While asphalt may not be the most enthralling conversation for the dinner table, it brought two local Alabama legislators and the University president together over a table of fruit kabobs and skewered chicken.
The refreshments weren't the main reason why President Steven Leath, Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, and Rep. Joe Lovvorn, R-Auburn, came together to tour Auburn University's National Center for Asphalt Technology, or NCAT, on July 24.
Leath spoke to the men and women in the back row of the auditorium and said, "You're doing all kinds of things every day that people don't notice unless we have an event like today where we sit back and celebrate your accomplishments."
Earlier in 2017, the Alabama Senate and House passed resolutions commending NCAT for 30 years of successful and profitable service to the state. The tour of the facility was a pleasure for all of those who attended, they said.
NCAT is a "cooperative venture" between the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) and the University. It was founded in 1986 and focuses on advancing aggregate testing methods, developing the Perpetual Pavement design method, practical research and experience for the students at Auburn and much more.
The 40,000 square-foot center employs eight graduate and five undergraduate students each year. Those students learn from the permanent team of 50.
Leath, still new to Auburn's campus after being selected as president in March, stood to accept a plaque with the others and commended all members of the team, from administration to employees working hands-on in the facility. Leath said he had heard about NCAT and its importance to the country before deciding to come to Auburn.
"There's a common need where ever you go and that is good roads," Leath said.
Whatley said he was told early on in his work as a lawmaker that building roads provide jobs. He didn't completely believe it at first, but now he is sure of the importance of asphalt technology and Auburn's research.
Whatley gushed about the world-renowned NCAT Test Track used for research and experiments involving a variety of asphalt pavements. According to NCAT, the 1.7-mile oval track is made of 46 test sections that are sponsored every three years in a cyclical fashion.
"The National Center for Asphalt Technology is extremely important for infrastructure development for not only Alabama but the country as a whole," Whatley said.
He continually repeated the phrase, "If you build a road, you create a job" — a saying he backed up with anecdotes about specific city roads in Alabama.
Leath spoke about the dedication and thorough quality of the work done in Alabama, something he always noticed but was now witnessing first hand. NCAT is now in its third edition of the textbook, "Hot Mix Asphalt Materials, Mixture Design, and Construction."
The center's newsletter, Asphalt Technology News, reaches more than 7,000 bi-annually in worldwide circulation.
"This is what makes Alabama a special place," Leath said.