Father and Son Building Strong Foundations

CSI Concrete Systems, Inc

CSI Concrete Systems is keeping things running in the Northeast from the ground up, producing the precast concrete products that go into the roads, bridges and towns of the New England states.

In 2005, a devastating flood hit Alstead, a small town of 2,000 people in New Hampshire. The rush of water wreaked havoc – 70 homes were damaged, miles of roads were washed out and bridges collapsed. In the aftermath of this destruction, CSI Concrete Systems, one of the largest precast manufacturing companies in the Northeast, was called in to help rebuild the bridges.

“Our ability to provide design and engineering services gives us the capability to fast-track products,” says Mike Worden, President of CSI. “If there is a bridge failure and a town needs something quickly, we have the ability to jump in quickly. We have done some unique projects that way, when there is flooding or hurricanes. Those are things we pride ourselves on.”

While we can take it for granted sometimes, it is the stability and security of having quality infrastructure in place that keeps our lives humming along. CSI has that all-important combination of being able to produce a lot of concrete products used in public infrastructure in short order, combined with the experience of onsite work that puts the company on the top of the list when it comes to building and repairing roads and other structures in New England. Many of the state transportation departments will come calling when a project is being planned, or, as was the case in Alstead, help is needed to get infrastructure back in place for towns recovering from a natural disaster.

Mike works with his father, Leonard Worden, who is CEO of the Hudson, New Hampshire-based company that he started in 1972. In the early ’70s, America was experiencing an expansion as city populations grew, and where there are cities and towns, there is infrastructure. Leonard saw a need for precast concrete products, like manholes and catch basins used for water drainage on side of the streets and sidewalks. It was also in the ’70s that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements were being applied to water systems, which included collecting sewage to prevent it from entering river streams and lakes.

“In the ’70s, the EPA program was probably the biggest infrastructure program since the highway system in the 1950s,” Leonard says. His background is a machinery builder, and he was actually self-taught in the design process and business operations.

CSI is the story of a hard-working, self-made man and the son who joined him to take it forward.

“We engineered, designed and built our own facility and equipped it with machinery to make precast concrete and manhole products,” Leonard says. From these early days, CSI also built its own equipment, which positioned the company to produce a wide range of precast products in large qualities – something that made it stand out among its competitors early on.

As the company grew, Mike came into the picture and had the opportunity to really learn about the business from the ground up. “I got involved in manufacturing at the plant and in the operation at our two facilities here in Hudson at a young age,” he says. “I started working in the plants with my buddy in the summer. We manufactured manholes, retaining walls and small buildings.”

Mike’s involvement, according to his dad, wasn’t in the plan but certainly worked out well. “I didn’t build a family business and I didn’t look at succession planning,” he says. “I just got lucky that Michael had what it takes and he has the fire in his belly to become extremely interested in what we did as a company and wanted to be part of it. He does have a tremendous understanding of the process – probably more than I do.”

Now CSI is one of the largest precast concrete manufacturers in the Northeast and its main facility is a 25-acre site that includes an impressive 104,000-square-foot space for production. Part of the expansion comes from acquisitions including Cleco Manufacturing, a producer of formwork systems and production machinery. This really helped CSI expand what it can offer customers as well as bring more of its productions inhouse so that it can provide turnkey solutions – products that are completely produced inhouse by CSI that a client can immediately put to use.

“We diversified into many different infrastructure precast concrete projects. And we integrated all that into our plant systems to do the work,” Leonard explains.

The company is also incorporating new technology into its manufacturing systems and mechanization. Part of this includes looking at specific areas where robotics boost efficiencies in the manufacturing process.

The recent Route 6 interchange construction project in Rhode Island is a great example of what CSI brings to the infrastructure table. Route 6 is the major east-west highway in the state and carries a large share of the local traffic flow.

“If you drive through the lovely little state of Rhode Island you will find that it’s pretty congested,” Mike says. “So this project will ease congestion and just make it much more safe for traffic getting onto I-95 and other routes.”

The project includes one of the largest retaining walls that CSI has built to date. This will amount to 100,000 square-feet of wall running along the construction. The company is uniquely equipped to handle this work and even has its own patent retaining wall called UWall.

“It can save a lot of time for the contractors in the field and, as we know, time is money. We can offer sections up to eight-feet-long by seven-feet-high. And because you have substantially less sections to install, it installs much faster than what else is out there,” Mike says.

On top of the retaining wall work for the project, CSI is also providing manholes, catch basins and precast bridge parapet, which is a lower wall at the edge of a bridge that is designed to keep people from falling and debris from flying off of the bridge. “All of these products are designed to meet the highway standards and because we are multifaceted we can build new forms of equipment as needed,” Mike says.

While road and bridge work are an important part of CSI’s business, the company has diversified into other areas of infrastructure that involve precast concrete products. One of those is tunnel lining, the concrete segments used to support large scale tunnels for subways, sewer and water-related projects.

“We are required to meet high standards for safety on our projects. And some of the requirements are custom,” Leonard says. “What sets us apart is our quality and our and expertise to do the engineering and get the materials to the site on time.”

That expertise comes from the 125 employees of CSI, many of whom have worked there for their entire career. The challenge for the company is to keep finding the talent as the more experienced workers begin to retire. It is this core group of manufacturing employees who are harder to replace. “My job is to provide opportunity for employees and be a talent scout. We provide good jobs here and help give people direction and the challenges that make them feel good about themselves,” Leonard says.

As the company approaches 50 years, many things have changed in CSI’s industry, but to Leonard, the important thread that continues is the relationships with customers. “I’m proud that we don’t chase jobs. We build our customer base. Repeat customers really are our lifeblood. What stands out to me is that we are now working with the second and the third generation of our clients.”

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 18, 2019, 9:09 PM EST

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