Milling Means Business

By Christopher Thiede | September 28, 2010

In an economy which has seen the housing market collapse and many construction contractors pull up stakes, Posen Construction, Inc., has not just survived but thrived.

The company's formula for success is a diverse offering combining in-house capabilities and a strong work ethic. It also includes having the right equipment to allow the company to pursue the opportunities that diversification offers.

Diversification Creates Opportunities

Based in Utica, MI, Posen Construction is primarily a bridge building contractor. But while vacationing in Florida, Norm Zapczynski, who owns the company with his brother Kenneth, observed a need for more construction contractors.

At that time, the housing market was booming, and counties couldn't keep up with the infrastructure demands.

"The counties were rich with money," said Mike Schook, vice president of Posen Construction. "So many roads needed to be built, but they couldn't get bidders to come to some of the jobs."

Zapczynski saw an opportunity and decided to open a southern division in Estero, near Fort Myers. Soon after the division opened in March 2006, the move paid off, and Posen took on $110 million worth of business in the first two months of operation.

But the good times didn't last as Florida's once robust housing market fell to a fraction of its previous level. Suddenly, the need for infrastructure was dramatically reduced, and contractors were slashing their prices or leaving the area altogether. For many contractors, that was a change that meant the end.

Surviving In Tough Times

Although spending by county road agencies is down, the state of Florida is still spending money on interstate highways. And despite the tough times, and despite their newcomer status, Posen's southern division has continued to grow. Schook says that's because of the company's strategy of staying diverse and maintaining a strong work ethic.

"We do everything in-house," said Schook. "There isn't a thing we won't do."

Posen can not only build bridges but can also handle many related types of work. The company's capabilities range, among other things, from recycling secondary roads to setting concrete forms to many other specialty jobs.

By having so many capabilities under one roof, Posen sees itself as having an advantage over other contractors that must subcontract certain jobs. The contractor feels that it can maintain higher profit margins because it doesn't have to add a markup to bids to cover the additional cost of subcontractors.

More importantly, doing so much in-house gives Posen more control over schedules.

"Because we don't have to rely on subcontractors, we can control timing and stay on schedule," Schook said.

Milling Machine Opens Door To Another Market

Being diverse means having the right equipment to handle the opportunities that come along. To that end, Posen recently purchased a new BOMAG BM 2000/60 cold planer milling machine. It offers a 79-inch cutting width and a maximum working speed of 98 fpm. It is capable of milling depths up to 12.6 inches, and its folding conveyor simplifies transport. In addition to removing deteriorated asphalt surfaces to be recycled and re-surfaced, the BM 2000/60 can be used to cut subgrade material. Posen is also considering using the BM 2000/60 to plane high spots on concrete bridge decks.

The machine also utilizes an INTEL-PLANER automatic depth control system. The BM 2000/60 also utilizes quick-change cutting teeth and holders, and an on-board computer system informs the operator of the machine's working condition and allows a check of scheduled maintenance requirements with the push of a button.

Schook saw the BM 2000/60 at the BOMAG factory in Boppard, Germany.

"I saw an opportunity to get into another market," he said. "We had enough work to pay for it. That's one less subcontractor we would have to hire."

Posen purchased the BM 2000/60 from Nortrax Equipment Company-Southeast, a BOMAG distributor that covers south and central Florida. In addition to the BM 2000/60, the Posen fleet also includes a BOMAG MPH122 recycler/stabilizer and several BOMAG single-drum rollers.

Keeping A Strong Work Ethic

In addition to diversification, Schook feels that another key reason for Posen's success is the company's work ethic.

"A lot of jobs pay a bonus for getting done early," said Schook. "So our philosophy is to always get done early." By always earning that incentive, Posen is able to keep its profit margins high.

Schook added that the company culture is accustomed to working fast. In Michigan, where Posen is based, the season is shorter. "We're used to getting things done in nine months," he said.

Posen is able to maintain that strong work ethic by hiring people who are equally dedicated to excellence and quality.

"We have a lot of talented people," said Schook, adding that the company's workforce allows Posen to take on a variety of jobs. "They're not afraid to dive into anything."

Posen's team includes the all-female crew — with a 21-year-old chief operator — that operates the BM 2000/60.

"My philosophy is to pick the best person for the job," he said, adding that women are often chosen to run Posen's most expensive and complex machines. "They pay attention, and they're conscious of what they're doing. They take pride in the machine and keep it spotless."

The Posen philosophy of staying diversified and keeping a strong work ethic — as well as using versatile equipment — has paid off so far, and Schook sees no reason it won't continue. The company has a significant backlog of work, he says, adding, "The future is looking bright."

Author Information
Christopher Thiede is a freelance writer covering the construction industry.