But Sparks remained inspired and decided to use the change as an opportunity to start a local precast company in Clark County.
“We’ve been on an incredibly steep growth curve,” Sparks explained. “The market has responded well, customers have responded well.”
Sparks said that trying to meet customers’ needs has pushed Columbia Precast ahead. He sees the precast business as primarily a relationship business. If the service provided is of the highest quality possible, the customers will undoubtedly return.
And more customers means more employees. Ron started the business with just three key employees: himself, Lon Tweed and Dion Hayes. For the majority of 2013, the company ran with six employees, all with industry experience. But in just over a year, the company now clocks in with 18 employees and additional new hires are on the horizon.
With a proposal into the city of Washougal to install concrete batch plant equipment into its plant, Columbia Precast is poised to continue its dramatic growth. The new machinery would allow the company to mix concrete on-site instead of its former business model of purchasing ready-mix concrete to use in its manufacturing process.
“Most precast plants produce their own concrete so that’s the road we’re going down,” said Sparks.
A hundred years ago, concrete was poured in the field in place; the precast revolution has allowed concrete to be cast prior to getting put into the ground. This has speeded construction and allowed companies like Columbia Precast to thrive.
“We primarily precast concrete products used in underground construction,” Sparks explained. “We sell to earth excavation companies – bigger outfits at that level all the way down to owner-operator small companies.”
From Columbia Precast’s first job – the Walmart in Battle Ground – the company has moved on to service public works projects, road construction, commercial buildings and private developments, including housing developments.
With the boom in construction, Sparks doesn’t see a slow-down anytime soon.
“Without giving you our master plans, we want to continue to grow,” he said. “We have a growth target over the next two to four years of trying to be a good-sized company relative to our industry.”
Sparks hopes to grab the Clark County and North Portland niche and grow from there.
Some wonder if the concrete company will have legs as environmental consciousness begins to alter the future of many businesses, but Columbia Precast Products is one step ahead.
“Everything we manufacture consists of raw materials and any form release agents are biodegradable,” Sparks explained. “When you install a batch plant, you have to adhere to all of the requirements.”
The company prides itself in always returning to the same three tenants: quality, safety and service.
“We really try to keep it that simple,” Sparks said. “Produce a quality product, safely so our employees are safe, and provide good service for our customers. That’s it.”