Smaller + Local = Better Response
Valley Machine & Iron, LLC grows in subcontractor role
Joe Van Lyssel and Carl White were working for a large construction company in Wisconsin in 2004 and the pair recognized there was a significant opportunity to form a smaller, more responsive construction company in order to service local companies.
Both Joe and Carl sensed that a smaller, local construction firm could provide better customer care than what they witnessed at their larger employer. So, they founded Valley Machine & Iron, LLC (VMI) primarily to provide industrial construction support to companies located in the Fox Valley area of Wisconsin.
“As a smaller company, we’re able to be more responsive to a customer’s needs. We pride ourselves on treating each work assignment equally,” Joe says. “Each job is important to us. It’s not just the biggest projects that get our attention.”
In the beginning, VMI primarily served as a subcontractor focusing on machinery moving and conveyor installations for companies in the industrial construction field. Besides Joe and Carl, the company had only two other employees. For a while, the company also was called upon to install several cell towers, but it hasn’t done those types of installations in recent years.
“Back then, most of our work was performed in foundries and power plants,” says Joe, who has more than 30 years of experience in the construction industry. This includes 13 years as a union ironworker and multiple years in shoreline and marine work as well as residential and commercial carpentry.
New Services Fuel Steady Growth
Over time, VMI has expanded its service offerings to include steel fabrication, steel erection, overhead crane work (including rail installation and retrofitting), precision machine alignment and millwright services. New services have helped fuel VMI’s steady growth.
The company still mostly serves as a subcontractor but also has taken on the role of general contractor on several projects. VMI sets its sights on attracting a wide range of manufacturing clients today—ranging from machine shops, foundries and power plants to sawmills. And most of the company’s work is performed within a 150-mile radius of its headquarters located in Weyauwega, Wisconsin.
“An ideal customer for us is one who has a good understanding of our capabilities and strengths and who can clearly communicate his or her expectations,” he adds.
Joe bought out Carl’s interest in the business in 2009 and has remained the sole business owner ever since.
Performing work safely is one of Joe’s guiding principles for VMI. He’s proud that the company, which employs 15-20 workers every year, has gone five years without a lost-time injury. And, he reports there’s been a total of only four lost-time injuries since 2004.
To help maintain the record, employees strictly adhere to company safety policies, practice self-policing and take quick and decisive measures when possible problems arise. They also conduct daily toolbox meetings to coordinate with other subcontractors on the job site, outline the work to be performed each day and identify any hazards that must be avoided.
Zero Tolerance for Safety Errors
“VMI is all about safety. Our line of work has zero tolerance for an error in safety,” Joe says. “Our goal is to ensure the protection and safety of every worker, customer and job site visitor.
“Percentage-wise, our safety record is the equivalent of some of the best and larger construction companies in the industry in our geographic region,” he adds. “While it’s always important to meet a customer’s timeline, it’s even more important that we take the time needed to do our work in the proper sequence and in a safe manner.”
VMI can handle all or just select stages of steel structure installation, which can include steel procurement, fabrication and installation.
“Typically, we start by getting drawings for the steel project approved. We can supply the steel material, and we erect it for some jobs and fabricate for others. If we are performing the fabrication, we get those drawings as well as the installation drawings approved,” he says.
Machinery moving can involve installing a conveyor to transport machinery from one part of a job site to another. Or, for larger and heavier equipment, VMI crews may use a dolly, bridge crane or forklift.
“Some general contractors hire us because they may not own rigging needed for the installation of certain machinery,” he says. “A bridge crane can give the operator greater flexibility in moving equipment from one part of a plant to another.”
VMI crews also are skilled at precision alignment and leveling once a piece of equipment has been moved into place.
“Once in position, we may need to level it in order to get the machinery to interact with other equipment so that it works properly,” he explains.
Crew Excels in Foundry Assignment
From December 2019 to mid-January 2020, VMI was contracted by Neenah Foundry, a manufacturer of cast iron manhole covers, gratings and similar items for municipal and construction applications, to remove an old 100,000-pound cooling drum and assemble and install a new, 210,000-pound drum. The drum is a machine designed to continuously process casting molds.
“It took us about three weeks to do it, and it was a bit tricky to accomplish since both the pathway and project work area were restrictive. We employed a hydraulic gantry crane that makes it easier to lift and position heavy loads in areas where traditional cranes will not fit,” he says. “We worked safely and coordinated well with the other trades. The customer was pleased that we had completed our work before the scheduled startup date.”
In June 2019, American food and arcade game company Dave & Buster’s hired VMI in Green Bay, Wisconsin, to repurpose a former Younkers Department Store building into one of its food and game establishments. It took 10 VMI workers to remove three-fourths of the old structure and then add new portions to create a 40,000-square-foot facility over a four-month period.
“Again, we needed to dovetail our work with the other subcontractors also working on site,” he says. “The general contractor was pleased with the quality of our work and craftsmanship of our workers. And, the contractor was happy that we finished our portion ahead of schedule.”
VMI also supported Weyauwega-Fremont High School in 2011 by donating the fabrication and installation of a new archway entrance for spectators attending the school’s athletic events.
“We thought it was important to support the local school since it’s in our ZIP code area. Another plus for me is the fact that my daughter and two sons all graduated from the high school,” he adds. “I think it’s important for us to remember that as we are growing, we need to help ensure that our community is thriving, too.”