Ten Years Later

May 1999

by Edna Tenney, Editor, Business People

A look at the businesses making news in the May 1989 issue of Business Digest

F.R. Lafayette

F. R. Lafayette, an Essex Junction construction firm specializing in the installation of the signage, guardrails, curbs, seeding and mulch that complete a highway, was the focus of an article in May 1989. The firm was founded in 1972 by Francis Bones Lafayette, who lured his oldest daughter from the ski slopes at Aspen to help him run the business. In 1989 Pam had become president of the firm after her fathers retirement the previous year. She focused on the financial and planning aspects of the business, leaving the on-site work to others. An April 1999 call found Lafayette preparing for the upcoming highway construction season. The firm has a core group of six who work year-round, and puts on about 50 workers each season. Probably 40 of them come back each year, Lafayette says. Theyre a great group of guys. She is confident about the availability of work for her firm in the upcoming season. When reminded that the Vermont economy had slipped into recession shortly after the article about her business was written 10 years ago, she couldnt remember the business encountering any serious setbacks. Maybe 89 and 90 were slower, Lafayette says, adding that since ice tea, there had been pretty steady highway work through the 1990s. Pam Lafayette

Pam Lafayette

Wait a minute! What does iced tea have to do with highway construction? She laughs. Thats the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, enacted by Congress that pumped huge amounts of money into the states for transportation, she says. Its initials are I-S-T-E-A, ice tea, see? Now theres a new act, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, thats called TEA-21, and it appropriates even more money for the next five years. The first act ISTEA ran from 1992 until 1998. It was for all kinds of transportation, railroads, airports, not just highways, she says, but in 1993, there was a big push, and we did more than 200,000 feet of guardrail that summer. Last summer we were pretty busy. It was another big year we did 175,000 feet of guardrail. The next few years look good, too, she says, because TEA-21 appropriated $175 billion for transportation to be spent between 1998 and 2003. Vermont will get a 50 percent increase, from better than $79 million a year to $119 million a year. Between those two bills, she says, F.R. Lafayette gets most of its work. Theyve been a great help to us, she understates. All of our jobs are bid through Montpelier and the money is generally 80 percent federal and 20 percent state. For interstate highways its 90 percent federal, 10 percent state. Now the firms biggest problem is finding workers, a situation that faced the company 10 years ago as well. Its not unique to construction, Lafayette says. Its the same with retailers, ... everyone. Probably the biggest change in the business is the elimination of the seeding and mulching portion of the firms highway work. We were set up to do large areas that were just completed or even still under construction, Lafayette says. Now everything is renovation; theres no new roads being built. It wouldnt pay to replace the aging equipment involved in the seeding. The last new road the firm worked on was a piece of the Circumferential Highway in 1993. Who knows what will happen to the rest of it, or the Southern Connector, she says, wistfully.

Knight Consulting Engineers

The Business Digest article of May 1989 about Knight Consulting Engineers Inc. followed the career of founder Stephen Knight beginning in 1942 when he entered the University of Maine as a 17-year-old. Using those dates, it was easy to figure out that Knight is now 74, making it probable he is retired. The follow-up story would have to come from his successor. A call to the firms Williston offices found Knight hard at work but no longer president of the firm. I work about three-fourths time now, he explains, adding that he concentrates on work for insurance companies, investigating building failures. Roy Langdell & Steve Knight

