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Looking different over there

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Hanson is one of the largest brick producers in the United States and, with the company's other activities, it has a key position in the construction materials market

The brick market in the US is very different from the UK, reflecting the very different architectural market. Regional variations are marked and manufacturing processes have developed to suit them, reflecting the fact that architects and designers create vastly different designs.

A significant player in aggregates for residential and commercial projects, Hanson is the largest supplier of concrete pipes and cement and is involved in the production of ready-mixed concrete, hot-mixed asphalt and recycled aggregates. It therefore is aware of and responds to the particular conditions that prevail in North American markets.

About two-thirds of bricks produced in the US are used for residential housing and the balance for commercial and community projects such as schools, churches and retail.

Canada has a similar structure.

In some regions, brick is undisputedly the most popular facade material, accounting for substantial proportions of the overall brick consumption. These can be summarised as:

West South Central - Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana

East South Central - Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee

South Atlantic - Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida

In the first two regions, a minimum of 70 per cent of homes incorporate brickwork to some degree, either as the majority of the facade material or in an amalgam of brick and other materials (see table).

Although there are important regional differences in brick usage, one can make some generalisations in terms of style and material preferences.

For example, a starter home of less than 120m 2in Texas will almost always be 100 per cent brick-built, whereas in North Carolina, one can expect no usage of brick in the design at all. Homes on a grander scale will almost always use some brick, whatever the region, but it is usually combined with another material such as brick and stone or brick and stucco. Even within states, there can be variation. Take Texas for example, where stone is big in Austin but not in Dallas.

On the Pacific coast, states are virtually brick-free zones. At best, around five-and-ahalf per cent of domestic properties may have some brick. Conversely, brick is in greater demand there for commercial work.

So how does Hanson respond to these regional variations? It owns and operates 16 factories in the US and another five in Canada. It has a total production capacity of 1.5 billion bricks a year.

In addition, a new, state-of-the-art brickmaking factory is under construction in North Carolina. This, the seventeenth location, is due for completion early this summer when full operational capacity is expected to produce at least 80 million facings a year. At current output, Hanson's North American operation constitutes a 14 per cent share of the market.

Not surprisingly, the philosophy and structure of Hanson's North American company are unchanged from those of its UK counterparts. Variations and differences in raw materials from state to state open up new opportunities. Through increased investment in products and production facilities throughout North America, Hanson plans to ensure sustained growth in this part of the world.

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