St Louis: gateway to IEEE 2011
St Louis, Missouri, “Gateway to the West”, was the chosen venue for the IEEE-IAS/PCA 53rd Cement Industry Technical Conference in late May. Over a thousand delegates from across North America and beyond congregated for five busy days of technical presentations, tutorials, exhibition, networking and plant tours. At a time when the industry is facing twin challenges of weak demand and tough new environmental regulations, ICR reports on this important annual event.
The America’s Center in downtown St Louis provided the ideal venue for North America’s large annual gathering. In his opening address, Jeff Ouhl (Holcim US), chair of the organising committee, welcomed the 1017 delegates who had registered for the conference, amongst which were representatives from over 200 cement producers.
This year, the event took place against the backdrop of natural disasters as melting snow in Canada produced devastating floods along much of the Mississippi River, combined with the tornado season which included the brutal destruction by the Joplin tornado which claimed nearly 150 lives.
In his traditional address to delegates, Ed Sullivan, the PCA’s chief economist, chose instead to focus on man-made disaster of the financial crisis and the ongoing recession that is its legacy.
Setting the context, Sullivan described how the recession had hit at the same time as the US cement industry had completed the most aggressive expansion in its history.
The market had fallen to around 70Mt in 2010 from near-record levels of 128Mt in 2005 – a peak-to-trough fall of nearly 59Mt. While the cement imports absorbed most of this shock, utilisation rates had also fallen to 60 per cent, Mr Sullivan explained, as the market tried to find its balance.
Given this situation, he then presented a cautiously realistic assessment of the current status of the economy. On the positive side, the economy has improved, is poised for growth, but there is clear potential for downside: “We believe the fundamentals for economic growth are in place. They weren’t in place last year…” However, he warned, the future was still “fragile”.