By BRADEN LAMMERS
A pile of rocks may seem worthless to most, but two businesses in Clark County are turning stones and dust into big business.
The potential and existing need for concrete and rock for construction projects — namely the Ohio River Bridges Project and River Ridge — has spurred one company to open a new location in Charlestown and another experiencing a rebound of its workforce toward pre-recession levels
Irving Materials Inc., or IMI, opened a new ready mix concrete plant last month off of Ind. 62 in Charlestown.
“The Charlestown location was selected because of increased demand for concrete in the area, primarily due to the enlarged volume of construction work created by the Ohio River Bridges Project and the River Ridge Commerce Center,” according to a company news release.
A new plant was opened in Charlestown despite the company already operating several locations in Clark and Floyd counties, including in Clarksville, New Albany and Greenville.
“With the commitment of Kentucky and Indiana to develop this bridge project, we saw that River Ridge will be a long-term growth area,” said Kevin Swaidner, president of IMI south.
But from a practicality standpoint, the new plant would be close enough to provide ready-mix concrete for the bridges project, especially on the east end. Kevin Yaney, public relations representative with Yaney Marketing, who represents IMI, explained that the ready-mix concrete the company provides for construction projects has a limited shelf life.
“It’s a perishable product,” he said.
A batch will last about 30 to 40 minutes once it is made and with the increased demand for concrete in the area, the company decided to open another location nearby.
But company officials don’t expect the plant to be abandoned once the bridges project has been completed, which has estimated completion dates in the fall and winter 2016.
“They would not go to the effort of putting a permanent plant there if [the demand wasn’t there],” Yaney said.
While the bridges project does matter to IMI, it is not ultimately what solidified the company’s decision to create a permanent plant in Charlestown.
“The catalyst is the River Ridge development,” Swaidner said. “With the bridges being a catalyst [for] that area, it should reach its development potential,” he said of River Ridge. “That’s our hope. Common sense would tell you once the transportation systems open up, [developers] will want to take advantage of that. It’s a long-term commitment to be there.”
Potential development of the remaining space at River Ridge is what Swaidner said IMI expects to keep its new plant running. And as more development occurs in the commerce center, more support services, including service-based businesses and homes, will keep the demand for concrete going.
Another factor in the company’s decision to open a plant in Charlestown was related to the transportation costs.
“Our business cost structure is heavily related to transportation,” Swaidner said. “It lets us be a little more competitive,” he said of the Charlestown location.
He explained each plant can produce about 150 to 180 yards of concrete an hour when it is running near capacity. But he added the plants traditionally don’t run at full capacity and may only run at full volume for about three to four hours a day. The staff within the plant is relatively small as it employs about six people, which could double or triple seasonally, Swaidner said.
The real cost comes in when the trucks have to transport the concrete to the job site.
By creating the new plant in Charlestown, Swaidner said, from the company’s existing locations to the development sites near the east-end bridge and River Ridge, it can save anywhere from 10 to 50 percent based on the job.
Another local supplier excited about the prospects of development in the region is the Sellersburg Stone Co.
Ken Rush, vice president of Sellersburg Stone Co., said it is working its way back from the pre-recession levels. He said before 2008 the company was thriving, serving as major suppliers of several major projects like the UPS Worldhub, the widening of Interstate 65 and residential and commercial growth that remained strong in the area throughout the 1990s.
But when 2008 hit, the 35 employees the company employed dropped to 23 and much of their work dried up.
“It really hit our business very hard,” Rush said of the recession. “We’re trying to rebound to that level that we had. That growth is coming back.”
Both the bridges project and River Ridge are playing a major role in that growth, first with the bridges project.
“It’s been such a long time coming, it’s very exciting,” Rush said. “It’s one of those once in a lifetime projects. When you’re in the construction business and have that scope of a project, it’s like hitting the lottery.”
Sellersburg Stone is providing base stone to produce concrete and asphalt to ready-mix suppliers for both the downtown and east-end bridges. It also provides crushed limestone, which is used for fill material for parking lots.
The peak for Sellersburg stone is expected to come during 2014 and 2015. Those are the two big years in physical construction and the company will probably see about a 30 percent increase in production during those years, Rush said.
As a result Sellersburg Stone is hiring.
Rush said the company expects to add about seven to eight employees to its staff and it may add a second shift next year to meet increased demand. And like IMI, Sellersburg Stone expects demand to remain high for some time because of River Ridge.
“The good thing about River Ridge is we’re just scratching the surface on the potential growth out there,” Rush said. “There’s going to be a huge influx of buildings. It’s going to be a huge asset to people like us.”