New York, Washington D.C., even as far away as Qatar: These local companies provide their services to expansive projects all across the globe.
| 2017 Q2 | story by Bob Luder, photos by Steven Hertzog
Bet you didn’t know the last time you were in New York City gazing upon the majestic spire that is the Empire State Building that you were looking at a little piece of Lawrence.
The same can be said of the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Or, a number of state capital buildings throughout the Midwest. Or, the inside infrastructure of any number of city and county government, or health-care and educational buildings throughout the country.
Just because Lawrence is a mid-sized college town located smack in the middle of the country—“flyover territory” as many coastal dwellers call it—that doesn’t mean its reach can’t extend from coast to coast, border to border.
One of the most profound ways the city impacts the rest of the country is through the many businesses that, while local in housing its headquarters in town, operate on a national or even international scale. In terms of the aforementioned structures, it’s our local companies that help design, build and maintain many of the nation’s prominent landmark buildings that give Lawrence residents reason to be proud.
PROSOCO, a decades-old cleaning solvent company—its name is short for Process Solvent Company—has used its chemical cleaning and waterproofing solutions on the Empire State Building; in a 1980’s restoration of the U.S. Capitol; in a ’90s protection of the spectacular Getty Center in Los Angeles; and in a 2002 repair of the Pentagon following the 9/11 attacks.
Build SMART, a sister company of PROSOCO, creates prefabricated wall panels and foundation systems that have been used for veterans housing projects in the Philadelphia area.
Treanor architecture firm has designed buildings or completed restoration projects on 90 college campuses in 42 states, has worked on several state capital buildings and even completed a $600-million project in Qatar in 2012.
360 Energy Engineers has upgraded core building infrastructure systems, with a focus on energy efficiency, in education, hospital and government buildings throughout the Midwest and beyond.
These companies do business all over the country and the world, and they’re proud to call Lawrence home.
“We’ve found that we can support projects very efficiently from Lawrence,” explains Scott McVey, division vice president, lead engineer and cofounder of 360 Energy Engineers. “It’s very accessible to an airport (Kansas City International) and accessible to every corner of the U.S.
“And, it’s a great place to live and raise a family.”
Here’s a closer look at each of these four nationally prominent companies.
It started with cars.
Selling used cars was young Al Boyer’s calling and talent in the late 1920s and early ’30s, and despite America being in the throes of an economic depression, he thrived, for a while anyway. Also a skilled mechanic, he found a solution to the mineral deposit buildup problem that plagued car radiators back in that day and purchased a descaling formula from a chemical engineer.
Thus begun Solvent Process Co., which later would be reshuffled to Process Solvent Co. and then PROSOCO. Boyer traded his shares of the car business in Kansas City, Kan., for his partner’s shares in the solvent company.
The company received its big break years later when a ready-mix concrete company discovered that Boyer’s initial product, Sure Klean #1, was effective in washing hardened cement dust off the side-mounted radiators on their trucks. The company renamed the cleaner Sure Klean 101 Lime Solvent and marketed it as a truck-washing compound.
“Those trucks were going out to construction sites every day,” says Matt Travis, PROSOCO vice president of operations. “(Boyer) would follow those trucks to the construction sites and sell.”
Meanwhile, ready-mix operators in Texas began selling the lime solvent as a brick cleaner. Jerry Boyer, Al’s son, who studied chemistry in high school and college before following dad into the business, reworked the lime solvent formula for bricks.
That led to the company’s first major contract: the 14-story Mountain States Telephone Building in Denver. The city’s tallest structure needed cleaning as part of a renovation project, but current cleaning methods were too abrasive for the delicate terra-cotta surface. Jerry Boyer created a solution that cleaned the masonry without damaging it, and PROSOCO’s reputation for cleaning structures flourished.
The recession of the late 1970s and early ’80s brought construction of new buildings to a standstill. That shifted focus to renovating and cleaning existing structures, and prompted the company to move into the northeastern part of the country. With Jerry Boyer now the company president, PROSOCO built plants in New Jersey and Atlanta, and also had a warehouse in California, solidifying the national scope of the company.
The company built the plant it uses today in Lawrence’s East Hill Business Park in 1999, closed the plants and warehouses around the country, and consolidated its operations in the ensuing few years.
PROSOCO has not only cleaned the Empire State Building, the Capitol and countless others, it’s also cleaned wine stains from concrete in California wineries and even King Kong’s blood. When Paramount Pictures shot a remake of King Kong in 1976, the film’s climax had Kong fall from the top of the World Trade Center to the paved terrace below. Jerry Boyer was brought in to clean the Karo syrup and red food-colored blood off the terra-cotta.
In 2005, PROSOCO, today run by a third-generation Boyer, Jerry’s son, David, diversified its product portfolio with the introduction of R-Guard, a line of air- and water-resistive barriers for walls.
In 2007, the company launched another new line of products designed to treat and protect polished concrete floors.
