Historic quarry thrives at in-town location

By |  March 13, 2016

The pink hue pops even in the blackest asphalt around Sioux Falls, S.D., deriving from the region’s rich quartzite deposits. The vibrant color traces back to several area quarries, including Concrete Materials’ Sioux Falls Quarry, which has provided construction materials to the surrounding area since the early 20th century.

The quarry is uniquely located beside Interstate 29 – just a few miles southwest of the Sioux Falls Regional Airport – and its presence among developed commercial and residential areas is a sight to see.

“We’re essentially an in-town quarry,” says Patrick Sweetman, Concrete Materials CEO. “You rarely find that today. A number of locations have developed on top of their potential reserves, so you’re having to truck [many] miles just to get rock to service the community. Having an in-town quarry that can keep transportation costs low is a real benefit to the community.”

The quarry’s proximity to the community is also an opportunity to locally promote the value Concrete Materials provides, Sweetman says. Concrete Materials once kept a low profile like a number of aggregate producers, but it reversed course about 10 years ago upon completing a new strategic plan.

“We did a 180 and said the quarry is something the community would love to see,” Sweetman says.

Now, Concrete Materials offers a series of annual quarry tours for the community. The company partnered with Sioux Falls’ Siouxland Heritage Museums, which promotes the April tours as part of its available programs and events. The museum handles reservations while Concrete Materials provides busing and tour guides.

In recent years, Concrete Materials has also hosted local news reporters who’ve shared the quarry’s story. Concrete Materials representatives have visited schools to educate kids about their aggregates, ready-mix and asphalt businesses, as well.

“One of our visions with the strategic plan was a strong focus on marketing,” Sweetman says. “With that came the mindset of broadcasting what we have.”

Concrete Materials didn’t always market itself at the rate it currently does. Of course, competitors didn’t surround the company in its earliest years like they do today. As the city of Sioux Falls grew, a need for additional aggregate, ready-mix and asphalt producers arose.

“It’s one thing if you’re a mom-and-pop producer and you’re out in the middle of nowhere by yourself,” Sweetman says. “There’s no reason to spend money on marketing, because you’re the only game in town.”

Marketing is now a must, and Concrete Materials has a unique story to tell. The modern company was founded in 1930, although the Sioux Falls Quarry was active in the early 1900s. The company transitioned to the Sweetman family in 1952, when Pat’s grandfather, R.S. Sweetman, purchased Concrete Materials to support his existing road building and heavy construction company.

Concrete Materials operates under the Sweetman Construction Co. umbrella today, and the Sioux Falls Quarry is one of 15 Concrete Materials operations. The company operates other aggregate, concrete and asphalt plants throughout southeast South Dakota, and it has businesses that produce landscape and masonry blocks.

Transloading is also a component of Concrete Materials’ parent company. Rail to Road, a transloading company, was established in 2012.

“We’ve expanded that down into Iowa with another facility,” Sweetman says. “We’re constantly looking at different ways to do things and enhance our existing businesses.”

According to Jon Mulloy, aggregate division manager, the Chicago and North Western Transportation Co. originally served the Sioux Falls Quarry with rail service. The railroad company abandoned service to Sioux Falls in 1988, but Concrete Materials purchased the westernmost 20 miles of track from the railroad so service to and from the quarry could continue.

“Now, we can rail aggregate from our production sites to other sites,” says Mulloy, who adds that the company’s main facilities are connected via the rail system. “We rail aggregate over to the east side of town to our asphalt and ready-mix plants. We rail sand from Corson, [S.D.], to Sioux Falls.”

According to Mulloy, two hours are required to fully load trains. Trains typically consist of 22 railcars, and each car can handle up to 100 tons of material.

Rail service should continue to and from the Sioux Falls Quarry for the next 11 years, and Concrete Materials has about 11 years worth of reserves remaining. Billy Pollema, the company’s aggregate division engineer, is leading the transition plan to a new quarry. No new site has been selected to date, and a reclamation plan will be developed in the coming years for the existing quarry.

“The reclamation part is still a little far out, but more than likely the quarry will be a reservoir,” Mulloy says.

Equipment makeup

In the meantime, the Sioux Falls Quarry lives on as an active site. Concrete Materials currently mines between 1 and 1.3 million tons each year. The remaining reserves are positioned in the “South Hole,” which spans about 70 acres.

Work in this hole began in 1980. Previously, the company operated in the “North Hole,” which spans about 35 acres. About 1 million tons remain in the “North Hole,” but the available deposit dives underneath an aquifer.

