Camp Precast Concrete Products’ new facility positions them for continued growth.
By Sara Geer
Behaviors are either learned or hereditary. For instance, a person can learn how to manufacture precast concrete through experimentation, reading manuals, seeking advice and following the proper steps. But not all behaviors are learned. Dale Camp, founder of Camp Precast Concrete Products in Milton, Vt., had a special innate trait that many entrepreneurs and pioneers have in common. He had the gift of foresight and often saw what precast concrete products were in demand before the competition. His visionary outlook helped position Camp Precast as a leading provider of on-site wastewater and underground utility precast concrete products in the Northeast.
“In the mid ‘70s, Dad could see there was a market for selling pumps and controls and packaging them with our precast,” said Kevin Camp, Dale’s son and a second-generation owner. “He secured a distributorship with a large sewage pump manufacturer and we got into the business of supplying turnkey, packaged pump stations. Now, we build, sell and service pump stations throughout our market.
“Our service division also provides vacuum testing and field coring services. The division has grown into its own little business. We have three technicians and a manager for that division alone, and it all started with my father’s vision.”
Today, Kevin Camp embraces that same trait. He admits that he may not have the same skill set his father used to start the business, but he is well positioned to take it to new heights and markets never before imagined. Kevin runs the business with Travis Brousseau, part-owner and general manager.
“With Dad and I, it really was kind of a perfect marriage,” Kevin said. “We complemented each other. I was able to grow the business beyond where he took it, but I don’t believe I ever could have started the business and got it to where he grew it before I took over.”
Past and future side by side
In 1968, Dale and Mary Camp started Camp Precast Concrete Products at their home in Montgomery, Vt., manufacturing and selling septic tanks, drywells and distribution boxes.
“My dad would go out in the morning and strip the molds, set them up and then take deliveries,” Kevin said. “While he was out doing deliveries and sales, my mom would go out with the ready-mix concrete and pour and vibrate tanks.”
A year and half later, the company moved to its current location in Milton, Vt.
February 2017 marked the beginning of a new era for Camp Precast. Three years of extensive planning, designing and building came to fruition with the opening of a brand new, state-of-the-art facility. The plant houses the latest technologies, has the capacity for casting larger products inside a controlled environment and opens the door for more work all year long.
“It’s a huge deal for the company’s future,” Kevin said.
For now, there is a neat side-by-side snapshot of new and old as the original building and batch plant sits next door. Kevin said the old batch plant will eventually be demolished, but for now it illustrates the company’s roots and progress.
The old facility is where Kevin and his brother, Patrick Camp, took over the business in 1996 and began to expand. Together, they experienced highs in the company, such as hiring Mark Pfenning, a key employee at Camp Precast, who knows the ins and outs of the precast industry, and has extensive knowledge of the pump station and service business. Mark has been instrumental in the company’s success. And they worked through some lows and transitional periods together such as when Patrick made the difficult decision to leave the family business in 2005. It was a tough time in the company’s history, but also strengthened everyone for what the future holds and allowed Brousseau to take a leadership role. He has become the leader the company needs – high energy, committed in making precast his lifetime career and skilled in both the practical and engineering side of the business.
“When I first worked with Kevin and Patrick in 2004 working on CAD drawings, I would have never thought I’d still be here,” Brousseau said. “Now, I’m committed for life. I like it, love it and wish I could have started even sooner.”
While the company’s history is tied with the original plant, the wear and tear also gives a glimpse of how production got started and where it’s headed. The old plant houses one 5-ton and one 10-ton overhead crane, so any product that exceeded capacity had to be cast outside.
That’s all changed now.
“When you’re doing a state job, you have to do it inside,” Camp said. “There are too many variables doing it outside. It can be done, but with weather restraints, it’s impossible to do efficiently.”
The new plant added 14,000 square feet of indoor production and a 40-ton lifting capacity when using the two new Demag 20-ton bridge cranes in unison. The company now has the capacity and equipment to tackle more department of transportation jobs and larger-sized products.
In 2017, projects for the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the New York State DOT increased significantly. The company has started working on a high-profile, state design-build railroad project with one of their customers, which requires 16 large precast sections, including precast headwalls, footers and wingwalls with grout sleeves. Culvert jobs have increased in volume and size as well. The growing trend is that products continue to get larger.
“If you don’t have the capability to manufacture larger products, you’ll get left behind,” Brousseau said.
One of the main reasons Kevin and Brousseau invested much of their time and energy into the plant expansion was to increase production efficiencies – with aggregate handling and wintertime production being two of the major interests.
Brousseau said before the new facility was in operation, workers loaded the aggregate bins every morning using a payloader, which took three hours to complete. There were also times when the aggregate ran out during production and had to be reloaded, costing additional time and labor. The new aggregate bins are now placed underground, so handling goes much smoother.
