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The U.S. Has Granite, So Why Aren’t We Buying?
August 11, 2014 Countertop Blog

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAI recently returned from a camping trip in Northern California’s Trinity Alps and was awestruck by the natural beauty of these lands located north of Weaverville and southwest of sprawling, ominous Mt. Shasta. As I hiked up the cliffs overlooking the aptly named Granite Lake, it struck me that the natural forces of the earth could produce such a magnificent material and that human hands and ingenuity could refine it into such an attractive yet practical product like a kitchen countertop.

After the hike, while floating on the lake with a cold beer, I wondered what, if anything, could be produced from the type of granite that surrounded me. Weaverville and the other small communities in the vicinity were born as mining towns during the gold rush, but many other mineral deposits could also be found.

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On the drive in, down Highway 3, it was apparent that crushed rock and gravel were dominant. Piles of rocks more than 100 ft. high stretched along the road for miles at a time, and after a short break, there continued several miles more of nothing but quarried, crushed rock.

Upon reflection, I noted the natural formations on the cliffs were mostly cracked and broken. And although some large veins of pure quartz sparkled fantastically in the sunlight, the granite was somewhat dull and less than lustrous. When I returned home, I put my research machine into action, and discovered that my hunch was correct. The granite deposits in the Trinity Alps had experienced tremendous pressure during their formation, and the compression made them unsuitable for use as dimension stone. So, if U.S. granite doesn’t come from here, then from where do we get our slabs?

The United States mines an exceptional amount of dimension granite and other dimension stone. In fact, this country is one of the leading producers of natural stone in the world, but this only makes it more shocking that our dimension stone imports average at about 80 percent of our consumption.

According to the 2014 report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), 2.17 million tons of U.S. dimension stone valued at $460 million was sold or used in the U.S. in 2013. A total of 208 companies produced the stone from 276 quarries in 34 states, and the leading producers were Texas, Indiana and Wisconsin. In addition, the tonnage of dimension stone produced has been increasing each year since at least 2009, when the total was 1.62 million.

Granite_slabs_standing_vertically_in_a_warehouse

Although these numbers seem promising and look good without any comparisons, the $460 million of dimension stone used or sold by U.S. producers is dwarfed by the $1.86 billion in dimension stone imports.

Of the total dimension stone sold or used by U.S. producers in 2013, 41 percent was limestone, 23 percent granite, 15 percent sandstone, 3 percent marble, 2 percent slate and 15 percent miscellaneous. By value, 50 percent of this stone was dressed, and 46 percent of dressed stone was sold in partially squared pieces or slabs.

Looking more specifically at granite, 500,000 tons was produced in the U.S. by 39 companies operating 57 quarries in 15 states, and 80 percent of that was exported. The rest of the granite used in the U.S. was imported from Brazil (42 percent), China (23 percent), India (14 percent) and Italy (13 percent). Even with a median tariff of 3 percent on dimension stone, it still somehow makes more sense to go with the imports rather than with domestically produced stone.

Many environmentalists in the U.S. would agree that this country should be spared from increased mining, which could disrupt natural ecosystems and become an eyesore on the landscape. However, the environmental impact of transporting these slabs from halfway around the world could, arguably, be causing much more damage.

In addition, some reports have stated that some overseas granite operations are funding terrorism, and the granite coming from China is of inferior quality and cannot be used domestically.

So, what is it that makes granite imports so popular?

The leading factor, of course, is price, and following close behind is the fact that we do not have the infrastructure in place to meet such high demand. The United States is the world’s top market for dimension stone. Since the economy recovered, demand for dimension stone has increased not only for construction but also for use in existing structures.

Some people say that U.S. granite just doesn’t exhibit the vibrant and unique color patterns of imported stone, but is this truly the case? While certain colors and patterns are unique to locations overseas, it seems that the United States has slabs of equal or even greater brilliance.

Kurt Swenson, president of one of the largest granite quarries in the U.S., Rock of Ages in Vermont, says that much of the demand for overseas granite is black granite. However, some of this demand is for block granite or decorative granite that is to be etched, which is not typically done on slabs for countertops.

Chuck Monson, president of Dakota Granite, is in agreement with Swenson. He states that the demand for black granite rose when the U.S. decided to use such slabs imported from India to build the Vietnam Memorial. But again, he was referring to granite to be used for monuments and statues rather than countertops.

So, is it simply price that is driving the market for imports? Many U.S. granite producers think so. However, another factor may simply be ignorance by the average consumer. Perhaps an education campaign can bring U.S. production up and help to further stimulate our economy.

If you have any thoughts, questions or answers to those posed here, we at CountertopResource.com want to hear from you.

"6" Comments
  1. I was wondering what were the names of the granite that is mined and sold here in the US.