Roy Langdell (left) & Steve Knight

Some of the information from that article about the first 40 years of Knights civil engineering career bears repeating. To begin with, Knight returned to the University of Maine after World War II and completed a civil engineering degree in 1948. He came to Vermont in 1952 to teach at UVM after working as a plant engineer and an airport engineer, and serving in the Korean War. One of the first things he was told when he arrived at UVM was that he would need to find consulting work to augment his income at the university this genesis of Knight Consulting Engineers, which provides structural analysis and design, foundation and site engineering and runs a materials testing laboratory, which does work for other engineers and architects as well. Knights credentials as a professor make him the perfect choice to explain the differences in the work of architects and engineers. Engineers, he says, design, evaluate or make recommendations about how to do physical things. Their tools are mathematics, the sciences and a whole lot of experience. Architects, he continues, do the planning and design of facilities where human habitation is the primary interest. In those cases, engineers sometimes assist them. When its an industrial facility, a bridge, a treatment plant where function is the primary interest the role is generally reversed. Engineers do the planning and design and they may call on an architect for help. The leadership of the firm has changed three times in the last 10 years, passing from partner to partner in the firm. Roy Langdell, who joined Knight in 1964, became president in the early 1990s, followed by Dorwart. He headed the company until February 1998, when he retired and handed the presidency to Martin Hain, a partner since the mid-90s. Eric Goddard and Matthew Chapek became partners in Knight Consulting at the same time. Hain did his undergraduate work at the University of Iowa and spent 4 1/2 years in the Army Corps of Engineers before earning a masters in engineering from Cornell. His accounting of the firms work over the last few years starts with two major additions at IBM that the firm worked on, with another under design for this year, he says. The firms work on the Rubenstein Ecosystems Laboratory next to the Lake Champlain Basin Science Center on Burlingtons waterfront was challenging, he says, because there was a concentrated effort to make it environmentally correct energy efficient, using recycled and recyclable materials, no harmful vapors so the design was more complex, requiring lots of changes as they went along. For instance, Hain says, the framework was changed from steel to concrete block because it was felt that the concrete would absorb heat, making it more energy-efficient. The firm has worked on several middle and high schools in Vermont and Massachusetts, including a multifaceted high school addition and renovation in Northfield, Mass. It involved construction of a major new structure, he says, and incorporating much of the old building as well, while following Massachusetts strict rules about upgrades and code standards. To illustrate the complexity, the plan retained the schools original gymnasium, but with a second floor added within it to convert both floors into classroom space.

Blodgett Supply Co.

The May 1989 article about Blodgett Supply Co. found its owner and president Sam Levin enjoying the spectacular view of Lake Champlain from the firms waterfront headquarters. A former advertising account executive with WCAX-TV, Levin was in his fourth year at the helm of the wholesale distributor of items for the home-building industry such as appliances, plumbing and heating products, refrigeration equipment. The firm had nearly doubled its sales since he purchased it, and Levin predicted manufacturers would begin bypassing wholesale distributors and selling direct to retailers. He had ambitious plans for the next 10 years to address this problem and other changes in his industry, which were summarized in the following paragraph from that article. In order to be in business 10 years from now, Levin plans to expand the geographic area he serves, to evaluate new product lines, and to stress diversity of products and suppliers in order to be protected from changes in the distribution industry. The future is going to belong to the efficient, he asserts. How close has Levin come to fulfilling his 10-year-plan? The firm has added five locations since 1989, expanding its territory to include all of New England and northeastern New York. Check off the expand the geographic area plan. In 1991 the firm gave up its waterfront location in favor of a larger, better equipped and more accessible location with more space for the plumbing and kitchen showroom on Avenue D in Williston. In that showroom Blodgett displays some product lines it had 10 years ago and several that have been added since. Sam Levin

Sam Levin

Levin predicted correctly about manufacturers bypassing wholesale distributors, but cites an interesting example of a reversal of that trend. We recently added Zenith, a very, very big electronics line. Four years ago, they eliminated all distributors and began to sell direct, Levin says. They were one of the last to change, but now they have come full circle and are again selling to wholesale distributors. Levin has joined other forward-thinking distributors and bought a resource. Blodgett Supply sells Crosley appliances. Crosley is a sourcing manufacturer, Levin says. It owns no factories. Sourcing manufacturers, he explains, specify products to be made under their labels from other manufacturers. Crosley is owned by the 45 independent distributors, including Blodgett, which carry its products. Another indication of Levins commitment to the future is Blodgett Supplys predominantly red, white and blue web site, blodgettsupply.com.

