612 N. Sawyer Road, Oconomowoc
Industry: Asphalt manufacturing and paving
The basic science behind making asphalt hasn’t changed all that much over the years, but that hasn’t stopped Oconomowoc-based Wolf Paving from pushing forward with new technologies, processes and techniques.
The biggest example is a new control tower at its Oconomowoc asphalt plant that allows for a more automated process, saving time and adding precision. The company also looks for ways to recycle, preferring to keep materials out of the landfill if possible.
“Most people don’t think of asphalt as being a green, environmentally-friendly product,” said Sean Wolf, vice president. “They think of it as dirty and dusty, but it’s really becoming a good product for the environment, or a better product, because we’re doing so much recycling.”
That effort to be green goes beyond just grinding up old asphalt and reusing it. Wolf grinds residential roof shingles, adding them to the aggregate mixture. Old concrete is ground up and used for road beds and certain types of wood are ground up and sold for a number of uses. The company also has a fleet of hybrid vehicles.
Sean and his brother, president Devin Wolf, are the third generation in the Wolf family to run the 75-year-old business. The company prides itself on being big enough to be involved in the largest highway projects in the state, yet small enough to work on individual driveways. Having two asphalt plants (the other is near Madison) gives the company advantages over smaller competitors, who have to come to Wolf for material.
Having the plants allows Wolf to be on the forefront of the asphalt business, but the facilities also come with a responsibility of continued investment. Investing and being willing to change is important for a family business in the construction industry, Devin said.
“A lot of those older companies go out of business for that reason, because they don’t change,” he said.
The investments in new technology, whether in the plants or in other equipment, also pay off in attracting and retaining talent, Sean said. The company’s 130 employees have an average tenure of more than 20 years.
Having the right talent starts with being picky about hiring people who are a fit for the company culture, Devin said.
“Once you’re aligned towards the same goals, it makes it easy to have a sense of purpose,” he said, adding the company also develops talent internally and spends thousands of dollars every year sending people to training.
Wolf also sends its staff to area engineering and architecture firms to lecture on different techniques and technologies. That has been the case with porous asphalt, which makes it easier to control stormwater in large parking lots.
“Wisconsin was a little slow, I think, to get onto the porous,” but it is increasingly specified on jobs in the area, Sean said.
The technology has always worked, although it is a little more challenging in northern climates where there is freezing and thawing, along with heavy use of salt and sand. The difference, Devin said, is the longevity and dependability of the product. One benefit is companies are able to get more out of their lots, because they don’t have to allocate space for retention ponds or stormwater management. He said manufacturers that want to expand can benefit from this, in particular.
“They’re able to just expand their building without having to move,” Devin said.
Get the latest manufacturing news delivered to your inbox every Monday. Sign up for BizTimes’ Manufacturing Weekly at biztimes.com/subscribe.