R-Guard plays a large role in Build SMART’s relationship with PROSOCO.
Adam Cohen is the architect behind what is known as “passive house construction,” which is a list of rigorous energy-efficiency standards resulting in less of an ecological footprint and lower energy costs. In 2010, PROSOCO began promoting R-Guard and its fluid-applied flashing to the passive house community, and that community was receptive. Cohen started Build SMART and joined forces with PROSOCO. He serves as Build SMART’s founder and technical director, while David Boyer is that company’s president, as well.
Build SMART manufactures its prefab walls with its air- and water-tight installation process at PROSOCO’s Lawrence plant. Insulation, windows and doors are preinstalled in the panels, making the construction process more efficient.
Whitehall, a three-story, 49-apartment building in Spring City, Pa., that provides U.S. war veterans safe, comfortable and affordable housing, is Build SMART’s most prominent national project to date. But there also have been projects in Canada, Kansas City, Kentucky, Ohio, northern Ontario and Virginia.
“You can achieve passive house performance with any number of strategies,” explains Paul Grahovac, new-business development with Build SMART. “We think Build SMART has one of the best solutions.”
Treanor was established in 1981 in Lenexa, Kan., but quickly moved to Lawrence, where it has established its legacy and history.
The company started designing residential and light commercial properties before moving into more institutional work in the early ’90s.
“Toward the late ’90s, we reorganized into two practices of architecture,” says Dan Rowe, Treanor president. “The first was general practice. The second was specializing in certain building types and positioning ourselves as experts.”
Those building types gravitated toward student-life buildings on college campuses and justice buildings at the county level. Once the firm made the move toward specialization, it was only natural that the company grow beyond its local and regional roots, Rowe says.
“There are only so many government buildings in the area,” he continues. “That specialization dictates that you geographically expand in order to make your expertise known.”
Today, Treanor employs about 150. Most are at the company’s studio space in downtown Lawrence, but there also are offices in Atlanta, Colorado Springs, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Kansas City, San Francisco, St. Louis and Topeka. Still others work remotely.
In Lawrence, Treanor designed the University of Kansas (KU) School of Engineering. It also has completed a lot of work on university buildings in Texas, including a $180-million project at Texas A&M, and Arkansas. Its work on justice buildings extends as far east as Vermont.
“We’re focused on becoming nationally present and known,” Rowe says. “We’re thought of as a Midwest company that practices nationally. We want to be a national company that practices nationally.”
Another goal for Treanor, he says, is to one day make it into Architect magazine’s Top 50 Architecture Companies in the U.S.
360 Energy Engineers
360 Energy Engineers was founded in April 2010 by friends and colleagues Scott McVey, Joe Hurla and Aaron Etzkorn. Four-and-a-half years later, the company was acquired by Willdan Group Inc., headquartered in Anaheim, Calif.
360 specializes in renovating existing building systems—mechanical systems, controls, lighting, electrical and plumbing systems—with a focus on energy efficiency.
“Starting out, we were almost exclusively doing projects for public institutions in Kansas,” McVey says. “We opened a Denver office in 2012 and expanded into Nebraska, Wyoming, Arkansas and Missouri.”
Once Willdan acquired 360, the expansion reached farther, into Arizona, California, New York, Texas and Utah.
“We’ve done some jobs for private hotels in Salt Lake City and in Arizona,” McVey says. “But public institutions has kind of been our bread and butter.”
The building boom of the 1990s has assured that 360 remains busy. Most, if not all, of those buildings today are in need of refurbishment. McVey says his company currently is doing work on about 40 buildings in Lawrence. It has an ongoing maintenance contract with KU, are performing a retro study with Johnson County Community College. And then there’s all the work in other parts of the country.
“We bring a lot of engineering expertise to develop a building on a holistic level,” McVey explains. “We don’t think there’s any area of a building where we don’t see opportunities.”
A Place To Call Home
A midsized college town smack in the middle of the country: It might seem an odd, or at least disadvantageous, place to operate a business on a national/international scale, but these four companies have never seen any reason to consider anyplace else.
“The Boyer family is from (Kansas City, Kan.); we’re a very deep-rooted family business,” Matt Travis says of PROSOCO. “But it also makes sense geographically. You can go 360 degrees here in the middle of the country. We’re shipping a lot of weight, so air doesn’t work. Our trucks here can ship to either coast in about the same amount of time.”
There are plenty of benefits to being in Lawrence for Treanor architects, as well, as Rowe is quick to point out. Not only are the company’s heritage and foundation here, there are two excellent schools of architecture (Kansas State University having the other), making it easy to recruit top-notch talent. And, the quality of life for families of employees is hard to beat.
“Also, I think there’s great clout given to Midwestern values,” Rowe says. “There’s a certain thing that comes from Midwestern values that’s hard to quantify, but it’s there. It’s just a level of credibility and respect that’s hard to find anywhere else.”