The opening of a third ready mixed plant and more than tripling aggregate output in five years might lead some to figure BLT Companies is merely riding
The opening of a third ready mixed plant and more than tripling aggregate output in five years might lead some to figure BLT Companies is merely riding rapid expansion of the Yuma market in southwestern Arizona. But, a brief visit to the company shows how the founder’s methodical land and equipment acquisition and management, and integration of construction services, would fly in many markets, not just one where booming residential and commercial development and million-acre U.S. Air Force and Army installations drive volume.
This market had no concrete pumping service until we brought in a 36-meter boom truck in 1997, says Brian L. Thomas. The population in Yuma was on a steady growth clip, and the amount of residential and commercial slab work could easily support one pump. The pumping activity showed how the market was growing and would need more concrete and aggregate capacity with improved delivery and scheduling.
A strong utilization rate early on for the pump led to the purchase of a second truck, with 45-meter boom, coinciding with BLT’s ramp up of a seven-crane (23- to 210-ton-capacity models) fleet. The base of operations was a three-acre site near a rail spur on the east side of Yuma and just off Interstate 8, linking Tucson, Ariz., and San Diego. That plot has grown to 14 acres, which BLT occupies with a handful of tenants. The property also includes a rail spur BLT has built to stage cars transferring fly ash from Boral Materials’ Texas facilities.
Among capital investments BLT has made over the past year to optimize use of remaining land at the headquarters has been the installation of a Bibko concrete reclaimer with three underground tanks that enable full recycling of gray water Û an option easily exercised in a plant with consistent non-spec order volume. The installation coincided with paving of the truck alley and staging areas, plus a mixer wash station where all water is captured for re-use in yard dust control.
RIGHT OF WAY
BLT has grown material output more than four-fold since 2002, integrating backward from concrete pumping and crane and rigging services into ready mixed and aggregate production. Its fourth full year in operation brought one milestone after another: the headquarters plant reclaimer and water management system installation; conversion to central dispatch for a 30-mixer fleet; and, opening of the third ready mixed plant in conjunction with new sand & gravel processing capacity at the Foothills site in Yuma County. Last year’s millions in capital investment have BLT poised for 2007, whose positive outlook rests on private and public-market numbers. Local building permit activity looks to match or best 2006 levels. The City of Yuma has scheduled extensive underground/utility work, while the Arizona Department of Transportation is letting several big bridge contracts. And in Wellton, Ariz., site of BLT’s second ready mixed plant, development is proceeding on a $3 billion oil refinery that will receive crude from Mexico through a transmission line under construction.
Brian Thomas purchased the Foothills property in the mid-1990s, when the site was obscured by cottonwood trees and had no access to the nearly abutting highway, U.S. 95, due to a Union Pacific rail line. Start-up of the operation, whose output Thomas figured could be consumed almost entirely by a companion ready mixed plant, hinged on the railroad permitting a tunnel to be bored under the tracks and above fiber optic lines.
Negotiation with Union Pacific officials had continued for more than a year, but was expedited when the railroad needed to place concrete in an emergency to shore up a small creek overpass whose dated timber structure had failed. BLT’s concrete pump tackled the work handily, prompting railroad officials to consider the tunnel boring and right-of-way permit request with more urgency. A 6-ft.-diameter, 320-ft.-long tunnel was soon drilled, allowing BLT to commence with construction of twin 36-in., 900-ft. conveyors to transfer material from grizzly hoppers to the highway-bordered crushing and screening plant.
Aggregate production commenced in January 2002 at a rate of about 100,000 tons/year. Volume has steadily increased with BLT’s development of a concrete franchise Û 2002, 2004, and 2006 plant openings Û and an aggregate-customer base. Sustained growth in sand & gravel shipments spurred last year’s construction of the Foothills ready mixed plant, and has BLT eyeing a second tunnel in the Union Pacific right of way to transfer additional material to an expanded crushing and screening operation.
During the company’s ramp up in concrete and aggregates over the past five years, Yuma County has continued on a growth curve that will see a near doubling of population, from 106,000 to 200,000-plus, over the 1990-2010 period. Located along the Colorado River about 250 miles downstream of Hoover Dam, the county has become a major source of lettuce and cauliflower, with two crop harvests from November through March. Irrigation from the Colorado supports watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew crops in the summer months, along with heat-hardy cotton, wheat and corn. Fruit and vegetable harvests are stored and processed in large cooling sheds that Dole, Foxys and other operators have built to supply grocers across the country with whole or prepackaged, ready-to-serve product.
An influx of Californians seeking more affordable housing, reduced traffic volume, and winters that are warmer and drier than those along the Pacific Coast is driving residential development perhaps more than any other factor in Yuma County. Geographically, the market lies nearly midpoint between Phoenix and San Diego, and is accessible to the latter city in about two-and-half hours via Interstate 8.