Mid-Ohio Paving Grows its Hot Mix Goals
BY AsphaltPro Staff
When Jim Nichols first purchased a parallel flow asphalt plant in 2008, he thought he was in over his head. But he also knew it was a necessary risk. Larger companies in the area that could produce their own asphalt were bidding on the jobs Jim wanted. He knew he needed his own plant to be competitive. Plus, he had his sons, Chase and Skyler, urging him to make the move.
Both of Jim’s sons had been helping him pave throughout high school. When Skyler graduated in 2008, the whole team was ready to go.
“My brother and I decided that hot mix was going to be our future, so we decided to put all our blood, sweat and tears into it,” Chase said. So, in 2008, they drove to New Castle, took down the plant, trucked it to Centerburg, Ohio, and began making their own hot mix.
Ultimately, it was an investment that paid off.
Now, the Nichols’ paving company, Mid-Ohio Paving, is making 50,000 tons of hot mix a year, putting down 35,000 on its own, and completing large-scale commercial and industrial jobs and small town municipal paving projects.
A Decade of Immense Growth
When Jim was a kid, his father had around 20 dump trucks and decided to start a tar chip business. Then in 1986, Jim’s father started Mid-Ohio Paving with his brother and cousin, and later that year, Jim took over the business.
“From there, we started paving driveways and began evolving to where we are today,” Jim said. Although the timing of purchasing an asphalt plant in 2008 wasn’t perfect, Jim couldn’t have asked for a better location.
In 1970, Jim’s father bought a piece of property 20 miles north of the outer belt of Columbus. At the time, no zoning was in effect, but the property was later zoned industrial.
“That was a blessing that no one was really aware of at the time it was zoned,” Jim said, adding that his community has been very supportive of the asphalt plant. “I grew up in this community, so everyone knows me. For the first 20 years we were in business, we didn’t even have a sign out front.”
And, it just so happens, the north and east sides of Columbus is booming.
“The local economy has been very, very good,” Chase said. “The city is growing towards our plant.” Additionally, Chase said the more rural areas to the north of Centerberg are just beginning to develop “to the point where hot mix is an option.”
As we speak, he’s sitting in a Kroger parking lot that wasn’t there 10 years ago. “You’d have to go another 10 miles to get to a commercial area like this,” he said. “I remember watching this project get paved and dreaming of one day doing jobs of this size. Now, when this job gets re-done, I’ll probably be the one doing it.”
Overcome Doubts, Tackle New Challenges
When the plant was first purchased, Chase remembers his dad thinking it would take decades before the company produced 40,000 tons a year.
“We’ve only had it for 10, and our production has grown an outrageous amount.” In fact, gross sales have almost doubled in only two years. “Every year for the past 5 years has been a record year for us. And that’s across the board: sales, tonnage, everything.”
During the plant’s first year of operation in 2008, the Mid-Ohio Paving plant was producing around 20,000 tons—all laid by its own crew. Next year, Chase expects the company to produce 100,000 tons, receive certification to make DOT mixes, and start competing for state and county work.
Chase said having the plant has also given him the opportunity “to play with companies hundreds of times our size” when it comes to paving, as well as a significant cost advantage—he estimates $10 per ton.
“The market is pretty controlled here,” Chase said. “Most of the companies I compete with don’t have their own asphalt plant. If you aren’t buying from us, Kokosing, Shelly or Mar-Zane, then you’re not getting asphalt.”
It’s hard to believe that when Chase began working for the Centerburg, Ohio-based company—tamping driveway edges the summer after eight grade—hot mix jobs were such a small portion of the company’s focus. Most of its jobs were large chip sealing jobs and cold mix paving, with some smaller hot mix jobs like driveways. The average job value was between $5,000 and $10,000.
During the company’s best year prior to purchasing the asphalt plant, Chase estimates shooting 250,000 gallons of chip seal; now, they’re shooting around 75,000. “I’d rather see the mix coming out of my silo,” Chase said.
Now, 65 percent of the company’s work is large-scale commercial, and 35 percent, townships, and the company regularly competes for $200,000 paving jobs.
Jim said as the company continues to evolve, his sons will be ready for it. “They’re always encouraging me to keep expanding and take on bigger jobs,” he said. “Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m blessed to have them as sons, carrying on the torch.”
The company now employs 25 people at its plant, on its crew and in its office during the paving season.
Its eight-person paving crew runs a 1999 Champion PRO-PAV 780W with an 8- to 14-foot screed and a Barber Green paver with a screed range of 10 to 20 feet. The company also has a 1995 Ingersoll-Rand 575T with an 8- to 12-foot screed, a 6-ton Hyster 330B static roller, a Hyster 350 static roller and a 4-ton vibratory roller from Caterpillar, as well as two Case skid steers.
All but one employee at Mid-Ohio has been trained by Chase, Skyler or Jim Nichols.
“You could say our entire crew has been Nichols-trained,” Chase said. And each one started with absolutely no experience. For the past three years, the crew has remained unchanged, allowing them to form a cohesive and effective team.
The crew has remained the same over the past three years, which has allowed them to form a really strong bond.
“One of my guys, Curtis Waggoner, said, ‘I spend more time with you guys than I do my family,’” Chase said. “In a way, we are a family. And we’re a family that gets along.” The crew even spends time together outside of work. Later this summer, the entire crew will be going on “the first-annual Mid-Ohio Paving rafting trip” on its last weekend off until Halloween. Chase also makes a point to take the crew to World of Asphalt each year, which started when the trade show was in Cincinnati in 2010.
“I just saw how much we gelled on trips like that, so now we can’t get enough. It’s incredible to have a team like the one we have,” Chase said. “I just call the plays. My team deserves the credit for executing them.
Chase would also like to thank his family for supporting every decision, and the Erie Group and its employees.
“I’m so grateful for all the people who stuck by me when I kept saying, ‘Give me one more year, give me one more year,’” Chase said. “It’s an incredible feeling to not have to say that anymore, because I feel like we have made it.”
“After this winter, I plan on paving a lot of 20-foot wide roads on a new paver with a state-approved asphalt plant, and I want to be making 100,000 tons,” Chase said. If history is any indication, this lofty goal will be well within reach for Mid-Ohio Paving.
At the plant: Operator Clinton Horlachor, Brian Dunno and Loader Man Phil Perry
On the paving crew: Chase Nichols, Skyler Nichols, Jordan Nichols, Curtis Waggoner, Skyler Eplar, Rusty Webber, Chris Creech and Phil and Dean Bowers
In the haul trucks: Don Nicholson, Dick Nichols, Dana Parker, Dave Tobin, Rodney Barracks, Don Landis, Dan Mattney and Gary and Greg Boother
In the office: Charlie Stewart, Janice Schaefer
Mechanics: Duke Severns and Cody Burnworth
Mid-Ohio Paving showed company and industry pride during and after the World of Asphalt 2016 Show & Conference and AGG1 Aggregates Academy & Expo in Nashville. Not only did members of the Mid-Ohio Paving crew show up in force for the cover photo contest at the AsphaltPro and PavingPro magazine booth, the company got the word out for voting on their images afterward. Check out their winning combination of photos in front of a Gencor asphalt plant, a Heatec vertical tank farm, and a Roadtec Shuttle Buggy.
The magazine booth was swamped with WOA attendees taking pictures in front of additional innovative equipment from participating companies Astec Inc., Carlson Paving, CEI, Eagle Crusher, KM International and Meeker Equipment. A big thanks goes out to those companies who made this contest possible, and a big congratulations goes out to Mid-Ohio Paving for their win.