Forms for concrete

Metal Forms Corp. has built products that have been critical components in the construction of some of the most prominent road projects in metropolitan Milwaukee.

The business, based in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood, makes steel and plastic forms that are used in the concrete forming process. Without the forms, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to create concrete curbs and gutter, road surfaces for streets, highways and airport runways and median barriers.

“We make sidewalk, curb and gutter, paving and barrier forms,” said Tom Miller, president of the company. “They’re used in road work and airport work, and each needs different types of forms.”

When road crews assemble the forms, they create a mold that concrete is poured into. Special curb and gutter forms can be attached for residential streets, while freeway projects often include barrier forms to separate lanes or directions of traffic.

In recent years, Metal Forms has built many of the forms that were used to construct the concrete median barriers used in the Marquette Interchange project. Similar barrier forms were built for numerous airport expansion projects, including a project at the Las Vegas McCarran International Airport.

Historically, Metal Forms has sold a relatively even split of its forms between the residential and commercial and municipal markets. However, with the nationwide slowdown in residential construction, commercial projects are making up a much larger share of the company’s work now, said Miller.

“When residential work is down, we’re not necessarily hurt,” he said. “There is a lot of infrastructure work. Airport work has been a big driver. We’re fortunate in that we cover a wide variety of construction.”

Metal Forms also makes plastic forms, which appeal to contractors who have historically used wood to build their own forms, Miller said.

“The big selling point is that it’s lightweight and they can re-use it,” he said. “It’s helped separate us from other manufacturers – it makes us look like innovators who have new and exciting products to fill niches.”

The company also builds screeds – large trowel-like devices attached to a vibrating motor – which smooth freshly poured concrete. Some of Metal Forms’ screeds are designed to be used by one person, while others mount to the company’s forms and drive themselves along the forms.

In late 2008, Metal Forms acquired Sterling Handling Equipment, which was also based in Milwaukee. Metal Forms is in the process if shuttering Sterling’s facility at 2300 W. Florist Ave., and moving all of its production into its facility in Riverwest.

Sterling is a manufacturer of contractor-grade wheelbarrows and mortar tubs – and both companies have similar customer bases, creating opportunities to cross-sell both products, Miller said.

“The real beauty is not only can we put them under one roof, but that these types of products are sold through the same distribution network,” he said. “Dealers that handle masonry products also do concrete work. Sterling is a really high-end wheelbarrow and that measures up well with Metal Forms. We aren’t the cheapest forms and screeds on the market.”

Metal Forms has 25 employees at its 35,000-square-foot facility in Milwaukee. Three of Sterling’s former workers have been hired at Metal Forms.

Metal Forms company posted relatively flat earnings in 2008, which Miller said were “delightful,” given the economic climate. The firm is now bidding on several large airport projects, which would maintain that level of sales for 2009, he said.

“And with the added interest with Sterling, it gives us a little something else to offer, particularly to dealers,” Miller said.

In mid-2008, Metal Forms created a new division named Meta Art Sculptures, which designs and creates large metal sculptures. The division now has one full-time employee, Larry Oleson, who formerly was the shop manager at Metal Forms.

“It’s evolved to the point where we’re in or out,” Miller said. “We decided last year when we did some reorganizing in anticipation of Sterling that this was the time to do it.”

Meta Art now has several pieces on display in Minocqua, and Miller will begin aggressively marketing the company later this year.

“For now our main market is landscape architects – this is high-end stuff,” he said. “But the options are almost endless.”

Metal Forms Corp.

3334 N. Booth St., Milwaukee

Industry: Metal forms for concrete pouring, screeds, wheelbarrows and related products

Employees: 25

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display