For nearly 50 years, Lee’s Precast Concrete has been putting its customers and team members first in everything it does.

Lee’s Precast Concrete may have nearly five decades of experience under its belt, but that doesn’t mean the precaster is ever willing to just rest on its laurels and keep doing things the same way. In fact, it’s quite the opposite for this second-generation, family-owned precast company in Aberdeen, Miss.

Founded in 1977 by Milton Lee, Lee’s Precast is continuously improving, innovating and finding new ways to serve its customers. Now run by seven other family members (three of Milton’s sons, two daughters and two sons-in-law), the company recently embarked on a huge undertaking and is already seeing the benefits of its decision.

According to general manager Allen Lee, the company commissioned a brand new dry cast plant in March. Lee said the dry cast plant is filling a gap with the company’s utility, storm drain and sanitary sewer projects, and that Lee’s Precast was considering the idea for about eight to 10 years. The need accelerated during the COVID years, when a dearth of pipe meant companies were reluctant to sell pipe separately from their larger projects.

The situation left precasters like Lee’s Precast – and its customers – scrambling to find pipe for their projects. To overcome this roadblock, the company decided to build its own dry cast plant.
And because Lee’s Precast had recently expanded its existing wet cast facility, it just made sense to keep the momentum going and get into the dry casting side of the business.

“We were getting hammered on projects while trying to take care of our customers who wanted to buy structures from us,” Lee said. “Meanwhile, other companies wouldn’t sell them pipe if those customers didn’t also buy the structures from them.”

This move represents one of many ways Lee’s Precast puts its customers at the center of everything it does, every decision it makes and every new innovation that it introduces to the market. And while most of the supply chain disruptions and raw material shortages that surfaced during the pandemic have waned, the company’s vertical integration approach means it can serve even more of its customers’ needs all under one roof.

A Lifetime of Precast Experience

Lee’s Precast makes box culverts, retaining walls, pump tanks, grease interceptors, septic tanks, wastewater treatment plants and other products for a range of customers. The company operates two different plants (one wet cast and one dry cast) at the same location, where Lee has been involved with the company for most of his life.

“The only other income-earning job I’ve really had was as an EMT for about seven years while I was in school,” he said. “Other than that, I’ve always been involved in the precast business from the time I was a kid.”

Today, Milton Lee is president and has maintained his presence at the company, but the day-to-day operations are now handled by Allen Lee and six other members of the family. A third generation of Lees is making its way into the company and includes Gavin Lee (Allen’s son) and several nieces and nephews. The tight-knit group adheres to the principles and mission that Milton laid out during the company’s early days, with a particular emphasis on trust, reliability and customer service.

“People really find us to be trustworthy. They know we’re going to be honest with them and easy to connect with,” Lee said.

For example, team members never hesitate to give out their mobile phone numbers in case of a question or problem, which means customers never have to go through “five layers of communication” to get an answer.

“They can call and get a quick answer pretty much at any time,” he added.

Lee credits the NPCA with “continuing to raise the bar” for the precast industry as a whole, with plant certifications being one particularly important area for the association. He also likes being part of a larger group of NPCA members, each of which is focused on operating with integrity and honesty.

“We do what we say we’re going to do and put our energy into making a good product,” Lee said. “We try to help each other out because a bad concrete product installed somewhere just makes all of us look bad.”

Flexibility for Team Members

As Lee’s Precast has evolved, the company has invested in technology that helps streamline its manufacturing processes. Its new dry cast plant, for example, includes automated machinery that helps offset the need for additional labor. This is particularly important during a time when labor constraints make it difficult to find, train and retain new employees. In fact, Lee points to workforce challenges as the company’s biggest obstacle right now.

To offset the lack of labor, Lee’s Precast takes steps to ensure that its current 65-person workforce is content, productive and safe. Within the last few years, for example, the company implemented a flex time program that gives team members some freedom when it comes to scheduling. That way, parents get to see their kids’ soccer games, attend PTO meetings or simply spend quality time with their families.

Lee said offering this type of flexibility is important in a region where numerous chemical plants may offer higher wages but require employees to work swing shifts.

