By Steve Leer
Sometimes, misfortune turns into opportunity. Case in point: John Davis.
Davis was humming along in a successful career in facilities and construction management when in 2015, his position was eliminated. He took a buyout and walked away. And while he eventually wanted to own his own business, he was unsure what the future would hold.
While many people might have held tight to the buyout funds, Davis went another direction. He used his severance pay as seed money to go into business for himself.
Six years later, Davis is owner and president of Precast Solutions Inc. (PSI). The NPCA-certified plant, located about 20 miles northwest of Indianapolis in Whitestown, Ind., has a three-pillared approach to manufacturing concrete products: targeting the transportation, utility and architecture markets. In its short history, PSI’s annual sales have grown from $1 million to $10 million and should continue to climb as PSI takes on new business in accelerated bridge construction (ABC) and electric vehicle industry infrastructure
“It takes an internal drive to want to run your own business and control your own future,” said Davis, whose company employs about 50 people. “I believe you have to have God behind you and that is aligned with your vision.
Then it’s about putting yourself out there and taking the risk and finding the right people who share your vision.”
Finding the Right Fit
PSI began in 1989 as CGM Precast Concrete in Tarpon Springs, Fla. That company mostly produced smaller architectural, landscaping and utility products, moving to just outside downtown Indianapolis in 1998 when Fred and Susan Machledt joined the ownership team.
About the time Davis was looking to buy, the Machledts were preparing to entertain offers.
“I went through the entire process of whether to start my own business to look at franchising,” Davis said. “I soon realized that I wanted to buy something already established that had a good foundation but was scalable with room to grow.”
The owner of an Indianapolis ready mix company introduced Davis to the Machledts, and Davis soon knew this was it. For Davis, the experience harkened back to his youth, when he worked for his grandfather in his machine shop in Elwood, Ind.
“We hit it off really well,” Davis said. “It fit what I was looking for.”
Davis was impressed with CGM’s operation despite its small size – the company employed about a dozen people. He also liked its connections with NPCA and the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT).
It took just a few weeks to convince Davis he’d found the business opportunity he was seeking.
“I realized there was a lot I could do there, really anything we put our sights to,” Davis said. “All the pieces fit, so we made it happen.”
New Team, New Home
With the keys to a precast company in his hands, Davis gave his investment a new name – Precast Solutions Inc. – and set about building a management team. Through various contacts, Davis met David Sweet, Mike Cook and
Shawn Wirey, three precast veterans with varying years of experience. Sweet joined in 2016 with Cook, Wirey and Logistics Manager Britt Burtner arriving in 2018.
As vice president of operations, Sweet was charged with developing the utilities market. For the next 18 months, the company focused on growing that side of the business.
“David has been critical to the growth of the organization since the day he set foot in the door,” Davis said. “His vast experience and knowledge helped him fill so many roles early on.”
Together, Davis and Sweet worked to establish a larger footprint, a task that soon became difficult because the current site and equipment weren’t conducive to some of the projects they wanted to take on.
Enter Whitestown, Ind.
“We started looking for a place to either buy or build, and this place became available,” Davis said. “We walked in and kind of fell in love with it.”
They found a large warehouse that was home to Midwest Metal Solutions, a metal fabrication business. The structure was built in the early 1970s by an Amish group in the exact dimensions of the biblical Noah’s Ark: 515 feet long, 85.8 feet wide and 51.5 feet high – 57,000 square feet in all. There also was enough land behind the building for a proper storage yard.
Davis acquired the building and the metal fabrication company. Midwest Metal still does custom fabrication and rolling and as PSI’s in-house sister company, it builds molds, cages and casting tables for the precast concrete side, an advantage not many precasters enjoy.
Cook, PSI’s vice president of business development, went to work in 2018 growing the transportation division. Wirey soon after became Plant Manager with Burnter overseeing planning and logistics
Those five – Davis, Sweet, Cook, Wirey and Burnter – make up the current leadership team.
“The challenges came as we were starting to grow in scale and taking on bigger jobs,” Davis said. “We needed more equipment and a larger facility.”
