Money & Business

Ground Up: How a Construction Association Built Community

By / Jan 28, 2016 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Despite challenges such as limited finances and manpower, the renovation of the Tennessee Concrete Association’s Nashville headquarters turned out to be a significant source of member engagement.

Building community among members takes work, which the Tennessee Concrete Association took to heart, quite literally, several years ago.

After purchasing a new headquarters in downtown Nashville in 2008, TCA decided that in addition to rehabbing the actual building, it would add a Concrete Campus to its new base of operations to demonstrate the different ways to use concrete in construction.

“When we bought [the property], it took a lot of imagination to envision this as a place where you’d actually want to be,” said TCA Executive Director Alan Sparkman, CAE. Then the economy took a nose dive, and the possibilities became even slimmer.

TCA headquarters before the site was overhauled. (Photo courtesy of TCA)

TCA headquarters before the site was overhauled. (Photo courtesy of TCA)

Even though the downturn meant fewer financial resources—TCA relied heavily on in-kind donations of materials—it provided some unforeseen benefits, especially when it came  to member engagement. For one, the recession’s deleterious effect on the construction industry meant members and others in the industry had less work and therefore more time to help TCA with its renovation project.

“We’d sometimes have a dozen or more people who would show up at the campus and spend the day working,” Sparkman said. “To me, one of the big parts of the story was the involvement of our members during a really rough time. It helped us stay engaged with them.”

The association also had a lot of help from nearby  students enrolled in the Concrete Industry Management Program at Middle Tennessee State University. The program requires all students complete an internship before graduation, and in 2008, there were more than 400 students, many of whom did not yet fulfill that requirement.

While TCA couldn’t pay the student interns, the association offered to take on as many as the university wanted to send.

“It was a great experience for them because most of [the students] didn’t have a construction background, and it was a chance for them to form concrete and do construction tasks,” Sparkman said. “They essentially became our crew.”

Almost eight years later and given the upswing in the economy, the association is now able to pay interns, but the experience of providing opportunities for students during a challenging time for the industry was a silver lining for TCA, Sparkman said. “And what they left behind is a permanent memorial for them.”

The entrance to TCA's Concrete Campus. (Photo courtesy of TCA)

The entrance to TCA’s Concrete Campus. (Photo courtesy of TCA)

And the Concrete Campus is still paying dividends. It’s an area where the association often hosts events for professionals in the construction industry, including engineers, architects, landscape architects, and developers, to demonstrate the various uses of concrete.

“Most of our traffic is from people who at some point will be a concrete customer,” Sparkman said. “And that obviously makes our members happy because it’s helping us help them grow their business.”

Not only are members happy, but Sparkman also said TCA’s board members, many of whom were initially skeptical of the property’s location, have been won over. “When we bought this piece of property, I think it’s fair to say this particular area was blighted, so some of my board members were a little dubious that this was the spot,” Sparkman said. But through the hard work of volunteers and TCA staff, as well as an improvement in the real estate market, the property has become a source of pride.

“People are pleased because it’s something they had a part in, and it’s unique in that it’s showing off concrete,” Sparkman said.

All in all, the journey that led to the completion of TCA’s Concrete Campus is a great example of how, even in the most challenging times, associations and their members can work to advance each other’s interests.

Do you have a story of how your association’s community came together to work on a large-scale project or undertaking? Please share in the comments.

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. More »

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