“Now we’re able to dump directly into the bins and not handle the aggregates twice,” Brousseau said. “We can stock some aggregate if we do have to move it or load it, but most of the time, we just dump the truck when the bins are low. We save that three hours every day, which is tremendous.”
The four precast concrete aggregate bins are 12 feet deep and have a capacity of 90 cubic yards each. The bins are built on top of a precast concrete box culvert that houses the aggregate weigh hopper. Each bin has two discharge gates that dispense the aggregates onto the weigh belt. The weigh belt transfers the aggregate to a skip hoist, which then empties it into the mixer. In order for everything to work as planned, a great deal of problem solving had to occur.
“We knew we wanted to get this set up as deep as possible so we could limit the height and length of the ramp,” Kevin said. “It was a puzzle that had to take into account groundwater tables and storm drainage requirements. A lot went into this entire thought process.”
In addition, the aggregates can be heated using a Polarmatic heating unit system. This was a big investment for the company.
“It would have never made sense to purchase this if we weren’t building a completely new plant,” Kevin said. “But when we decided to build the new plant, the decision was justified. It does three big functions for us – heats our aggregate, heats our process water and heats our plant.”
The hope is the technology will allow the company to produce 80-degree concrete in the middle of winter using frozen aggregate, something the owners never thought could be possible. According to Brousseau, there were often times when the company had to purchase ready-mix concrete during the winter months because batching concrete was more expensive than buying it. And under heavy wintertime conditions, the plant would completely shut down.
“During the winter, we usually had 12 to 14 people working in the plant and now we have 20 or more,” Brousseau said. “It’s quite a difference.”
With the rapid growth the company has seen in the last five years, there are more permanent positions Brousseau is looking to fill.
“This year we have more work on the books because we’re able to tackle more jobs with our bigger facility and our ability to pour during the wintertime,” Brousseau said. “Very huge for us, yet growing pains for us too. We are still learning to streamline operations and work on the efficiencies.”
Kevin said much of the company’s historical growth is due to its active participation with the National Precast Concrete Association and the networking relationships fostered with other precasters. Just looking around the new facility, you’ll notice NPCA member products have an active presence over nonmember brands.
“I personally prefer to use NPCA members,” Camp said. “When it comes down to a choice, we’re going to use the NPCA member every time. I have had companies become members because we wouldn’t buy from them.
“It’s really important to us and NPCA has been integral in our growth.”
The design and function of the facility is also fashioned around ideas brought back from visiting other precast plants. For instance, the batch plant concept came from Wieser Concrete Product’s plant in Maiden Rock, Wis., while adding a steel plate on the floor of the production area came from Lindsay Precast’s plant in Canal Fulton, Ohio. He said everything came together by asking the right questions and seeing how Camp Precast could make products other precasters are manufacturing.
Now that the new facility is in full production, next steps include working to accommodate employee needs and wants for organizing work areas and focusing on improving employee training, a must for keeping employee retention high.
“Many of our new employees do not start off with the skill set or that intuitive, hands-on work experience that we were trained with growing up,” Kevin said. “So, it’s more important than ever to have the NPCA training courses. We make it a tradition to bring at least one employee with us to the Convention or The Precast Show to attend education courses and work toward their Master Precaster certification.”
Currently, Camp Precast has three Master Precasters – Kevin’s son, Ethan Camp, Brousseau and Lance Lawyer, quality control manager.
“We are extremely fortunate to have as many long-tenured employees as we do,” Kevin said. “We try to create a family atmosphere that makes our employees enjoy their time here, so they don’t feel like a number. Our employees’ welfare is very important to Travis and me, and I am very proud that I consider many of our employees as extended family and friends.”
Not done expanding
Amidst the growing pains felt from the expansion and the rewards already received, Kevin and Brousseau are already thinking about other expansion opportunities. Ideas include manufacturing more bridge components and branching into the accelerated bridge construction market or even giving back more to the industry by participating in NPCA product committees.
“You think that growth is good, but when you get to one stage – it’s just not big enough,” Brousseau said. “It seems like nothing is big enough.”
Whatever exciting decisions lay ahead for Camp Precast, one thing is true – none of it would have been possible without founder and patriarch Dale Camp’s grand aspiration to be a precaster. When he passed away in June 2017, Kevin said the finale of his life’s work was driving him through the new plant one last time while on the bed of one of Camp Precast’s boom trucks. Now that Kevin’s son, Ethan, has joined, the third-generation is already gearing up to take the company even further.
“Precast is taking over many different areas,” Kevin said. “The market share grows because of the product mix. We precast a lot of items today – like light poles for example – that were traditionally cast in place.
“Who knows what the market will look like 10 years from now. It’s nice to know, however, that we are ready to find out.”
Sara Geer is NPCA’s internal communication and web manager, and is managing editor of Precast Inc.