Creating Depth in the Product Line
Ask Davis and his management team about PSI’s product lines and customers, and you’ll be in for a lengthy discussion.
PSI manufactures vaults of all kinds, back flow valves, lift stations, grease interceptors, MSE walls, absorptive sound walls, box culverts, wingwalls, stair treads, knockout boxes for stormwater drainage systems, parking bumpers, splash blocks, catch basins, propane tank pads, benches, tunnels, planters and more.
“We’ve had requests for everything from ‘Can you repair this steppingstone because it means something to me,’ to doing bridges and everything in between,” Sweet said. “You hate to say no to anybody, because they took the time to contact us.”
“It’s hard to find a precaster with all these different product lines,” Wirey said. “I sometimes say there’s five companies within this one with all the different products we do here.”
Added Cook: “We’re getting a lot of opportunities for projects because of our quality, service and reputation.”
PSI has worked with some of the biggest names in the Midwest construction industry, including Walsh, Superior, Gradex, Rieth-Riley, Poindexter, Superior Construction, Browning Chapman and Milestone. It also has worked with Indiana University, Purdue University, Indiana State University and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as well as national utility suppliers such as Utility Supply, Core & Main, Ferguson, EJP and Utility Pipe Supply.
Race fans who attend the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 enter the fabled speedway at the main gate encounter PSI-made benches and planters with the speedway’s logo embedded in them. The precast benches were designed and manufactured by PSI to match the surrounding decorative structures, giving the impression they were all created in the same era.
Another unique project was done for Purdue’s College of Engineering.
“They were doing a study on driverless semi-trucks,” Davis said. “They reached out to us to build a specific weight system so that they could load and unload with whatever weight they wanted on the vehicle for their study.”
PSI’s transportation products are on a fast track to becoming the company’s largest business segment, as the company expands its reach into precast bridges and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
At the time of this writing, PSI was casting components for its first accelerated bridge construction (ABC) project. The 120-foot-long bridge spans Mud Creek in Rush County and is the first such bridge in Indiana. PSI partnered with INDOT and the Federal Highway Administration. The bridge was completed in July.
“We’re making the abutments, wing walls, piers, the superstructure, sleeper slabs, approach slabs – basically the whole bridge,” Cook said. “The standard bridge replacement takes about 150 days. This ABC project is slated to take only 35.”
The PSI team understood the challenges of the ABC project, but, “the more we looked into it and the experience we had as a group, we thought ‘This is nothing; we can handle it.’ It’s just big pieces,” Cook said.
Looking to the Future
Davis and his team also have been in discussions with automobile manufacturers about producing electric vehicle infrastructure components. Working with companies such as the Heritage Group, PSI is continuously developing its product line as technology advances.
“I’m looking at emerging technologies, and I want to be on the leading edge of that,” Davis said.
In the meantime, PSI has plenty to do. Namely, major interstate highway projects, including the reconstruction of the I-70/I-65 split in the heart of Indianapolis and the final phase of the decades-long I-69 project connecting Indianapolis to Evansville, Ind.
“That’s going to be a big part of what we do the next two to five years,” Davis said. “Meanwhile, the utility and architectural sides keep us just as busy.”
Ten years from now, Davis hopes to look across the production floor and see workers who have been with PSI for eight years or more. He said he’s committed to hiring the best people and paying them what they are worth.
“I believed that before I was a business owner,” Davis said. “I’d have meetings with our CEO and tell him we need to be operating like a small business. We’ve got to be able to make decisions and reward people for those decisions.”
“We try to make everybody feel appreciated here,” Sweet said. “We genuinely care about every person out there, because they are part of the team, and we couldn’t do it without them. From the top to the bottom, it doesn’t matter. We all need each other.”
Six years out, Davis said the journey has been exhilarating. And he believes the best is yet to come.
“It’s been really exciting,” he said. “The people, the projects, the way we do things … we strive to create a partnership with our vendors and deliver from our end every day. That’s the idea we started with, and that’s where we want to be years into the future.” PI
Steve Leer is a former communications manager at NPCA.