Economists speaking to national media tend to translate our evolving economic situation in macro terms using national data and statistics when the best views of the nation’s economy are seen at street level. I had a good street level view this past week when I traveled to Savannah to speak to the annual meeting of the North Carolina Aggregates Association – a trade group representing the mining industry – about changes in laws affecting land use.
Speaking in very general terms, “aggregate” is crushed stone. It is widely used for a variety of construction purposes, including railroad beds, residential home foundations, retaining walls, French drains, and roads. Because of its many uses, its demand is an accurate barometer of the nation’s economic strength.
For a couple of years now companies that mine and supply aggregate have been walking with a limp. As commercial and residential construction have dried on the vine and government-financed road construction has been delayed, fewer and fewer truck loads of aggregate have been exiting our state’s and nation’s quarries. In a predictable ripple effect, companies that supply blasting material and equipment for extraction have slowed their production and sales.
If you like to separate the world into “good guys” and “bad guys,” these are the good guys who did nothing to create the mess we’re in but who, like many other industries, are left to sweep up the pieces.
Although I’ve represented several mining companies over the past 25 years and could probably draw a portrait already, two days of meetings and receptions and Savannah-style dinners would leave any keen observer with several impressions. This is not a group marked by flash or arrogance. You get the clear impression that these are folks who get up early, work until the job is done, use Saturday for family or fishing or golf and who are in church the next day. If this was a group that gathered to party, I never saw it. They came for fellowship, friendship and business.
I asked several of the attendees about their business, and I heard several honest answers. But I never heard a complaint of being a victim. If we’re patient, things will get better. And when we all see more trucks leaving the local quarry, that will be a good thing.
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