“Our advantage is that if you have children who play sports, and if you want to get off work a bit early to avoid missing a game, we have you covered,” he said.

“Employees just have to let their managers know about their plans and we work around them,” Lee continued. “So, while we may not be able to offer someone the same wages that a chemical plant can, we can offer you the freedom of not missing events that you’ll never get a second chance to attend.”

In some cases, employees test the waters of the “higher salaries,” only to find out that swing shifts don’t gel well with their family and personal lives. One married employee with two young daughters, for example, went to work for a nearby chemical plant and wound up working so many hours that he completely missed out on his daughters’ extracurricular events.

Today, that employee is the plant manager at the company’s new dry cast facility. And while the startup phase of this new venture has required a lot of hours and effort, the employee always knows that the company’s flexible work policies will allow him more family time than he was getting at the chemical plant.

“We were so happy when he came back three months ago to run our new plant,” Lee said. “Now, he’s able to balance work responsibilities with being at the field to see his kids’ soccer games in person.”

Precast was the Perfect Solution

Lee’s Precast handles a broad range of projects for customers, with one of its recent undertakings being a giant precast box culvert that was installed on a university campus. The 16-foot-by-6-foot box culvert came out to more than 1,000 feet in length and was used to build out a parking area over a large ditch.

“There was always water running through the ditch, so the culvert couldn’t be cast-in-place,” Lee said. “Precast was the perfect solution for this application.”

The project encompassed a total of 300 pieces, with 30 pieces per day being shipped from Lee’s Precast to the university campus. Once onsite, they were installed to form a new parking surface that extended more than 1,000 feet in length. The contractor had to work around high-traffic hours on campus, where vehicles were flowing in and out of the area during school hours. This created some installation time parameters that would have been difficult to navigate using the cast-in-place process.

“The contractor had to get there when traffic slowed down,” Lee said, “but even with that constraint, the overall project wound up going much quicker than both the university and the contractor expected.”

In another example of one-stop-shop service for customers, Lee’s Precast does its testing in-house, is a certified Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) supplier and is currently in the process of obtaining its Alabama and Tennessee DOT certifications. With those additional certifications that company will be able to work with the transportation departments from both states, thus extending its geographical reach.

Lee’s Precast has already manufactured electrical underground structures for TDOT projects, but they were for cities like Memphis and required individual reviews. Once the new certification is awarded, the company will be free to work on a wider range of projects in the state.

“We work on a lot of storm drain projects in the Tennessee market,” Lee said, “so we have a customer base there that we’ve been serving for about three years now. We’re looking forward to expanding those relationships.”

Getting Involved

At press time, Lee’s Precast’s new dry cast plant had only been open for two weeks, but things were already going well with the new facility. Lee said much prep work went into getting the facility ready to do business and is bullish on its prospects for the future. The company was also planning an official open house for some time in June, at which the new plant would be unveiled for a larger audience.

“We’re already filling orders out of the plant,” Lee said. “For now, however, most of our focus is really on getting this new division up and running for our customers.”

As a former member of NPCA’s Wastewater Products Committee, Lee also sees good things ahead for the precast industry as a whole. His brother David Lee, the company’s safety manager, is a current member of NPCA’s Safety Committee. As the association continues to evolve, Lee says the company will continue to find new ways to get involved with it, leverage its certification programs and take advantage of new educational opportunities.

“The NPCA does a lot to help its members across all levels of the association,” said Lee, who advises other precasters to get involved with the group, attend its national meetings and use its website as a resource. “If you sign up as a member and don’t participate, then you’ll just get out of it what you put into it.”

This advice comes from a place of experience, according to Lee, who said the company spent years only attending the national show and getting its plant certifications.

Then one day a lightbulb went on above the family-run business’ head.

“We started sitting in on a few different committee meetings at The Precast Show and then attended a precast convention,” Lee said. “At that point, we figured out that we really needed to get involved in more committees. Based on our positive experiences with these involvements, I highly encourage all NPCA members to take a similar route and get involved.”