P&Q Profile: Conco Quarries’ Chris Upp

By |  October 23, 2017


Chris Upp, the vice president and general manager at Conco Quarries, has dedicated 20-plus years to the company, located in the Springfield, Missouri, area, where he’s gained experience in operational management for two aggregate sites that produce a combined 2 million tpy of crushed limestone.

P&Q: How did you make your way into the aggregate industry?

Upp: My dad worked for a utility company, which owned a large open pit coal mine in north central Missouri. I spent time with him at the mine growing up and hunting on the grounds and always had an interest in the large equipment and the process they were using.

With an interest in math and science in high school, my dad pointed me toward the mining engineering program at Missouri Science & Technology. He also gave me some of the best advice about our industry when he said “our country will always have to have mining” and that “it was an industry that provided great opportunities.”

I gravitated toward aggregates due to the large number of locations of mines around the country, so I figured I could work about anywhere I wanted to. I was able to intern while in college with a local company, Conco Quarries. That allowed me to live at home and learn the industry inside and out.

After graduating from Rolla, [Missouri], I had several opportunities in mining and explosives but I decided the offer from Conco gave me the best opportunity for advancement in management.

Conco Quarries purchased Terex Trucks’ 72-ton capacity rigid hauler, the TR70, for use at its Willard facility in Missouri. Photo courtesy of Terex Trucks

P&Q: Conco recently invested in a 72-ton capacity rigid hauler. What can you tell us about this purchase?

Upp: Our company has had the same experience as many others when it comes to capital purchases. We all did what we needed to do to keep our equipment operational during the recession. This meant limited capital budgets and maintaining older equipment.

Now that there is some growth out of the recession, we are faced with replacing that aged equipment in a reasonable manner. The 72-ton haul truck we purchased earlier this year is the first step for us to replace our fleet of five 40-ton haul trucks that are close to 20 years old with three of these larger trucks.

We conducted a pit study of our loading and hauling operations and determined the best match of equipment with our production needs for the future. This gave us our plan for capital improvements, which we are now implementing.

P&Q: What other equipment and technology are you looking at these days for Conco operations?

Upp: I’m always interested in seeing what the latest and greatest things are related to technology. We’ve been on the forefront for many of the technological advances our industry has seen over the last 40 years.

Our large plant in Willard was designed just after the release of the Mine Act and the Clean Air Act, so many of the newest requirements of those standards were incorporated into the design. While there’s not one particular area we’re focusing on, we do use the annual trade shows and publications to see what others are having positive experiences with.

Much of what we focus on is how does a purchase increase our efficiencies, provide a higher quality product and create a better experience for our customers.

P&Q: How have sales and demand for construction materials been this year? Any expectations for 2018?

Upp: We have seen a steady increase in demand for our products since we hit the bottom of the recession, which for us was 2013. Most of the growth has been in residential and commercial sectors, with little growth seen in the infrastructure sector.

In Missouri, we still lack a strong highway funding mechanism, which means limited work around the state for the expansion and repair of the system. The state legislature is exploring the many options available to fix this issue, but it won’t happen overnight.

We see 2018 as another step in the right direction with moderate growth over 2017. We, like most other producers, are looking forward to seeing the infrastructure program the president has talked about for many months being announced and implemented.

P&Q: On a personal level, Chris, you’ve had a bout these last couple of years with kidney cancer. Are you willing to share some of that experience with us?

Upp: In August 2014, I went in with what I thought was appendicitis. I did have it, and through the course of a CT scan they found a golf ball-sized tumor on my left kidney. They said there’s a pretty good chance it’s cancerous.

Ultimately, I had my kidney taken out and the tumor was found to be cancerous. I followed up with an oncologist, who found some very small nodules in my lungs that they wanted to keep an eye on. Over the course of a year and a half, they grew at a slow rate but enough that the largest one got big enough to biopsy. They determined it was the same: kidney cancer. In July 2016, I became a stage 4 kidney cancer patient and started treatment.

They found it early, though. Early detection is really important with any type of cancer. Now, we’re basically treating it as a chronic disease as opposed to a terminal disease. We’re really trying to control it and keep it from spreading.

P&Q: How has your battle affected your ability to work, and what can you tell us about the support you’ve gotten from those in the aggregate industry?

Upp: Really, with the exception of maybe three or four days with really bad side effects, I’ve tried to maintain my normal work schedule. Early on in the treatment last year I had a lot of fatigue. By the middle of the afternoons, I was done.

I like my job. It’s nice to keep doing the things I’ve always done. I enjoy going to NSSGA (National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association) events and ConExpo-Con/Agg. I have a lot of friends through NSSGA’s Young Leaders who have been really supportive. It’s been good to have that support from Young Leaders and other industry contacts.

P&Q: You’ve learned quite a bit over the last couple of years about kidney cancer and related research. What can you share with our readers that would serve to benefit them?

Upp: How I found about my cancer is how it happens about 80 percent of the time – through unplanned discovery. It’s because you have a test for something else, and the cancer gets found. Or, the other 20 percent of the time you find it because it’s progressed aggressively. There really are no genetic causes or environmental factors. It’s not what you eat, drink or smoke.

My experience educated me about the Kidney Cancer Association, a U.S.-based organization that deals strictly with kidney cancer support for patients, caregivers and research. Their goal is to find a cure. The donations received are used to support the development of drugs, and the research has been phenomenal – especially when you look at just five years ago.

There are a lot of people living today with kidney cancer who five years ago may not have been able to get through it. It’s a good organization to push money through specific to kidney cancer research. People can learn more about it at www.kidneycancer.org. I’ll be doing a No-Shave November benefit for the association, too.

P&Q: We last saw you in September at the NSSGA Legislative & Policy Forum in Washington, D.C. What did you take away from the event?

Upp: For a first-time event, I felt like the association did an excellent job in providing good content and opportunities to interact with members of Congress. It’s very easy to be apathetic about what happens in Washington, but attending this event changed that feeling.

You come to realize that if you don’t advocate for your industry’s issues, then no one will. This event really is what NSSGA is all about, but it takes the work of the membership to make it successful.

Five things

First job – Worked in the fish department of a pet store
Hobbies – Golf, my ’65 Mustang
Golf course – Pebble Beach. There’s nothing like it.
Sports teams – 11-time World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals

From Pit & Quarry

One takeaway for readers Pit & Quarry is that the publication’s parent company, North Coast Media (NCM), is donating a portion of its October revenues to cancer research. NCM launched the cancer research initiative in 2014 as a means to help researchers pursue cancer causes and cures. Although October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, NCM’s donation will help researchers find causes and cures for all types of cancer.

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