    I am from MN, and in the iron range area we have a quarry that is RED granite, I have no idea what the granite market calls it when it is sold to stores, but I do know it is on a lot of buildings here in MN, because of the support the cities try to give to local producers. Or at least they used to before globalization. I would be interested in knowing the names of the granite coming from the US, and that way, when I make my next granite purchase I can look for USA producers.

  2. Hello,
    I find myself asking the same questions this article posed. I am using this question for a research project and I would love it if you could share some of your sources of statistics for granite. I am also trying to discover where the majority of imported granite ships to so that I can demonstrate the actual amount of pollution caused by shipping in granite.

    Kristi

  3. simply put its color and fashion that cause much of the imports . Red granite is not a color used often for counter tops . Much of red granite and limestone are used for cladding. Brazil and India offer colors the consumer prefers for countertops

  4. The reason why foreign stones may be cheap is because the labor is cheap in India, China, Bangladesh etc. And quarrying in these countries is labor intensive and very exploitative. At the same time these methods may be very primitive.

    There is abundant stone available in the US. But US may not have enough labor to process the available raw material.

    And importing something that is already available in plenty in the country goes against common sense logic. And this is a drain on dollar.

    Better solution may lie in hybrid impex models.

    High tech heavy machinery may be used to quarry, cut and trim stone blocks. These blocks may be exported to labor rich countries like India where cheap laborers can cut, polish, bundle slabs. And these may be imported back to the United States.

    It is possible that costs may be reduced because of two way transportation.

    Using machinery to quarry may be more cost affective

    There may be savings in dollar because payments can be made partially in stones. United States will only pay for value adding labor costs..raw material is abundantly available in US itself.

    There may be additional freight charges, which may more than offset the labor costs of quarrying and also social costs now incurred by poor countries in terms of exploited labor, child labor, health costs etc.

  5. Adam Smith says business should go to the lowest-cost producer. What earthly advantage is your litany of xenophobia to support non-competitive producers in the USA?

    A small kitchen top granite shop has to charge more and loses business to other forms of kitchen top options. Why should that small shop go out of business to support a US mine? There are more kitchen sink top shops employing more people than are employed in all the US granite mines in the USA. So you destroy the larger employer to save the small non-competitive miner.

    If that example is too complex consider Steel. The Steel industry in the USA employs roughly 50,000 persons. Imported steel in the USA employs roughly 5 million persons. So as Donald Trump found out on his own since he doesn’t understand economics or history, when he raised Tariffs on imported steel, he flushed the auto industry down the drain. Cummins engine builds heads in China. They export around to all their plants around the world. Trump Tariffs Cummins product into the USA. So prices rise and Cummins must charge more for US engines. They lose business and reduce US production. If it continues long enough, Cummins will shut down US manufacturing entirely and move it overseas.

    With Tariffs, the consumer pays, and US businesses go out of business, demand for steel and aluminium falls and the domestic steel industry which Trump used for political gain and photo ops goes out of business. The worst of all worlds.

    It is, of course, impossible for anyone educated to explain to the uneducated why it is better for India or China or Brazil to engage in low margin businesses such as mining. In no way does supporting low margin businesses in the USA benefit the economy. Lowest cost producers stay in business and those with higher expenses in low margin businesses go under. Business is not an extension of the welfare system.

    The largest producer of granite is India. I also noted your xenophobic slur against China, another obligatory Trumpism. Perhaps you should become informed that China makes the finest concert pianos and musical instruments in the world. That would require some knowledge of culture rather than the knee jerk notion that mercantilism is a viable economic system. It’s not. Mercantilism is Marxism.

    Once you start humming the chord of “Murica can make Everything”, you better take a look at OSHA, EPA, IRS, FTC and the millions of Tort lawyers in the USA, the most litigious society on earth. Then look at your employees. Highest absenteeism, highest disability claims, highest employee theft, highest employee violence. Then you have your gender issues, bathroom issues and it just doesn’t end. Buy the granite from India, China and Brazil and avoid this. Let the small shop owner make more profits with a lower cost of granite and marble.

    The US economy is less than 8% manufacturing and 72% services. US manufacturing has been in recession since Trump Tariffs. As Janet Yellen said, “Trump is an economic illiterate.”

    Dynamic systems evolve. Manufacturing and mass production has moved to Asia because Asia has more people and lower labour costs. How does it benefit an American to pay more for a Toyota made in America than one made overseas? Your getting taxed to keep the US Auto businesses afloat. They will not be viable. Every few years the Gov will give them 20 billion to bail them out. You pay for that too. Why not let the Gov just pay these US automakers to stay home so you can buy a Toyota for less from overseas? If a Ford Pickup truck really worth $60,000?

    What if a lawyer decides that since granite emits gamma radiation, that it is the next Roundup or the Next Asbestos?

  6. Its a nice website. Thanks for giving full information about the Slabs. You can also check at Granitess.com

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