A fork in the road led to a path paved with concrete
What started out as a summer job quickly grew into a small construction business that now includes two companies and employs more than 70 people in the Sioux Falls, SD market.
Cemcast Pipe and Precast and Carl V. Carlson Company were born from an ethic of hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit that began with a modest sidewalk replacement in Carl’s senior year of college.
In 1993, Carl was set to graduate from the University of South Dakota with a double major in history and English and a minor in math. He was thinking about law school. But he was also thinking about how to start a concrete business. His dad, a concrete contractor, gave Carl a job to install a new sidewalk for one of his customers. His dad tore out the old sidewalk and hauled it away. Carl ordered the concrete, poured and finished the new sidewalk and made $120 in two hours.
“Of course, there were no supplies, no employees, no insurance and no real cost, so in my mind I made $60 an hour,” Carl says. That was pretty good money in 1993. Still deciding his future, he looked through the phone book and saw page after page of lawyers. It was a fork in the road. And Carl decided his path would be paved with concrete, rather than law books.
That first sidewalk led to other work, and Carl and a friend were soon busting up old sidewalks with a sledgehammer and replacing them. They purchased a pickup truck for $700 from a family friend, paying it off at $100 per week for seven weeks.
That was the start of an entrepreneurial business career. Within a year, he bid his first city project. The city required a performance bond for any bids over $25,000. Carl didn’t have the bond money, so he put in a bid under $25,000, even though it should have been much higher. The next lowest bid was $33,000.
“I didn’t make any money, but it got me in the door,” Carl says. He purchased a skid loader and a dump truck for $30,000 to do that first city job, then when the SD DOT had a similar curb and gutter repair job about a year later, he had the equipment, had enough money to secure a bond and won the job.
Carl incorporated his new business in 1996, with his brother Matt and brother-in-law Ed Davis each purchasing a 10% stake in the company. They formed Carl V. Carlson Company (CVC), which has grown steadily in the decades since, constructing poured-in-place curb and gutter, and storm sewer structures. Carl serves as president, Matt is vice president in charge of Cemcast Pipe and Precast operations and Ed serves as vice president in charge of CVC operations.
They formed Cemcast Pipe and Precast in May 2015, after seeing an opportunity in the market to supply concrete pipe, manholes and box culvert.
Our focus has always been on quality. It’s all about high quality and great customer service at a fair price.
Carl V. Carlson
“Thankfully, it was a very slow start,” Carl says. “It allowed us to learn how to do everything we needed to do without falling on our faces.” They eventually mastered the intricacies of the pipe and precast business, started their own trucking company in 2016 to haul their products, and built a niche in providing top quality products at a fair price – delivered on time – whenever the contractor needs it.
“In 2019, we added 10,000 square feet and installed a Vibro-Mac dual station twin conveyor pipe machine,” Carl says. “It makes everything from an 18” arch pipe to a 120” round pipe to multiple sizes of box culvert. This investment doubled sales immediately at Cemcast.” The growth continues, with another addition underway for precast concrete production, and additional yard space for products.
[Sunset over Cemcast in Hartford, SD]
“We are growing to meet the growing demand in our region,” Carl says. In addition to more than 35 employees at CVC, the Cemcast side of the venture has added about “35 wonderful people,” Carl says. “Without their efforts, CVC and Cemcast would not be. Our people do a great job. They work hard, and most importantly, they deliver.”
The quality culture remains behind everything they do at CVC and Cemcast, Carl adds. “Our focus has always been on quality. It’s all about high quality and great customer service at a fair price.”