Q & A with AI Chair Chip Ray

By Lana Johnson

Harold “Chip” Ray is the 2018 Asphalt Institute (AI) Chair. He is also the President of Western States Asphalt, LLC, an Asphalt Materials, Incorporated company, based in Spokane, Washington. (Shown with his wife, Beth.)

What are the biggest industry changes you have seen during your asphalt career?

With over 33 years in the industry, there have been numerous changes.  From the introduction of polymers into asphalt binders and emulsions to specialty asphalt mixes like SMAs, there have been numerous advances to improve the asphalt industry’s overall performance.  However, the FHWA’s Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP) which developed and implemented the SUPERPAVE asphalt mix design procedures using the newly created Performance Graded (PG) binder specifications was a monumental undertaking and deliverable changing our industry for the better over the last two decades.

What is the largest single issue facing the asphalt industry today?

Beyond the direct threat from the concrete industry, I believe funding for our infrastructure is a huge threat to the overall viability of our industry. Our infrastructure needs a massive rebuild to address congestion and safety concerns and, unfortunately, under current funding mechanisms, we will never catch up to the needs. There are several ideas to solve this problem and likely no singular solution. For several decades, Fred Fehsenfeld, Sr has been working on the concept of Critical Commerce Corridors (CCC) as a way of efficiently and safely transporting goods on our interstate system while separating passenger vehicles from freight trucks.  While there is support for this concept, we still need an effective funding mechanism to pay for the construction of these corridors.

What do you see as challenges in the industry from your point of view in the future?

We are going to have to build smart roads for autonomous vehicles. There are many different ideas out there right now as to what this means, but given its versatility and speed of construction, asphalt roads are the preferred pavement for the autonomous vehicle industry.

What are the biggest benefits a company receives by being a member of the Asphalt Institute?

A few years back we conducted a survey of the then 129-member companies about the value of AI membership. Of the 78 responses from the primary representatives, connectivity ranked at the top of the value of membership.  However, members also indicated AI best represents all we do in asphalt and AI solves problems we cannot solve on our own. Paramount to those problems are around the work AI does in providing solutions to health, safety and environmental issues.

How do you balance a fulltime job and AI chair role?

AI President Pete Grass and his team make serving as the AI Chair very easy. They do much of the heavy lifting and prepare you well for various meetings the AI Chair may attend. Whether attending NAPA, Eurobitume or one of our three meetings throughout the year, the AI team in Lexington works hard to prepare us fully for our role. Of course, there is the added travel that goes with the position, but I have tried to manage traveling for AI by backing off some of my other travel.

How many years have you been in the asphalt business?

33+ years – I started as a summer intern working in a materials lab in 1985 between my junior and senior year in college.

What do you see as the most difficult part of your role?

In my view, everything is a work-life balance, and you can’t quit your day job to volunteer for AI. So, representing AI as the chair this year could have been a major challenge in that balance. Luckily for me/us, Beth and I are empty nesters and I am fortunate that Beth loves the industry! She has always been integral to our success as a family and has been a huge part of making my volunteering for this role so easy and enjoyable.

What do you see as the most rewarding part of your role as AI Chair?

First and foremost, I have been able to work more closely with Pete and his team over the past couple of years and got to know many of them on a personal level. The AI staff is a fantastic group of hard-working, dedicated individuals to our industry and the member companies.  I have really enjoyed this aspect of the role as chair.  I have also had the pleasure of meeting many new people within our industry whether within AI, NAPA the SAPAs or Eurobitume that I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of meeting and developing relationships with had I not taken on this position.  It has been a fun and rewarding opportunity.

Do you have words of advice for the AI leadership program participants to prepare for AI participation upon graduation?

All of you are attending all the committee meetings, so after graduation get involved in a committee that interests you. If you volunteered this fall, that’s great!  If not, volunteer for a committee you want to be involved in next year. Until then, you can and should still attend that committee meeting every chance you get to stay connected with what is going on.  Also, there are times when committees form task groups, and you do not have to be sitting on the committee to volunteer for a task group. Bottom line – Stay involved! Your volunteer engagement within the institute or the Asphalt Institute Foundation can be very rewarding professionally and personally. 

Describe what you have done to achieve a personal goal?

I had a desire for many years to get my MBA. Finally, at the age of 48 and with the blessing of The Heritage Group (meaning I wouldn’t neglect my day job) and Beth (meaning I wouldn’t neglect the family), I enrolled in a two-year EMBA program at the University of Notre Dame. It was not easy, and the work-life balance I referred to earlier was mostly work with maintaining my daily AMI job requirements and then spending 20 to 25 hrs/week on homework. However, the sacrifices made over the span of the program were well worth it.  Beth and I made some lasting friendships with other classmates and their spouses and we were both enriched from the experience.

What do you do for fun?

I love outdoor activities, and luckily so does Beth. We do a lot of hiking during the summer months, as well as golfing and relaxing by our pool, but we don’t stay inside when it turns cold because we snow ski during the winter months.

Johnson works in sales for Husky Asphalt and is a participant in the AI EPIC Leadership Program.