National Cement’s Ragland, Alabama location. National Cement, like so many American manufacturing companies , is owned by a foreign corporation, French-based Vicat SA. The cement that National produces is one of the key components in the manufacturing of concrete. In 2019, Vicat committed to invest $250 million in a new state-of-the-art plant. That plant planned to begin operations in early 2022, so National scaled back production and then shutdown their early 20th century plant. Unfortunately, labor shortages and Covid related delays caused a lag in the new plant opening. When it was resolved, they only had enough raw materials for a few weeks, resulting in as much as a 60% shortfall in cement for use in concrete manufacturing in Atlanta. Only now are the first rail cars arriving in Atlanta with their product.
Further exacerbating the situation is an employment shortage to operate the Ragland plant, the railways for shipping, workers at the concrete plants, and drivers to deliver concrete to the job. To be clear, this is not a capacity issue. The Atlanta market is not overheated, as was the case in 2008. In 2007, concrete plants delivered 12 million cubic yards of concrete. In 2021, they only delivered 7.9 million cubic yards.
Concrete is only one component of construction. Similar situations have arisen over the past two years with wood sheet goods, steel, windows and doors, and labor that makes it almost impossible to hire new subcontractors, who struggle to service existing customers. The ecosystem is broken.
When our schools and parents devalue manual labor, we set unrealistic expectations for high school and college graduates, who are all certain they will end up working six figure jobs for Apple, Google or Facebook. Unless we find a way to convince our youth that college is not for everyone, and that expensive degrees from Ivy Leagues schools do not always translate into productive jobs, we will continue to rely on foreign labor, legal or otherwise, or we will continue to ship jobs and manufacturing overseas.
We have time to course correct. Like so many things we took for granted, our government, our school systems and our business are all in alignment with replacing American workers with cheap foreign labor. The consequence is we are left with one million young people, aged 16 to 24, having left the work force, discouraged by college debt they can never hope to repay. We are short of housing because of supply and labor issues. We are increasingly dependent on government handouts. American citizens of all political persuasions must demand an end to anti-capitalist policies. Like with school boards recently, collectively we can all make a difference. It is a matter of willingness to get involved.
A USAFA grad, Brent flew F-15 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm. After completing his service, Brent immigrated to Israel, where he was drafted into IAF active service. Brent is also a commercial real estate developer in Atlanta, GA.