Rick Feltes has always felt the need to give back to the aggregates industry. Mike Johnson, the president and CEO of the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, can attest to that notion. According to Johnson, Feltes was one of the first people to reach out to him when he joined the aggregates industry in 2013.
“Feltes always looked to help others and never worried about getting credit,” Johnson says. “I remember my first meeting with Feltes. He asked me, ‘How can I help you? Let me be a resource to you.’
”Feltes exhibited that same giving spirit through his work related to the development of AGG1 Aggregates Academy & Expo, which launched in 2009. The event launched to consolidate the association’s educational events into one. While Feltes wasn’t the person who developed the AGG1 concept, industry leaders credit him with propelling the show forward.
“That was Rick’s baby,” Johnson says. “He was there in its infancy, and the numbers don’t lie. He has seen it grow each year.”
Feltes’ family pit
While growing up, Feltes shadowed his father, LaVerne, and his two uncles, Howard and Clarence, who equally owned and operated Feltes Sand & Gravel in a rural town west of Chicago. Rick worked at the family operation on weekends and during summers.
Rick admits he didn’t initially want to work at the pit following graduation from Creighton University. He hoped to attend law school.
But, his father convinced him to skip law school and devote a year to the pit.
“I felt an obligation to at least try it out for a year or two,” Rick says. “Surprisingly, I learned to love the industry. It was the best decision I ever made, and I haven’t looked back.”
LaVerne died in 1981, about a decade after Rick began working at the company full time. Rick took over ownership of the business shortly after. His cousin, Tim Feltes, joined him a few years later as a co-owner.
Feltes Sand & Gravel was faced with an economic downturn around the time Rick and Tim became owners. The Chicago market was down, and the company was only producing about 500,000 tons of aggregate per year.
Being newer to the business, Tim says the two realized they needed more education to advance the company. The National Stone Association (NSA) sought to grow its membership around that time. It reached out to small- and medium-sized producers such as Feltes Sand & Gravel about becoming members. After attending a few NSA educational events, Rick says it was a no-brainer to involve Feltes Sand & Gravel in the association.
As market opportunities improved and the company’s association involvement increased, the business began to boom again, Tim says. By the early 2000s, Feltes Sand & Gravel produced almost 3 million annual tons. Rick and Tim attribute much of their growth to the things they learned at educational sessions.
Industry leaders describe Rick as one of the more involved members of NSSGA. Rick also served on the board as director for the Illinois Association of Aggregate Producers for many years.
“People tended to gravitate toward him,” says Gus Edwards, a former NSSGA executive who served the association for 16 years. “He’s not only a nice guy, but he’s also a natural leader.”
Rick held a number of roles at NSSGA over the years, including chairman of the government affairs division, executive committee member, vice chairman of the board and chairman.
“He worked beyond the call of duty on behalf of NSSGA,” says Joy Pinniger, former president and CEO of NSSGA.
When Rick served as NSSGA chairman in 2005, he lobbied for SAFETEA-LU. He also spent time improving NSSGA’s relationship with European aggregates associations so the U.S. industry could learn from companies around the world.
“The prevailing opinion at the time was that the aggregates industry is only a domestic industry,” Edwards says. “We don’t export material except maybe to Canada or Mexico, so we thought, ‘why care?’ But as it turns out, and as Rick noticed, the European aggregates businesses face similar problems to us, and they are dealing with those problems in ways we might not have tried.”
In the early 2000s, Rick also realized the association was hosting a number of educational events throughout the calendar year – 13 to be exact. Attending more than a dozen industry events was a daunting challenge for busy aggregate producers, let alone a source of high stress and high costs for the association.
Rick advocated consolidating the association events into one big educational event to benefit the industry during a 2004 strategic planning discussion in Pinehurst, N.C.
“The general trending comment at this meeting was that companies had been sending fewer people to association events,” Pinniger says. “The economy was soft in those years and offering so many meetings wasn’t profitable. The increasing feedback from all sizes of aggregates companies was, ‘can’t you bring all this together somehow for us?’”
And it was through this question that the idea of a consolidated yet all-aggregates educational trade show was born. The concept became a focus for Rick, even after his time as NSSGA chairman in 2005. Although Feltes Sand & Gravel was sold to Lafarge in 2007, Rick chose to continue working for Lafarge so he could help NSSGA launch a new industry show.
After years of dedication, Rick and a team of NSSGA members completed the singular show concept in AGG1 Aggregates Academy & Expo.
Since its 2009 launch, AGG1 has boasted increasing attendance and show-floor size every year, Johnson says.
Edwards describes AGG1 as a place for producers to educate themselves, check out innovations and “kick the tires.” And while Rick doesn’t doubt the show’s popularity today, he admits he was unsure about debuting AGG1 in 2009.
“That was one of the worst years in the history of our industry to start something like this,” Feltes says.
Fortunately, AGG1 has continued for the past seven years, and Rick’s involvement in event remains strong.
“Rick is not just a chairman who sits in a meeting about this event and then wanders off,” Johnson says. “He’s constantly on the show floor and in sessions as it’s happening. He’s a participant. He values the program he created.”
What others say about Rick Feltes
“It would have been so easy for Rick to ride off into the sunset after his time as NSSGA (National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association) chairman. Guys sometimes leave the industry after that term is served. But Feltes stuck with it, even after his business was sold to Lafarge. He has a passion for aggregates. I find that to be commendable.”
– Mike Hinrichsen, Caterpillar, former manager of corporate account services
“He was a smooth-talking guy, a silver-tongued negotiator, yet still friendly. I would want him on any team where I had to negotiate anything.”
– Gus Edwards, NSSGA, former executive vice president
“The most unusual characteristic of Rick’s perseverance with AGG1 is that he has continued to lead and back this endeavor long past what was expected of him. I’d call this a demonstration of Rick’s allegiance to the aggregates industry.”
–Joy Pinniger, NSSGA, former president and CEO
“A good thing about Rick is his belief in the involvement of the small producer members in NSSGA. Coming from a small producer, that never stopped Rick from thinking big. He said small producers were needed in the industry. That’s something I learned from him coming into NSSGA.”
– Mike Johnson, NSSGA, president and CEO of NSSGA