National Concrete pours a strong foundation for Cayman

For the past 12 years, National Concrete has poured thousands and thousands of cubic yards of concrete in the Cayman Islands. Based on the company’s recent upgrades, it’s planning on pouring thousands and thousands of cubic yards more.

Last year, the company came to a crossroads. Its long-time general manager, Gerson Henriquez, resigned and Garth Arch replaced him as of 1 January 2006.

Mr. Arch, who was only supposed to fill in as acting general manager at first, said National Concrete had some decisions to make.

‘The company was at a transition point with regard to how to grow and keep up with demand,’ Mr. Arch said.

Discussions with the Planning Department and the big contractors indicated there were a number of substantial commercial projects slated.

In the end, Mr. Arch said the company saw no choice than to undertake a multi-million dollar expansion programme to increase its production.

‘Just the Camana Bay project alone demanded so much concrete that in order to supply everyone else and keep them happy, we had to expand,’ he said.

The expansion entailed a new batching plant and upgrades to the existing one; two new pump trucks; nine new mixing trucks; and an increase in staff, including a quality control engineer.

Mr. Arch said the new 55-foot pump truck alone cost more than US$1 million.

The added production and delivery capacity has enabled National Concrete to serve its contractor customers in ways never before possible here, resulting in some of the largest one-time pours ever in the Cayman Islands.

Just last month National Concrete did an 890-cubic yard pour at Camana Bay for Hadsphaltic International. A few days later it had a pour of 550 cubic yards at the same site. In years past, such large pours would not have even been attempted here because delivery of that much concrete would have taken so long the initially poured concrete would start to set before the whole pour was complete.

New equipment

However, National Concrete’s new equipment allows them to pour a much larger quantity of concrete in a much shorter timeframe.

The company’s expansion programme is still on-going. It plans to purchase two more mixer trucks and add a couple of more staff members this year.

In addition to the upgrades in staff and equipment, National Concrete is also in the process of making its Sparky Drive compound more consumer-friendly.

‘We’ll spend a lot of money improving the compound,’ says Mr. Arch, noting that the customer parking area is one of the first items on the agenda.

Another improvement to the business has been a more consistent supply of cement, one of the four basic ingredients of concrete and the only one not readily produced in the Cayman Islands.

National Concrete gets its cement from National Cement, which gets its cement from sources in Mexico. In the past, there have been instances of cement shortages.

‘We had some problems, at the end of last year and early this year where there were periods when the island was out of cement,’ Mr. Arch said.

National Concrete keeps a reserve that would allow them to stay operational for one week after their normal supply runs out. Once the company taps into its reserves, it starts rationing to customers.

Fortunately, the supply problems seem to have been corrected and there have been no cement shortages since July 2006 despite the heavy demand, Mr. Arch said.

Because it now has two batching plants, and both plants could be used to produce concrete for the same job, National Concrete utilises a quality control engineer to ensure the consistency of the concrete.

‘The concrete business is extremely technical,’ says Mr. Arch. ‘On a daily basis we have to make adjustments based on temperature and moisture.’

In additional, the exact composition of raw materials is always changing, requiring constant adjustments, Mr. Arch says.

One thing that has not fluctuated much about the concrete business is the cost to consumers.

‘Prices have remained stable since November 2005 because the price of raw materials has remained the same,’ says Mr. Arch.

However, National Concrete has been advised that the cost of cement will rise in May 2007, which means the cost of concrete will increase as well.

‘National Concrete has no control over [the cost of cement],’ says Mr. Arch, adding that people with projects that require concrete would be wise to get them done over the next four months.

Although Mr. Arch was only supposed to take over the general manager position on an interim basis, the trained structural engineer agreed to stay on permanently when he was asked.

‘Honestly, I find the concrete business fascinating,’ he said. ‘It’s very dynamic. There are many issues that need addressing on a daily basis, which makes it very interesting for me.’