Dust settling: New concrete co. hardens competition

A new, state-of-the-art concrete plant has local suppliers ready to mix it up in the face of a 21st-century British invasion.

"Some contractors contacted us to come to the area," says Mark Elliott, president of the Fredericksburg-based Colonial Concrete.

"Little competition and a lucrative market," continues Elliott, drew the subsidiary of the British-owned Ennstone to Charlottesville, where it plans to open a plant on U.S. 29 north of Airport Road in August.

Meanwhile local concrete suppliers maintain there's already plenty of capacity here, even with a new UVA arena and arts center in the works.

"It's a mystery to me why a business would make the substantial investment to put up a plant," says Mark Wilson, owner of Cavalier Concrete. "I don't believe the yardage is there when I do the math."

Ready mix concrete is made of cement, sand, stone, and water. Colonial owns its own sand, and Charlottesville was about as far away from the quarry as the company could go, says Elliott.

Colonial has not yet determined what it will charge for concrete in a market that some contractors say is significantly higher than in surrounding cities.

"What isn't higher here than other places?" asks Duncan McFarland, president of the Blue Ridge Homebuilders Association, which sponsored Colonial's membership in the trade organization.

Ted Stuart, an owner of A & B Contracting (and husband of Hook senior editor Courteney Stuart), says the average price here is about $80 a yard, which he estimates is about 15 percent higher than contractors pay in other Virginia cities.

Neither McFarland nor Stuart sees a new concrete company resulting in significantly reduced new housing costs. "If there's a $10 a yard difference," says McFarland, "you're still talking only $200 over all."

"I believe they'll come in cheaper," says Stuart, "but any advantage will be temporary."

Over at Allied Concrete, the biggest local supplier, president Gus Lorber is tight-lipped about any threat of new competition. "I really don't have anything to say about it," he says, before hanging up.

Tommy Adkins, president of H.T. Ferron, points out that his company is 70 years old and has built its reputation on service. "We don't feel a company coming from England is going to out-service us for business."

Wilson at Cavalier also questions whether a company that's got to satisfy stockholders in England is going to be able to support local contractors.

"Are you on Allied's payroll?" asks Colonial's Elliott when a reporter requests comment on his company's service. "We're a multi-million dollar company... I don't think service in a little place like Charlottesville is going to cause me any problem."

Curiously, reporting on the ostensibly staid topic of a new concrete kid on the block drew other testy responses. One local publicist called The Hook to sniff that by doing a story about Colonial's arrival, the newsroom was somehow brown-nosing a potential advertiser.

And the president of one local concrete company– H.T. Ferron– declined to say who the company owner is.

Elliott was more enthusiastic in his description of working with Albemarle County planning and Architectural Review Board to get plans approved for the by-right industrial use for its new plant. (He calls the process "refreshing," a view that possibly may not be shared by all local developers.)

He says that the site captures all rainwater and the state-of-the-art plant will recycle excess concrete, as well as wash water used in the process. Equipment is enclosed to reduce noise levels and prevent unnecessary dust.

Environmental problems certainly have plagued Allied, which has been criticized by the state for allegedly allowing sediment runoff into Schenks Branch Creek, according to a May 26 Daily Progress article.

Colonial plans to hire approximately 12 people. And just as other contractors have been delayed by rain, so, too, has construction on the new concrete plant. "The weather," says Elliott, "is not cooperating."