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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 23, 2016 3 years ago

Like a rock

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Demand has risen swiftly at a Gulf Coast paving and concrete firm. Seven newly hired superintendents lead the cavalry to handle the workload.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

Executive Summary
Company. Collier Paving and Concrete Industry. Concrete, paving Key. Company is managing rapid growth.

Mike Weaver and Daniel Banks know firsthand the benefits of joining forces.

The two partnered a couple of years ago, when Banks brought his expertise in asphalt milling to the Naples-based asphalt repair and striping company Weaver started in 2009.

That pair-up has led to big results. “We just exploded in size,” says Weaver. “In two years we made the company four to five times bigger.”

Collier Paving and Concrete is projected to bring in around $10 million in revenues this year and is up to almost 50 employees. Good timing is one reason for the firm's success.

“The recession killed off a lot of old companies that were maybe overleveraged,” says Weaver, the company's president. “It shook a lot of people out of the marketplace. We came together at just that right point in time. It's about being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of opportunities intelligently.”

The firm's broad range of services has also played a major role in its growth. In addition to asphalt milling (the process of removing old pavement before resurfacing), repair, patching, and striping, the company also installs concrete driveways, sidewalks, and patios and does concrete repair and finishing work. Being able to help customers with a variety of needs pays off.

“There are very few companies that do all of the things under one roof that we do,” says Weaver. “We're almost like four companies in one. We have a lot of customers that are shared between the divisions. We might do milling for them and then turn around and do striping and concrete work as well.”

Over the summer, the company added yet another service, a cleanup division that tidies up after the asphalt milling process and before paving. One of the closest companies offering that post-milling necessity was in Tampa, so Collier Paving and Concrete saw a need waiting to be filled.

“We're booked up nearly to December so far,” says Banks, the company's general manager. “Anything we try to get into we try to get it to complement what we already do.”

Meet demand
When Weaver started the company in 2009, it was pretty much a one-man show.

He did asphalt striping and eventually added repair. Banks was a general manager for an asphalt milling company in Fort Lauderdale for several years before he partnered with Weaver. “He saw an opportunity over here and brought his knowledge, experience, and contacts with him,” says Weaver.

The local increase in building activity following the recession has been a boon to the expanded business. Nationally, others in the industry are seeing some increases as well. According to figures from the National Asphalt Pavement Association, estimated total asphalt mix production increased slightly from 350.7 million tons in 2013 to 352 million tons in 2014 (the latest year for which figures are available). Commercial and residential tonnage grew from 94.1 million tons in 2013 to 101.1 million tons in 2014, which helped offset a lack of growth and even some decreases on the public-sector side.

That's because there isn't as much federal, state and local funding these days for infrastructure projects, according to T. Carter Ross, NAPA's vice president for communications. But firms like Collier Paving and Concrete that do plenty of work in the private sector are finding lots of jobs out there thanks to all the residential and commercial construction underway or in the works.

“This is a demand-based business,” says Ross. “If people are building and needing parking lots or building out campuses that need walking or biking paths or small local roads, then there is opportunity there.”

But it's not always easy for Collier Paving and Concrete to keep up with high demand, especially when it comes to finding the right employees. The company recently hired seven superintendents to help manage the divisions and all of their projects.

“We can't do it all personally ourselves,” says Banks. “We look for people with a good form of education and drive to take that side of the business where we want it to go, which is a struggle for a lot of companies in Florida.”

The partners often promote from within. They also use headhunters and keep their eyes out for potential hires at other companies they might work with. “We look for people in our industry who already have a base so we can build on that,” says Banks. For non-management positions, a willingness to learn can offset a lack of experience or education.

“We're starting to get a reputation for being a market leader,” says Weaver. “We're getting more and more applicants. And not just people who are unemployed, but also people employed by someone else looking for a new opportunity.”

Workforce development is a hot topic in the industry both locally and around the country. Ross admits that paving jobs aren't glamorous. “But they're important jobs, because without good roads it makes it harder for people to get around,” he says. “There are a lot of opportunities in road construction. I think it's a matter of getting people to be aware that they're there and helping them get the training to do those jobs.”

In addition to recruiting staff and dealing with a rising payroll, Collier Paving and Concrete also has to stay on top of equipment maintenance and replacement, various regulations and safety training for its employees. “For all of our work that occurs out on the road, it's a dangerous place to be working,” says Weaver. “So we've invested heavily in the safety of our employees.”

The company has found its size works to its advantage; it's larger than the mom-and-pop businesses that handle mostly driveways but smaller than big industry players such as Ajax Paving. It can take on both modest jobs as well as bid for larger public projects, like the concrete replacement, sidewalk and curb repair and ADA-certified ramp placement it recently did for Collier County on a three-mile stretch of Pine Ridge Road. “We're in that sweet spot in the middle,” says Weaver.

Stay on track
About 80% of the work Collier Paving and Concrete does is in Lee and Collier Counties. The company has worked as far north as Sarasota, and the milling division still does jobs on the east coast of Florida because of Banks' connections there.

Clients range from individual homeowners and property management companies to county governments and major DOT contractors doing highway work, which might hire the firm to do milling before paving a stretch of highway. Says Weaver: “Our concrete crew one day may do a person's driveway and the next day be doing work at a hospital putting in a helicopter pad.”

That requires an ability to shift between different customers' needs and expectations. “Working with residential clients is pretty straightforward,” says Weaver. “With the paving contractors we work for, it's about showing up on time, doing high quality work and getting the work done. When we work for municipalities and counties, it takes an incredible amount of project management to do that type of work.” There is a lot more paperwork involved and a need to report progress and financial info along the way.

The company recently invested in some IT infrastructure to help make those tasks easier. It gave each milling crew leader an iPad they use to submit data at the end of each shift instead of collecting the information weekly. And it installed GPS technology on all fleet vehicles, which helps keep everyone informed no matter where a job might be. “It's constant streamlining and constant improvement,” says Weaver.

Looking into the future, the company is realistic. “I would say we've gotten close to filling our space in this market, but I don't think we're quite done yet,” says Weaver. “I would expect one or two years more of decent growth.”

If demand falls or growth tapers off, the partners say that's the time to focus on their track record and abilities. “We're so good at what we do in our respective niches,” says Weaver. “If the pool of projects reduces by a third, we're probably going to be the ones doing the remaining pool.”

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