Evansville company designs, manufactures steel structures

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Gina Duwe
Monday, February 4, 2013

— The manufacturing company is tucked behind downtown Evansville on Water Street, but its products are visible throughout the area.

Varco Pruden Buildings has designed and built the structures for places you drive by or occasionally visit, including Movies 16, the Rock Prairie Dairy and the Evansville Piggly Wiggly.

The company is one of the largest employers in Evansville and considers itself a world leader in the pre-engineered steel construction industry. Evansville is one of the company's five U.S. offices. It is headquartered in Memphis, Tenn.

"The last couple years we've seen an uptick in business," said Rod Huse, regional general manager.

Varco Pruden is 10 percent ahead of budget halfway through its fiscal year, he said. The Evansville office does $90 million to $95 million in annual sales, he said.

The company employs about 60 in the office, where engineers design custom orders on computers. Designs are sent across the parking lot to the production plant, where about 160 workers build the pieces. Huse compared it to a giant erector set. When all the materials arrive at the building site, crews follow the drawing, which shows how the pieces connect together.

"It goes up remarkably fast, usually pretty much error-free," said Joe LaMothe, human resources/labor relations manager. "(You) have a finished building in no time."

VP creates buildings from 1,200 square feet to hundreds of thousands of square feet to house everything from agricultural facilities, car dealerships, offices, schools, warehouses, churches and retail stores.

VP is a division of BlueScope Buildings North America.

The biggest change Huse has seen in his 38 years with the company is dealing with energy codes and technology. He recalled the days of everything being drawn with pencil and ruler. Now, almost everything is computerized.

Varco Pruden is a technology leader within the industry, he said. The VP Command engineering system the company developed allows customers to design their own buildings on a computer within their own offices using the same system VP uses internally. Once they have the specs complete, they can send it to VP, where it is transformed into a shop-ready design.

The company also has developed state-of-the-art skylight products that allow operations without lights.

"You can save a lot of money that way," Huse said.

One thing that separates the Evansville facility from its competition is the longevity of its workers, Huse said.

"We've got a fantastic group of employees," he said. "Last time I checked, the average tenure of office employees was 15 to 20 years."

Many senior people have been with the company 30 to 40 years.

The plant is doing a lot of hiring, LaMothe said, but it still has many workers with a lot of experience.

"I'm here 15 years, and I'm the new guy," he said.

Last updated: 8:14 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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