The two holes are, however, linked. A tunnel connecting the two was created in 1990, eliminating haul truck traffic across a local road and keeping them within the confines of the quarry.

Quarry blasts are typically done once or twice each week, and select equipment handles and processes the quartzite. Concrete Materials uses a Cat 990H wheel loader that features a 13-cu.-yd. bucket largely because it can load the company’s 773F and 773G haul trucks in three or four passes. The haul trucks can handle 60 tons per load, according to the company.

A 45-in. Nordberg C140 jaw crusher serves as the primary crusher and is essential to material processing. Quartzite really beats up the crusher’s manganese steel liners, Mulloy says. Concrete Materials changes out liners every week.

“Limestone quarries change out a set of liners on a crusher every three months,” he says.

A Symons 5.5-ft. standard cone crusher awaits material beyond the C140. Then, material is moved to one of three towers that feature a variety of crushing and screening equipment. One tower features a Metso 8-ft. x 24-ft. three-deck screen and two Nordberg HP400 cone crushers. Another features the same three-deck screen as the first but no additional crushers, producing material used to make hot-mix asphalt. A third features two Metso 8-ft. x 20-ft. three-deck screens that are equipped with water spray bars.

“We also have a scalping screen that’s left from the original quarry,” Mulloy says.

Safety approach

Concrete Materials prepares its employees to operate and work around all of its equipment with its behavior-based safety program. The program is for all employees – not just those who work in the quarry.

According to Mulloy, all employees complete eight hours of safety training. Miners complete an additional 24 hours of safety training before setting foot on the mine site. Once on the mine site, each miner is given a site tour, trained on lockout/tagout procedures and given any other task training that is needed.

So, what exactly is behavioral-based safety? Mulloy explains.

“It’s not so much focused on unsafe conditions, which is what MSHA (Mine Safety & Health Administration) regulation is,” he says. “We think the real focus of safety should be on how people do their jobs and doing them in the safest manner possible.”

Supervisors at Concrete Materials regularly monitor miners as they perform tasks. If they see any activity that looks unsafe, they’ll step in.
“We try to make it a learning tool,” Mulloy says.

Labor management

Concrete Materials must first recruit locals to work before they can teach best practices in the quarry, though. Recruiting locals to the Sioux Falls Quarry – or any quarry in the region, for that matter – is a serious challenge.

“It’s a challenge in the industry overall, and it’s an extreme challenge here in our particular marketplace,” Sweetman says. “We are at about a 2.3 percent unemployment rate [in Sioux Falls]. That’s extremely low.”

A good base for employment was pulled away in recent years because of job opportunities in the nearby oil and gas industry.

“We lost a lot of people in our industry,” Sweetman says. “With the [more recent] drop in oil prices and, thus, the subsequent layoffs up there, we have not seen the influx of people back. It’s really interesting. I can’t tell you where they are now.”

Concrete Materials and aggregate producers in the region could use that labor back, he adds.

“We are short on people in general here,” Sweetman says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a job that requires using a shovel all the way up to accounting jobs.”

Concrete Materials has taken a few unique routes to recruit employees. In 2015, for example, the company offered scholarships to students at local technical schools, requiring two years of service to the company upon graduation as a condition.

Concrete Materials has also tried career fairs, and Sweetman is hopeful that Build Dakota, a scholarship program created through a $50 million investment, will fill employment gaps.

“At this point it’s more about getting people to the industry,” Sweetman says. “Whether you come to Concrete Materials or one of our competitors, just come to the industry.”

Molding the next managers is a related labor challenge. Concrete Materials has made a recent effort in this area to prepare for the future.

“We started a program a couple years ago called the Development Academy,” Sweetman says. “It’s an application process for people who are not currently in supervisory roles.”

As part of the process, current managers interview candidates to narrow the field down from five to 10. Candidates later go through a 10-month program that involves one or two monthly meetings. These meetings prepare them for supervisory roles in the event of a management position opening.
“We’ve had Development Academy graduates apply for and get some of these supervisory roles,” Sweetman says.

Retaining employees as an aggregate producer is another matter Concrete Materials considers as it positions itself as a desired place to work.

“We’re constantly doing different things, whether it’s wage analysis, benefit analysis, company outings or fun stuff,” Sweetman says. “A lot of the stuff you read is that pay is third or fourth on the list of why people like their place of work. So we try everything.”

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About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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