Texas Cordia Plans for a Plant
Owning their own asphalt plant was something Yara Corbitt and Isaac Heredia of Texas Cordia Construction had always talked about, ever since the pair started the Edinburg, Texas-based heavy highway/civil construction company in 2011.
“We dreamt big, we set goals, and we’d say, ‘One day, one day, one day…,” Corbitt said. Until ‘one day’ became today. In January of 2018, Corbitt and Heredia started off the new year returning to an old desire: to establish their own asphalt plant.
“Down here in the valley, a lot of local contractors have their own plant,” Corbitt said. “We try to compete with them, yet we’re asking them for prices on hot mix.” In addition to being a matter of remaining competitive, operating their own asphalt plant is also a matter of flexibility, reliability, and financial reason.
“We really want to ensure that we produce for ourselves so we can keep our projects moving forward,” Corbitt said. “If I want to lay mix on a Saturday at 2 p.m., then I want to lay mix on a Saturday at 2 p.m. That’s the simple version of it. We just got tired of running on someone else’s schedule.”
In the last three years, Texas Cordia has laid close to 60,000 tons of asphalt. In 2018, Corbitt estimates that they’ll lay at least 40,000 tons and an additional 50,000 tons in 2019.
“And those are contracts already in hand,” Corbitt said. Combined, these contracts are valued right around $5 million in hot mix.
“Instead of giving that business to someone else, we thought it was something we should do ourselves,” Corbitt said.
That DIY attitude is nothing new for Corbitt and Heredia. When Texas Cordia first began, they had a staff of four: Corbitt, Heredia, and two additional employees.
Corbitt acted as the project engineer, receptionist, accounting department, payroll clerk and janitorial departments. Heredia was the construction manager, the foreman, the inspector and, on occasion, the fuel & lube man and water truck driver.
Today, Corbitt serves as the company’s CEO and Heredia is the COO running daily operations in the field. They now employ 95 people–a number that will only grow with the addition of the company’s first asphalt plant.
“For us, we see that as a commitment to 95 families,” Corbitt said. “If we fail, we’ve failed 95 families.”
Thankfully, Texas Cordia, along with Corbitt and Heredia, have made no habit of failing. Instead, they looked forward to the next step of their big dream: buying a plant and a property to put it on.
Finding a Plant and a Property
One of the first things Texas Cordia’s CEO Yara Corbitt and COO Isaac Heredia did after decided to open their own asphalt plant–after a celebratory high-five–was reach out to Heredia’s contacts in the industry.
Retired plant operator David Cline turned out to be integral to the process of finding the perfect plant. “He’d been in the hot mix industry forever,” Heredia said. After agreeing to help them find the right pieces, Cline began his research.
“I wanted a new hot mix plant because then it’s perfect from day one, but we realized we couldn’t afford that and changed directions to find an older plant that still made good mix,” Corbitt said. “We took a similar approach to what we did when we started our construction company. We looked for equipment that wasn’t brand new, but could get the job done.”
Cline began sending them information on a number of options, as well as directing them on additional variables to consider. For example, a plant that cost less might cost more when you include transportation fees, or how much it might cost to upgrade an older plant, and more.
“Being able to explain our ultimate goal to David, and him saying to get there we need X, Y and Z was vital,” she added. “Having that ultimate goal in mind was very important, even if we couldn’t achieve everything right away.”
While Heredia and Corbitt visited options in the area, Cline traveled to see a few others as far away as Oklahoma and Minnesota.
“That was invaluable,” Corbitt said. “He could go inspect it first and use his expertise to let us know if it was worth us venturing out that far.”
The team began visiting plants in mid-January, but they didn’t find one that suited their needs until mid-February.
Cline had known of a company with an older plant that was still producing good mix. He thought they would probably never sell the plant, but figured there was no harm in asking. A couple weeks later, the company came back with a counter offer.
They visited the Barber Green plant in Corpus Christi, Texas–the fifth plant they visited–on Valentine’s Day. It was love at first sight.
“We got really lucky,” Corbitt said. “It was a total shot in the dark, and we ended up with a plant with a great reputation of producing good mix.”
What made the plant a perfect fit–in addition to its reputation–was that it could grow with the company and its production goals.
“The plant we chose isn’t too big and it’s not too small,” Heredia said about their new find.
“It’ll meet our production needs for the next 15 to 20 years just by adding a silo here or a cold feed bin there.”
“It’s really a versatile plant that we can tweak to meet our needs,” Heredia said about the Barber Green plant, capable of producing 250 tons per hour.
The pair closed on the plant on April 3, only one week after closing on the property upon which they would put the Barber Green plant.
Originally, Heredia and Corbitt had planned to rent a property near their office, but as time went by, they realized five or six acres wouldn’t be enough to support their future growth.
“We thought we might regret that choice if we end up growing in the next 3 to 4 years, which we think we will,” Heredia said. So, they reached out to a real estate agent Corbitt knew.
Almost immediately, the real estate agent returned with a handful of property options, one of which turned out to be perfect: 15 acres in a prime location, centrally located, with great access to the freeway, within their budget and only 10 miles from the company’s main office.
“The stars aligned and everything fell right into place,” Corbitt said.
Having the right plant and the right property doesn’t mean much without the money to buy them. That’s where Texas Cordia’s bank–a local community bank called Rio Bank–stepped in to help.
“Our local bank has been with us since the inception of Texas Cordia in 2011 and they’ve learned our style,” Corbitt said. They’d actually mentioned their plans to purchase an asphalt plant to their commercial banker at the end of 2017, “so it wasn’t a total surprise,” Heredia added.
But, before that could happen, Corbitt and Heredia had to answer a lot of questions: Where will you put the plant? How many acres is the property? Would it be appraised at that value? What environmental permits will you need? How much would a new plant cost? What parts and pieces were included? How much would a used plant cost to buy and to repair and update? How much mix will you use for yourself? What would production cost?