TK Landscape Architect

TK Landscape Architect was a new business in May 1989, established in Colchester by Terry Krinsky, a licensed landscape architect who already had 16 years experience in the field. Krinskys firm has packed in a whole lot more experience over the last 10 years, with a list of completed projects all over northern and central Vermont, helping to develop a lot of the places people use parks, recreation areas, schools, medical facilities, Krinsky says. The athletic fields, plantings, walkways and trails at Airport Park in Colchester are Krinskys designs. In Burlington, his firm worked on the renovation of City Hall Park and the establishment of the new Little Park at North Winooski Avenue and Archibald Street, named for George and Elaine Little, and coincidentally, Krinsky says, a little park. Its great to go back to visit these places, he adds, see a soccer game, or see people just sitting on the benches enjoying themselves. The firm does consulting work for Fletcher Allen Health Care, including general upgrades to the hospitals walkways and plantings, and designed a very special pediatric playground there, a place that is accessible to wheel chairs and gurneys, where hospitalized children can be taken to play outdoors. Krinsky, who at various times over the last 10 years has served as president, vice president and treasurer of the Vermont section of the American Society of Landscape Architects, did designs for the Stern Center in Williston, Libbys Blue Line Diner in Colchester, the Moorings Marina on Malletts Bay, tree planting for GBIC at Catamount Industrial Park in Milton (Ive planted thousands of trees and shrubs in northern Vermont over the last 10 years) thats just a few items from a long list of commercial clients, not to mention the residential ones. In the works are designs for an Inn at Essex expansion and the proposed Hoyt Cinema in Essex, among others. How much has the staff grown over the years? Its just me and my computers, Krinsky says. Ten years ago, I had a computer, but I did all of my drawings by hand. Now using auto-CAD systems, special software for digital photo simulation, global -positioning systems and GIS data, Krinsky creates all his designs on computers. But the process is the same. I still have to see the project in my minds eye first. Visualization is always the biggest part.

K.R. Adams

Ten years ago, a Business Digest article about K.R. Adams Inc., a Milton general contracting firm, described a thriving, well respected family business in its second generation. The firm, founded in 1948 by Ken Adams, was being led by his son, Mike, who became president when his father retired in 1978. Mikes brother, Richard, was the vice president; and Mikes wife, Jeanette, and sons, Craig and Matthew, were all involved in the family business. Mike Adams

Mike Adams

The article was filled with accolades for the senior Adams, who ran the business from the glassed-in front porch of his Milton home Hes a dyed-in-the-wool Vermonter, as honest as the day is long, and for Mike, who moved the business office to his kitchen when he took over, and his brother These guys are a real first-rate Vermont family. Their word is their bond, a handshake is a deal thats sealed. There is absolutely no question as to how reputable a firm they are. The variety of K.R. Adams projects mentioned in the article is impressive, including customs terminals, power substations, banks, filling stations and several renovation and building projects for UVM. Work on Grasse Mount, which houses the alumni offices, required special techniques and consideration of the antiquities. The hand- painted ceiling was taken down piece by piece by the Adams crew and carefully stored for eventual reconstruction when funds became available. K.R. Adams has built nearly all of A.N. Deringers buildings in the state, and 10 years ago this month was just completing a transportation terminal for the firm in Highgate Springs. A decade ago Adams was in the market for land to build offices for his company and some starter buildings to rent to other businesses. Adams says they did get close to buying some land shortly after the Business Digest article appeared, but it was sold to someone else. We were disappointed at the time, he says, but in the long run, it was probably a good thing. We didnt have a big mortgage when things slowed down. And now were glad were still here, with Husky and all. Weve done a lot of work for them. Last summer K.R. Adams built a cafeteria at Husky: A nice job, Adams says, it turned out real nice. The firm is also about to begin work on a kitchen renovation at UVM.. Its just a coincidence that we are doing kitchens and cafeterias, Adams says, although we have done two or three kitchen jobs for UVM recently. The firm also did all the cabling for TVs, computers and telephones in 48 UVM buildings. There is probably another UVM project somewhere in K.R. Adams future, too, because those ceiling tiles for Grasse Mount are still in storage. The most significant changes at the business are in personnel. In 1990 Richard Adams died of lung cancer, and two years later founder Ken Adams died. Recently Mike Adams stepped down to vice president, passing the reins to his older son, Craig. Son Matthew has been appointed vice president. The boys are ready, Mike says, but Im staying on for a while. Jeanette Adams still provides the bookkeeping for the firm, but, says Mike, she may retire soon. A current job that has special significance for the Adams family is remodeling the building at 1000 Shelburne Rd., South Burlington, for New England Federal Credit Union. Mike Adams built that building 40 years ago he remembers distinctly, because he was working there the day Craig was born, Feb. 28, 1959. Addendum: In reference to last months Ten Years Later, were told that Steve Tillotson of Great American Salvage in Montpelier continues to do business out of his East Corinth home. © 1996-2004 Mill Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. Please read this notice.
Last updated: 10/05/99
Business Digest
May 1989