Category: Construction

Great Lakes Cast Stone

Great Lakes Cast Stone operates on a quiet street in Girard. But once you know what to look for, you can see evidence of the company’s architectural cast stone products all around the region.

For example, you can see the company’s work in the decorative touches on the amphitheater in downtown Erie’s Perry Square; on the new parking garage on Erie’s bayfront; and on the new Crawford County Judicial Center in Meadville.

Steven Henderson, company president, hopes to see more work as other construction projects get underway in the region.

The current level of commercial construction is in many ways unprecedented, offering opportunities for local suppliers but also for owners to patronize local suppliers and contractors – which can maximize the economic impact of a project.

Most of Great Lakes Cast Stone’s work, however, heads to projects out of town, as was evidenced by the rows and rows of decorative pieces – in all stages of completion – that were destined for upstate New York.

As we toured the plant, Henderson walked us through Great Lakes Cast Stone’s wet-pour and dry-tamp processes.

With the wet-pour process, workers pour concrete into molds, where it hardens overnight. The frames are then removed, and the finished pieces are left to cure for 28 days.

With the dry-tamp process – which Henderson compares to building a sand castle – a worker scoops powdery mix into molds, packing it down with high pressure. The mold is flipped over, and the molded piece is revealed – though, like a sand castle, it is fragile and can easily crumble. After being treated overnight with high heat and humidity, however, it hardens to look like limestone.

“Our business is very visual,” Henderson says. “The look of architectural precast or cast stone is a cost effective way to enhance the design of any project.”

Henderson is relatively new to the cast-stone industry – he has business interests in the city of Erie, and about four years ago was looking to branch out into something new. He found what he was looking for in Girard. The company’s previous owner was seeking a buyer that could provide needed local management while maintaining a working affiliation.

For Henderson, that worked out well – he was able to purchase the business, and in the process save 18 jobs that would have been lost if the facility had closed. Plus, it’s a good fit for him personally.

“Each project is completely different,” he says. “I like the work.”

About Great Lakes Cast Stone: The company covers 18 states, roughly ranging from New England down to Virginia in the east, and western Ohio down to Mississippi in the west. Their work is predominantly commercial, with about 70 percent wet-pour and the remainder dry-tamp. The company is certified, and Henderson details with pride the procedures – including frequent testing – that the staff goes through to ensure that they only offer quality products. “This stuff doesn’t look that precise, but a little change in sand or color throws everything off,” he says. The quality of the finished product is the most important consideration.

Why Erie County: To Henderson, Erie County has the benefits of being a pleasant place to live, with a low cost of living and without urban stress. In addition, he has seen first-hand the benefits of working with agencies in the county, namely the Erie County Redevelopment Authority. He was able to purchase Great Lakes Cast Stone with the help of the authority, which he praised for making the process easy and seamless.

Challenges of Erie County: Some of Henderson’s challenges are common to small businesses, and to businesses in his line of work. For example, he finds it challenging to find extra money in the budget for technical improvements he would like to make. The long-term nature of construction projects also means that he must play a long game to make sure there is the right amount of future work for the company. “In this business, it’s feast or famine,” he says. In addition, however, Henderson is frustrated when he sees out-of-town businesses doing architectural precast work on local projects. He actively supports local businesses when possible – including Team Hardinger, for transportation – and wishes that Erie County projects would be more active in supporting Erie County businesses.

Fun fact: Transportation can be expensive for Great Lakes Cast Stone – their cement weighs 150 pounds per cubic foot.

Address: 711 Beaver Road, Girard, PA 16417 or www.greatlakescaststone.com.

A. Anthony & Sons

During my visit to A. Anthony & Sons Inc., one thing that stood out to me is the company’s dedication to tradition.

That tradition is evident in the framed photos of earlier generations hanging on the wall of an office.

But there’s also a much, much older tradition to consider – one that dates back centuries.

After all, as company Vice President John Rahner describes, A. Anthony’s concrete mixing follows some of the same essential principles that were established in Roman times.

That includes using Lake Erie sand and crushed limestone from quarries in Michigan and Canada in the concrete mix, in order to guarantee a better product. River/field stone is cheaper, Rahner says, but it’s not as good in our climate for longevity.

The focus on quality is something that the current owners – the fourth generation of the Anthony family – learned from the earlier generations. Rahner’s wife, Peggy Anthony Rahner, is the company president, and other branches of the family are represented as well.

Their Anthony ancestors started the business as a small operation in 1939, and grew the business by adding the batch plant in 1972. That purchase, though originally done out of necessity to get the concrete transported to sites in Erie, proved to be a successful enterprise that continues to boost the company.

Today’s owners still face challenges, including the unpredictable weather that all-too-often dictates the concrete placement schedule. But overall, the Rahners say they are content with their company, and with a business that allows them to create a tangible product for their customers.

“You want a business where at the end of the day, you can say, ‘That was a good day,’” John Rahner says. “And there’s a lot of good days.”

About A. Anthony & Sons: The company, which employs 37 in a full season, operates a ready-mix division, which brings in roughly the same amount of business as concrete placement. The company consumes most of the mix it produces. The majority of the company’s business is in commercial and construction work, though they also do residential work and new building. Some of their work can be seen around the community, including at the Prep and Villa Events Center, the Hagen History Center, and the fountain in Perry Square.

Why Erie County: The business has found a secure footing in the Erie economy. Residents are still investing money in their properties, the Rahners said, In addition, they anticipate an uptick in business as a result of some of the large-scale construction projects cropping up in the county. While the larger concrete firms will likely bid on those big projects, some of the residual work will trickle down to A. Anthony & Sons. Beyond that, the Rahners say, are the characteristics that are unique to Erie. “I’ve lived other places, and you just can’t duplicate the quality of life here anywhere else,” John Rahner says. “And everyone knows your name,” Peggy Rahner adds.

Challenges of Erie County: Some of the challenges that A. Anthony faces have more to do with the nature of the work than anything else. The work requires physical labor, and that can wear on employees – some of whom have been doing that hard work with the company for decades. Efforts to find young, willing workers have been mixed. In addition, the company has found it challenging to work with a bevy of regulations – some on the municipal level, dealing with issues like permits and storm water management, all the way up to agency regulations on the state andfederal levels.

Address: 1450 W. 21st St., Erie PA 16502 or www.anthonyconcrete.com

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