“They already had our financial information because they knew our history and had watched us grow,” Corbitt said. “But, everything else needed to be covered in great detail.”
“One concern of theirs was a lot of their customers are farmers, so they were curious if our plant would have any impact on the farming community,” Corbitt said. “When they realized our plant wouldn’t have any effect on the farming community, they were on board.”
Many of those questions were a moving target, as they found themselves attempting to work on finding a plant, finding a property, going through the permitting process, and securing financing all at the same time. But, as pieces of the puzzle began falling into place, they were able to move forward slowly but surely.
According to Corbitt, the loan application process was piecemeal. Rather than checking things off a long list, she and Heredia took it one step at a time, pulling together financials, audits and projects over the course of two weeks.
By the end of February, they’d submitted the loan application and were approved by mid-March, which enabled them to close on the plant and property they’d been eyeing and move forward to the plant permitting process.
Permission to Prosper
Heredia and Corbitt had already begun pulling things together for their plant permits at the start of April. Although they were new to the process, Corbitt said the first step was obvious: go online.
She started on the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality website and remembers how easy it was to find an article titled, “So you want to start a hot mix plant?” They began communicating directly with TCEQ out of Austin, as well as their local branch.
“When it comes to TCEQ, I’ve found that the key is actual communication,” Corbitt said. “I just told them I’m no expert and they became my expert. They were an amazing resource and made me feel like I wasn’t going through this alone. The process was much smoother than anticipated.”
Thankfully, the used asphalt plant they’d purchased in Corpus Christi, Texas, already had an existing permit. After closing on the plant, Corbett said, all they did was change the name and location for the plant and schedule its effective date for late May.
Their change in ownership from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was approved May 7, 2018, only one week after the request had been received.
“We understand that there will be no change in the type of pollutants emitted and no increase in the quantity of emissions,” the approval letter reads. “As the new permittee/registrant, you have committed to maintain compliance with all air quality regulations and applicable rule requirements of the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality.”
“We thought we’d hit some resistance with our permits, but we’ve been very fortunate and all of our permits are moving along the right path,” Corbitt said.
She expects to have all of their permits by the end of May, including electricity, water, sewer, and building permits.
“Honestly, the hardest part of the permitting process was getting the physical address of our property,” Corbitt said. “It doesn’t have an obvious address, so we had to talk to the postmaster to get the official address.”
With approved permits in hand, they could finally begin breakdown and transportation of their asphalt plant in Corpus Christi and the parts they’d purchased all over the country.
All the Parts of a Puzzle
According to Texas Cordia CEO Yara Corbitt, one of the most significant challenges during the process of opening their first asphalt plant has been finding and moving all the parts needed to upgrade the used plant they’d purchased.
“We have to search for all these parts–baghouses, silos, drags, burners–in different parts of the state and in other states,” Corbitt said. “We have to take the time to make sure it’s compatible, verify the state that it’s in, and do the logistics of bringing it down here. Right now, our challenge is making sure all the pieces fit in one puzzle.”
Cline once again came to the rescue to find the right parts for their production needs.
“My advice is, if you aren’t an expert yourself, find an expert,” Corbitt said. “Everyone says, ‘You need this and that, and they’ll cost you an arm and a leg,’” but, she adds, “we had David [Cline], who knew what we really needed and how much it should cost.”
The silo, conveyor and baghouse were purchased through Swisher Machinery. The baghouse is a reverse airflow CMI baghouse Cline had recommended. The silo is a used Standard Havens 100-ton portable silo with insulation–another recommendation from Cline. The 36-inch-wide dual chain portable flat conveyor is also a Standard Havens piece.
The drum, silo, and cold feed bins came with the plant they purchased in Corpus Christi, Texas, and are also Barber Greene, and they’re planning on also adding a RAP system and a drag system rather than an elevator, as well as another silo.
They’re also currently looking at an Accutrack total plant control house, a recommendation from Janie Lyons at Stansteel.
“Because our plant has the ability to grow with us, Janie took that into consideration,” Heredia said. “We will be able to add more control panels so the control house can also grow with us.”
In addition to finding the right pieces to bring their plant up to spec, Corbitt and Heredia have also had to navigate the logistics of bringing those pieces of equipment from all over the country down to Texas.
And, that hasn’t been easy. For example, they have a baghouse coming from South Carolina and a silo coming from Minnesota. Bringing the piece down from Minnesota has been slowed by the state’s laws restricting the movement of heavy equipment along Minnesota’s roads during inclement weather.
“Things don’t freeze down here,” Corbitt said, “so that was an unfamiliar challenge.”
In the end, they decided on a baghouse from North Carolina that was in better shape and made more sense, logistically.
Another risk is incidents on the road. “That’s out of your control, but we have to ensure that the drivers and logistics companiejs we use are safe and certified and moving those large pieces of equipment safely on the road,” Corbitt said.
Thus far, they haven’t locked in any drivvers, but will be finalizing quotes and proposals in the near future.
“We’ll be setting it up all throughout summer, going through trials, hauling and stocking material and having material tested by TxDOT so we can get things going for August,” Heredia said.
The Future Moves Fast
Only a few short months after making the decision to open their first asphalt plant, Corbitt and Heredia have already secured financing, closed on the land and begun clearing it, received their permits, and purchased the plant and a number of accessories.
“Part of it feels like it’s taking forever,” Corbitt said. “I have to remind myself how quickly it really is moving.”
“If you have that dream to own and operate an asphalt plant,” Heredia said, “you have to remember that everything is attainable.”
We will be revisiting Texas Cordia to talk about their plant setup, stockpiling, and testing after their plant gets going. Stay tuned!