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Jean business produces decorative stone for casinos, other projects

For travelers on Interstate 15, the town of Jean is a place for gasoline, cheap eats, tacky souvenirs or a roadside turn at the gaming tables of the Gold Strike casino, just over the hill from the neon lights of the Strip.

Few of those travelers will ever know that also in this isolated Nevada community, some 30 miles south of Las Vegas, is a company that produced the multicolored decorative rock surfaces at Aria in MGM Resorts International’s CityCenter.

Las Vegas Rock Inc. of Jean, which mines and fabricates metaquartzite slabs, tiles or crushed material, also is well-known for its work throughout The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

"After The Cosmopolitan, there was nothing much on the drawing board in Las Vegas," Las Vegas Rock co-founder Steve Wickman said. "It’s tough, but this is where we want to be."

Despite a difficult economy in Nevada, business has rebounded in the past year.

Las Vegas Rock’s latest projects are producing finished sheets of metaquartzite to be used as decorative wall coverings or flooring at the Maryland Live Casino in Arundel Hills, Md., and the National Oil Co. in Kuwait.

Wickman said an estimated $24 million in projects has been booked for the next three years — ranging from a Veterans Affairs Hospital at Fort Bliss, Texas, to a defense installation in Honolulu to stone work at Kuwait University.

Not bad for a privately owned company that just a few years ago was known exclusively for its landscaping business — albeit a landscaping business that generated almost $70 million in revenue between 1991 and 2007.

"It was during the water-conservation efforts in the late 1980s, which led local residents to install more desert landscapes," Wickman said. "It caught on, and the use of decorative stone as a landscaping material exploded."

But with the housing market’s collapse, Wickman said, the company needed to diversify.

SHIFT IN STRATEGY

Before the recession, Las Vegas Rock earned 80 percent of its revenue from landscaping. Today, 80 percent of revenues are generated from producing slabs and tiles used in commercial design.

To expand the company’s position in the stone industry, the owners decided in 2006 to build a fabricating facility to produce tile and slabs for the building industry. Wickman said the factory was oversold within a year. Its new fabrication plant, on line just one week, will be in the same position within a year, he said.

It took Las Vegas Rock three years to find financing to equip its new plant. The company recently received a $1.5 million loan from Meadows Bank, guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.

Wickman said the company was able to cover the additional $4 million needed for the 45,000-square-foot facility.

Las Vegas Rock used the loan for a state-of-the-art, high–speed stone-cutting machine, which has let the company enhance stone quality and boost production tenfold.

Wickman said an additional 15 people will be employed as a result of the expansion. The company, which employed 65 to 70 people before the recession, expects to have 60 employees by 2013.

"Government funding is providing construction dollars to public entities, and we are seeing project requests for everything from courthouses to military installations," he said. "In addition, we are embracing new technology that is available nowhere else in the world."

Wickman along with his partner, Mike Kiddy, started Las Vegas Rock in 1988. The company mines its unique multicolored metaquartzite at the 920-acre Rainbow Quarry near Goodsprings. The mine has long fed construction in the Las Vegas Valley, and was the source of metaquartzite stone used in some of the region’s most famous hotels, including the Flamingo and Desert Inn.

Las Vegas Rock now produces about 500,000 tons per year.

STONES OF MANY COLORS

Metaquartzite has historically been used for simple decorative applications, from flagstone, stone building stone and crushed material. He said the material has the aesthetics of sandstone but the durability of quartzite.

The material has a remarkable range of colors that vary from light pink to deep burgundy.

Las Vegas Rock President Chris Schulte said metaquartzite is a very hard, versatile stone that can be polished and used for many applications, from kitchen countertops to flooring.

"The potential is unlimited," Schulte said.

The company produces stone tile and thin veneer for indoor and outdoor flooring and wall facings. It also produces crushed rock that it sells to glass and cement companies.

There is a major price difference between the products. Schulte said crushed rock sells for $15 a ton, while a manufactured product sells for $1,000 a ton.

Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at csieroty@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893.

 

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