Closed Loop

Sensing a cement-steeped market’s long-term potential, Berks Products Corp. opened a central mixed plant in Allentown, Pa., a decade after a popular song

Don Marsh

Sensing a cement-steeped market’s long-term potential, Berks Products Corp. opened a central mixed plant in Allentown, Pa., a decade after a popular song painted the Lehigh Valley’s largest city as a place where they’re closing all the factories down. Solid returns from the 1993 move into the western Lehigh Valley have the Reading, Pa.-based concrete and aggregate producer looking east in the market with a Nazareth, Pa., satellite plant.

The Lehigh Valley is a natural distribution point for businesses serving metro New York. Companies continue to build major distribution centers along [the east-west] Interstate 78 and a new [north-south] corridor linking it with Pennsylvania Rt. 33, says Berks President and CEO John Hannon. The Allentown plant created a presence in the western valley, and the Nazareth site extends our service area and allows for greater access to the 78-33 corridor and growing communities along the New Jersey border.

Located about 90 minutes from New York City, the eastern Lehigh Valley towns of Nazareth, Easton, Bethlehem have seen an influx of New York and New Jersey residents looking for more affordable housing and equitable property taxation. Census estimates for 2000-2005 indicate a combined 13,000 new housing units for Lehigh County and Northampton County, which span the valley along the Allentown-Easton stretch.

Nazareth is Berks Products’ fifth ready mixed location, third with central mixed production, and first with a dual-lane, dry/wet batch design. Located on seven acres, the plant has a 12-yd. mixer running on four motor-driven rubber rollers. Looking at options for central mixed equipment, we decided to try an alternative to the tilt-drum model, says Berks Vice President of Ready Mix Concrete, Quarry and Fleet Operations Bill Seiders. Maintenance tends to add up when a 20-ton vessel is being lifted up to 100 times a day. A 300 yd./hour output capability enables Nazareth to serve large slab pours typical of the area’s distribution center and big box retail work, he adds, and makes the market less inviting to portable-plant operators.

A few months after its mid-summer 2006 opening, the plant was put to the test on a Stroudsburg, Pa., job about 25 miles up Rt. 33. We got word of a Lowe’s store and assured the contractor delivery on his two-day slab pour schedule, says Andrew Davis, Nazareth plant manager. Successful dispatch of the project’s 1,000-yd. and 1,200-yd. orders spurred discussion with the contractor on a larger slab job, he adds.

In addition to higher volume capability tied to a mixer with two- to three-minute cycles, the Nazareth plant has automated pigment dosing equipment to support a colored mix program under the Infusion brand. Berks Products launched a 40-color mix line with similar equipment at its flagship ready mixed plant at Ontelaunee, a site bordering Leesport, Pa., and named after a nearby lake. The company has seen Infusion volume grow steadily due to premium flatwork demand in residential applications, plus institutional projects. The abundant paved area at the Nazareth plant includes sample slabs bearing Infusion colors. Additional slabs have been placed to showcase pervious pavement, a product exhibiting potential in the Lehigh Valley and across much of the industry.


Landmark kilns and other plant relics indicating the birthplace of the U.S. cement industry dot the limestone-rich Lehigh Valley. A few miles outside the center of Nazareth is a weathered row of silos from a mill Penn-Dixie Cement operated until 1953. A prominent post-war player with headquarters on 42nd Street in New York City, Penn-Dixie had at least nine plants at its peak, but ended up in a high-profile 1970s bankruptcy case that reached the Supreme Court. Some of its assets landed with Allentown-based Lehigh Cement.

Berks Products’ new plant fronts the Penn-Dixie silos, which were part of a brownfield site deal the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. helped advance with George Polak. A specialist in decorative panels and landscape novelties, Polak has leased Berks Products a seven-acre plot adjacent to his precast yard, but kept the nonfunctioning, vintage concrete vessels.

The choice of a brownfield site is appropriate for Berks Products, which has a 110-year history of fuel and building material hauling and production, plus related service businesses, in eastern Pennsylvania.Over the past decade, the company has gradually vacated a longtime quarry and transit mixed concrete operation near its Reading headquarters. The replacement flagship at Ontelaunee has 500 acres and a live dolomitic limestone source for the central mixed concrete plant.

Berks sought a buyer for the old site able to capitalize on proximity to Reading and potential tax incentives tied to Pennsylvania’s brownfields redevelopment laws. The mined out quarry was sold to a water reclamation district, while the land that had been used for the ready mixed plant Û and until this year, a building materials store Û was marketed as a site for multiple retail stores. A resolution of zoning and tenant matters has led to an impending site sale to Target Corp., likely to be the sole occupant. Without pressing Berks or Target officials for sale terms, the deal leaves little doubt as to whose mixer fleet will likely be mobilized to pour the slab for Reading’s next big box development.