Virginia Asphalt Association, Richmond, has been promoting the use of asphalt pavements in Virginia since 1952. Today, VAA boasts 25 producer/contractor members accounting for about 85 percent of the state’s firms.
In May, Trenton Michael Clark was promoted to VAA’s executive vice president. AsphaltPro sat down with Clark to discuss the association’s annual events and how it serves its members.
About Trenton Michael Clark
Prior to joining VAA 7 years ago, Clark spent 12 years with VDOT and 5 years in private consulting. Since graduating with a BS in civil engineering from Virginia Tech, Clark’s entire career has been in pavement and materials engineering.
“Early in my career I remember telling my Dad, a former FHWA project engineer, about the positive virtues of concrete pavements: it withstood heavy loads, it did not need maintenance, etc.,” Clark said. “He spent his career building and repairing pavements for Eastern Federal Lands. He told me, ‘Do not just consider the initial construction, but how to maintain a pavement. Whatever is built, someone will have to maintain in the future.’ That pearl of wisdom did not resonate until I was in the field trying to figure out how to repair deteriorated concrete pavements others had designed. The ability to design a repair, specify a material and perform maintenance activity quickly with asphalt made me a believer.”
Then, he got to know the people in the industry.
“From the man on the finish roller to the company president, they were great people,” Clark said. “They loved what they did–asphalt was in their veins! The same thing happened to me. I learned to love the industry and the people in the industry.”
How did you get started in the asphalt industry?
Frankly, I stumbled into the pavements and asphalt industry. During the summer before my senior year at Virginia Tech, I worked at VDOT as a summer intern. Through that summer, I was exposed to various aspects of the highway construction business, but I wanted to build vertical structures. However, after graduation the jobs market was very tight.
I was fortunate to land a job with PCS/LAW Engineering. This was the pavement’s office for LAW once owned by Dr. Matt Witczak. During my time with PCS/LAW I started learning about asphalt materials and pavements. From PCS/LAW, I went to work at VDOT in the Maintenance and Materials Divisions. Over the next 12 years, I designed numerous pavements and began working with the asphalt industry through my various roles. Many of these roles involved working in the field with maintenance personnel and contractors, not sitting behind a desk.
What are the top two or three ways you have increased membership in the association?
Companies join associations for various reasons. For the VAA, we are a technical association. We do not lobby our legislature, instead we work closely with VDOT to promote quality. Producer and associate contractor members join our association in order to work more closely with VDOT on specifications and innovations. The VAA provides that opportunity. Many of our affiliate members are suppliers to our producer and associate contractor members, so they are looking to develop relationships with existing and potential customers.
To increase membership, we have added a Fall Expo to compliment our Fall Asphalt Conference. For non-members who wish to exhibit, we offer a discount on their exhibitor fee and on their first year dues if they join the VAA. We also offer a discount on first-year dues for companies who sponsor one of our scholarship charity golf tournaments.
What is your favorite method for recruiting new asphalt professionals to the industry in general?
My favorite way to recruit new professionals is through my existing members. If they are happy with the value they get from the VAA, then they will enthusiastically recruit new people and companies. In most instances, they have the relationships–not me.
However, when a new company comes to Virginia, then I reach out. I describe the services we provide to members through technical expertise, networking opportunities and training/education.
About how many member asphalt projects do you visit per year/paving season?
10 to 15
About how many member asphalt plant tours do you assist/are you a part of per year?
About how many member asphalt open house events do you attend per year?
Depending on the year, typically 1 or 2.
About how many state agency or DOT meetings do you attend per year?
Way too many to count. At least 50 either in person, GoToMeeting or Conference Calls.
On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being none at all; 5 being very much), how much of a threat to your members’ marketshare and livelihood is the concrete industry in your state?
1. Most of the threat from the concrete industry is in the private/commercial market. In recent years, VDOT has only built one large scale concrete project (bonded and unbonded concrete overlay). VDOT is building an experimental pervious concrete parking lot and has built a few small roller compacted concrete projects. Many of these were experimental.
On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being none at all; 5 being very much), how much difficulty are your members having in finding qualified workers for their asphalt paving or production crews?
5. We have started VECAT – Virginia Education Center for Asphalt Technology, with our partners Germanna Community College and VDOT. VECAT is providing VDOT certification training and asphalt apprenticeship programs. Soon we will be offering associates degrees in Asphalt Technology. By working with GCC and our members, we are exposing students, veterans and “those changing careers” to our industry.
On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being none at all; 5 being very much), how involved are your asphalt members in transportation issues such as funding and infrastructure improvements?
5. We have very active members as individuals and as part of other associations.
Could you share an example of a time when your state APA hosted elected officials to educate them on the need for highway funding, asphalt materials, construction work force development, etc.?
We have been working with elected officials on work force development through the VECAT program. It was through a Governor’s grant and VAA matching funds that the program was started. The Governor and others elected at the state and national level are extremely supportive. They recognize the need to recruit and train a work force for Virginia’s asphalt industry.
What do you see as the most important part of your job as an executive director of a SAPA?
The most important part of my job is understanding what tomorrow will look like for the asphalt industry and being able to communicate that to members and industry customers. So many outside factors influence the transportation industry–environmental and financial regulations, work force shortages, funding uncertainties, raw and recycled materials, etc. All of these will impact the industry of tomorrow and how they need to be positioned to respond and be profitable.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of this job is addressing work force shortage. Many contractors in Virginia are having difficult times finding people willing and able to work. This is a tough, but extremely rewarding industry. Many companies have two or three generations of a family working for them. But getting that new blood into the industry is getting harder and harder. We need to promote the more sophisticated aspects of our industry. People can make more than a living wage, a four-year college degree is not a requirement – but not all positions involve an air conditioner. We have to be smarter and more intentional to recruit the next generation of employees.
What do you find most enjoyable about your job as an executive director of a SAPA?
The most enjoyable part of my job is seeing my members be successful, profitable and safe. While the VAA is a non-profit organization, our members are not. Are the specifications we help develop resulting in higher quality and better profit margins? If so, the customer and contractor win. Hearing about projects that went well is great. But most importantly, not getting calls or emails reporting plant or work zone accidents is the best.
The asphalt industry is our job – not our life. The people in this industry have families and friends. I enjoy knowing everyone went home safely. We must continue to stress quality and profitability, but safety must be inherent in whatever we do. We lead off with safety in much of our training sessions and meetings. We have seminars and host workshops focusing on information sharing in order to improve safety.
What has been the most rewarding experience for you during your time as the executive director?
My time as the VAA Executive Vice President has been short, but I have been with the association since 2011. Being named the EVP in May 2017 was extremely rewarding, but the most rewarding overall has been the hiring of staff to fulfill the mission of the VAA. We now have internal staff and an external consultant.
We have launched VECAT. We have added an Expo to our Fall Asphalt Conference. This year we have held Regional Asphalt Seminars, an Anti-Trust Law Seminar and an Environmental/Safety Seminar. We have increased the member services. We have gotten positive feedback from inside and outside the membership for these initiatives. It is always rewarding to see the hard work pay off and be appreciated.