Vast Enterprises’ composite wall brick, made of recycled tires and plastic, will go into exterior walls and other building products constructed by Fabcon of Savage. The Vast product will replace a clay brick product that is mined and requires a lot more energy to make.
Tiny green innovator joins a building giant
- Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY
- Star Tribune
- January 19, 2009 - 10:30 PM
Early last year, Andy Vander Woude, who runs a fledgling building-products concern in northeast Minneapolis named Vast Enterprises, sent a patio paver made of recycled tires and plastic to Mike LeJeune, who runs a huge manufacturer of precast concrete walls for commercial and government clients.
LeJeune, the veteran CEO of Fabcon of Savage, got folks from his research and engineering departments involved. A deal was struck.
"We could tell it was a fit," LeJeune said. "It would not surprise me if this were 5 or 10 percent of our business within a few years."
By spring, Vast will begin shipping its lightweight, thin bricks to Fabcon, which will cast them into concrete panels in place of the thin-clay bricks it commonly uses.
"The Vast product is lighter and greener than the thin-clay bricks we normally use at a time when customers are paying up for green," LeJeune said.
But in this application, there won't be any paying up. The Vast brick costs more, but it's lighter, easier to erect and requires no maintenance. Moreover, Fabcon already makes exterior and interior walls of 60 percent recycled content. The company, with sales of about $250 million, says customers increasingly want the most energy-efficient, greenest material they can afford.
"This is going to be a huge benefit to municipalities and other owners who want a brick look and a sophisticated finish," said Jim Houton, the sales and marketing executive at Fabcon. "These 'bricks' will be cast in concrete and you will never have to tuck-point. This will be significant eventually."
Target, Wal-Mart and other big Fabcon retail customers plan relatively fewer new stores in 2009. But surviving retailers and industrial users are going to take over and refurbish stores of failed competitors. And school districts and municipalities are expecting construction funds out of the pending economic stimulus legislation, all of which represents a Fabcon-Vast growth market.
The Vast composite brick is made of 95 percent recycled tires and plastic and will remove about 7,500 tires and 220,000 plastic containers from landfills for every 50,000-square-foot structure that's built. And that will save enough energy to heat an average home for 20 years.
Meanwhile, Vast, which expects sales of about $2 million this year, is raising up to $7 million in expansion equity in a tough market.
The Fabcon partnership will help, Vander Woude said.
"We've had to modify the product a little bit for walls," he said. "But we still use the common composite. We're in final development and preparing our sales kits and marketing for a launch [with Fabcon] in the spring. This is an exclusive."
In 2007, Fabcon, which has 900 employees and operates several U.S. plants, won the first "green" award of the Minnesota High Tech Association for its latest-generation wall panel that is made of 60 percent recycled concrete and steel reinforcing bars forged from melted-down equipment and "fly ash" from coal-fired power plants that mixes well with energy-intensive cement. Fabcon is owned by the Rauenhorst family, which also owns Opus.
More green business
Greene Holcomb & Fisher, the Minneapolis-based investment bank, represented Fargo-based Wanzek, a wind farm builder that sold itself for $200 million cash to Florida-based MasTec in another green-tinged deal that closed last month.
Wanzek is a fast-growing firm of 1,100 tradesmen and experts in erecting towers and turbine and rotor placement. The company also builds the electrical collection systems, substations and transmission lines necessary to connect energy from wind farms to the energy grid.
Wanzek also builds natural gas processing plants and biofuel plants.
Wanzek went from $192 million in revenue in 2007 to $340 million in 2008 and has a project backlog of about $300 million, about a quarter of which is tied to wind.
Energy and infrastructure jobs, which have increased to about 15 percent of Minnesota employment, should get a boost from the federal stimulus package, according to Jakk Netland, Greene Holcomb's marketing director.
The immediate future lies with companies engaged in repairing America's roads, transit, energy-efficient building overhauls and new sources of domestic energy.
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • firstname.lastname@example.org
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