LHV Precast was founded in 1979 by Richard and Clarice Willis, purchasing what originally was a satellite location for Lakelands Concrete Products. The Willis family started LHV with a trailer, a phone, a boom truck, a few forms and each other.
The family learned the precast concrete business by working with Lakelands Concrete, a Lima, N.Y., company owned by Clarice’s cousin, Dick Clark.
“We grew up there as kids, basically,” Bob Willis said. “It is quite a long family tradition. Jim and I spent many long, hard summers working in a precast facility, and we swore once we went to college, we would never work in this business again. Well, guess what happened?”
Jim Willis had big plans when he graduated from college in 1979. Richard had an idea as well.
“I got a call from the old man who told me to come down to Kingston and get started with the new facility,” Jim said. “I told him, “Maybe.’ He told me, ‘Maybe you didn’t hear me. Get down here.’ I get there, and it’s me and three other guys working outdoors behind a drive-in theater.
“I figured six months later, once we get all the people trained, I could go back home to Lima, but then I met a lot of great people, and I never left.”
Bob Willis came on board in 1983 after a short stint working in Dallas. The business was growing quickly, and Richard needed experienced precasters to help. Who better than another son?
“Bob had gone off to start a construction company with his best friend,” Jim Willis said. “Dad talked him into coming back to New York, too, and here we all are.”
Today, the two brothers co-own the company with Bob running sales and engineering, and Jim in charge of production and daily operations.
A commitment to growth
In 2018, LHV Precast began the process of designing a new plant to augment its manufacturing capability. The existing building was constructed in 1989 and offered 14,4000 square feet with a batch plant and aggregate and admixture silos. Attached to the building is a 3,600-square-foot carpenter shop used for custom wood and foam form construction along with hardware storage.
Construction started in June 2021, and the result was a building of 21,600 square feet with 40-foot floor-to-hook clearance for the two 25/10 ton overhead cranes.
The new plant also has a dedicated 3-yard batch plant manufactured by Mixer Systems. A boiler and water pressure system were added to ensure an ample water supply for the Mixer Systems mixer. The building was designed with four overhead rolling doors to allow full access for forklifts and trailers to the shop floor.
The total investment in the new plant, including some simultaneous investment in the existing plant, totaled more than $3.5 million dollars. The company was committed to using American-made products and employed local contractors and professionals to complete the project.
The new plant was commissioned in February 2022 once New York State DOT approval and NPCA certification were completed.
“We knew to compete with everyone else, we needed to have the right space and the right equipment,” Bob Willis said. “And it’s been a godsend. Just amazing. It has the space we need, and we are much more effective in this new building.”
The work did not stop there. With the newfound efficiencies came the need for additional forms and fabrication equipment to keep processes moving. From the end of 2022 to the beginning of 2023, LHV acquired $600,000 in new forms and mesh-bending equipment. The new equipment reduced the demand on labor for operations and allowed LHV to deploy employees elsewhere.
Upcoming plans for 2023 and 2024 include renovation of the older building with a new batch plant and further automation of forms and lifting systems.
On the delivery front, the company is acquiring a new boom truck with a 52,000-pound Palfinger boom. This will compliment other recent material handling purchases, including a 50-ton Mi-Jack travel lift, 36,000-pound Taylor boom lift and 18,000-pound Taylor forklift.
The company has nearly 60 employees, including an administrative staff of nine, an operations and trucking crew of five, a fabrication team of eight and the rest in manufacturing and finishing.
Products and projects
LHV was born of major New York state investments, and the scale of its work has not slowed down much since.
While still an original satellite site for Lakelands, Richard Willis headed up major projects at West Point and in the Bronx. Once independent, Richard and his sons continued to build off of those relationships.
The location in Kingston was perfect for speculating. The state capital of Albany is about 50 miles north, while New York City is just 100 miles to the south.
In fact, Richard Willis got his pilot’s license to be more efficient traveling between the two cities and their engineering offices.
In the modern, digital world, bidding on projects is much easier for Jim and Bob Willis. The company has always hung its hat on electrical vaults and box culverts. And since 2004, LHV has worked alongside Stone Strong to expand its retaining wall business.
“Those are our biggest lines and ones we want to keep coming in on a daily basis,” Bob Willis said. “But we feel there isn’t a project out there we can’t handle. If an engineer can draw it up, we can produce it. We are not sitting back waiting for everyone to come to us. We go out and look for new challenges every day.”
Among LHV’s most notable projects:
- The production of 325 square feet of lagging wall panels, soldier piles and the east and west back wall abutments for the Long Island Railroad Cherry Valley Avenue Bridge in Garden City, N.Y.
- Two precast headwalls 20 feet long, 13 feet high and 2 feet thick with a 9-foot, 8-inch half round opening for the New Jersey Transit Roseville Tunnel rehabilitation project. These are supported by four 25-foot long precast concrete footings. The culvert is a total of 45 feet long and designed to support the trains above it. The culvert’s appearance matches the original in keeping its historical identity.
- A 192-foot retaining wall replacement along the Saw Mill Parkway eastbound ramp to I-287. The project consists of 9,932 square feet of wall extending nine courses above grade. The wall is made up of 188 24-square-foot blocks, 65 6-square-foot blocks, three 9-square-foot corners and a 3-square-foot top block.
- A replacement culvert for Warren County, N.Y., DPW providing a bridge for Stoney Creek Road. The culvert bridge is a three-sided span arch 28 feet span with 10-foot rise over 45 feet in length. The sections were laid in nine 5-foot lengths. Additionally, four wing walls were produced for the ends.
- Removal and replacement of a retaining wall supporting the entry of a shopping plaza with the Pioneer Bank branch in Troy, N.Y. The project consisted of setting 1,941 square feet of Stone Strong Retaining Wall Block (149 blocks) covering the existing wall, which was deteriorating.
- The design, manufacture and delivery of five 20,000-gallon wastewater tanks for a wastewater treatment facility in Millstone, N.J.
Brothers in precast
Many siblings, especially those who work side-by-side for decades, become so familiar with each other that it is hard to tell them apart.
Not so for the Willis brothers.
“We could not be more different as individuals,” Jim Willis said. “Bob is quiet, very involved in his church. I am, to put it simply, not those things.”
But it works.
The two brothers have different approaches to life but one mind when it comes to business. Their goal is to build a culture of quality and customer service that keeps concrete pouring.
“The driving force behind everything we do is two brothers who very much care for each other and for the men and women who work here,” said John Klassen, LHV’s chief financial officer. “Bob handles the estimating, the sales and the engineering. Jim is the whirling dervish with his sleeves rolled up who keeps projects moving and schedules on time.”
Klassen has a commercial bank background and knew little about precast concrete when he joined LHV three years ago. What he does understand is efficiency and finance.
“We’ve made a $4 million investment over the last two years in equipment,” Klassen said. “New forms. New rebar capabilities. New product lines. And the new building, obviously.
“But we also invest in our people every day. We pay a good wage and provide strong benefits. That helps lessen the turnover and allow us to always be moving forward.”
LHV has been run by the Willis family for 40 years, and neither Jim nor Bob see that changing any time soon.
But as both Jim and Bob Willis look to the future, it includes LHV and the business they have grown up in.
“We want to keep growing the business,” Bob Willis said. “We are always looking for another product line, another solution we offer. Because when it comes right down to it, people know the skill that we bring to projects, and we are in a good position to keep doing what we do.”
Joe Frollo is the director of communications and public affairs at NPCA.