BURLINGTON — Just a few years ago, J.W. Peters, the sprawling precast-concrete plant on the west edge of this city, employed hundreds of people.
The 90-acre complex supplied concrete structures for professional sports stadiums such as Soldier Field, Comiskey Park and the United Center in Chicago, convention centers including Milwaukee’s Midwest Center and the parking structure at Racine’s Festival Hall.
Then came the recession. The construction industry hit a brick wall and demand for concrete products disappeared.
Massive layoffs started at J.W. Peters, 472 W. Market St. From 240 employees in the summer of 2008, the workforce shrank to about 50 by the following summer.
Before long it was closed.
But these days, there is activity there again at what is now KW Precast. Two businessmen, one a former J.W. Peters engineer, bought the property July 5 and reopened the plant July 23. More than 20 people work there, currently making pieces for a Chicago parking structure.
“If the economy is good, we could go to the same number of people we used to have,” Ming King, one of the two owners, said Friday.
King joined J.W. Peters in 1974 as chief engineer of the local company and later became chief engineer for the entire corporation. He later formed his own engineering consulting firm and worked for J.W. Peters in that role.
King’s partner in buying the property is Craig Wegenbach. The pair own another company together, Illini Precast Co., which is located in the Chicago area.
Wegenbach, the CEO, and King, production manager, also brought back former J.W. Peters President Bob Hassey as general manager.
The precast concrete pieces KW Precast makes on site and delivers to a construction project are enormous. A 12-by-60 foot piece is pretty common, he said. But some pieces can be as long as 120 feet.
They’re used like gigantic Legos, he said. When a customer brings a drawing of something like a parking structure, KW Precast does the engineering work that determines the number and shape of the various pieces. The current parking structure will use about 500 pieces in more than 100 permutations, King said.
The company’s two biggest obstacles, King said, are an extremely competitive field and transportation costs. But he hopes they can continue rebuilding the company that tumbled in the recession.
For more information, call KW Precast at (262) 767-8700.