Slate: Bit of a Slump

The market's ebbed in the past few years.

Slate ends up as the "before we forget ..." part of U.S. hard-surface imports, since there's only one constant measurement: Value. (Volume is split into metric tons and cubic feet, so it's like matching apples to anvils.) It's also a niche of a niche, as most slate is imported as roofing material; this sector is "non-roofing," or dimensional for cladding, flooring and other uses.

The post-Great Recession years haven't been kind to dimensional slate. After a record high of $130.8 million in imports in 2006, slate slid to below $60 million in shipments by 2009 and has yet to top the $63 million level since. The $52.7 million last year is the lowest mark for the stone since 1999.

As with many other stone sectors, China is the leader in supplying U.S. needs, although that dominance only emerged in the past five years. Twenty years ago, Italy and India shipped far more slate, and India nearly matched China dollar-for-dollar in import values from 2006-2010. Since then, however, it's been mainly China's game in the United States.