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Vegas rock company ships to Kuwait

There’s a new university campus budding across eight square miles of desert in Kuwait, but some of the stone being used in the mammoth project is coming from half a world away: from a quarry just outside Las Vegas.

For the past year, menacing machines have steadily sliced away slabs of meta-quartzite from a rock pit in Jean. That’s where workers with Las Vegas Rock Inc. then prepared the stone for a shipment out of Long Beach, Calif., to a sandy construction site 8,000 miles away.

“We’re selling rock to Kuwait,” said Steve Wickman, one of the company’s founders, laughing. “Out of all the stone in the world, they selected us.”

Doing business in Nevada since 1992, Las Vegas Rock recently landed the $10 million deal to supply the stone needed to build parts of Sabah Al-Salem University City, pegged to become Kuwait University’s main campus. The project represents one of the largest in the region, regarded in the news as one of the Middle East’s most storied trouble spots.

Las Vegas Rock plans to send out the first batch of rock Wednesday, loading up trucks with four shipping containers filled with 22 tons of meta-quartzite apiece. In a process that will happen once a month between now and Jan. 1, the stone will then travel to Long Beach, where an ocean liner will take the containers across the Pacific Ocean to a port in Kuwait City.

By all accounts, the order is one of the company’s tallest: 40 shipping containers of solid stone. That’s some 880 tons — or nearly 1.8 million pounds.

It took excavators about a year to cut that much rock from the Earth. Once the raw material landed at the cutting plant, a 50-blade wire saw fashioned it into 2-inch thick slabs, which builders will use to construct the university’s College of Arts and College of Education.

The Kuwait deal was a shot in the arm for the company, which had struggled through the collapse of the housing economy during the recession, Wickman said.

But the path to the project was not a short one, defined by three years of negotiations and a face-to-face meeting in Kuwait to seal the deal.

It began three years ago with a phone call from Perkins & Will, a New York-based architecture firm with prominent building projects dotting everywhere from Atlanta to Seattle. To Wickman’s surprise, the firm didn’t want to talk about a project in the states: this one would land their stone in Kuwait.

The firm’s architects admired the color of the Aria Resort’s exterior, which features 70,000 square feet of meta-quartzite fashioned by Las Vegas Rock. But the color — dubbed “Desert Blend” — was only a start.

When the architects learned about the properties of the Nevada stone, they were more impressed, Wickman said.

The unforgiving climates of the Mojave Desert served as the perfect proving ground for Las Vegas Rock’s products. On the hottest days of a Las Vegas summer, the Aria’s stone exterior that faces Interstate 15 can reach temperatures as high as 180 degrees. When the sun goes down, the heat quickly dissipates from the stone.

With the specs of the Southern Nevada stone in hand, the firm put out the contract to bid and offers came from all corners of the world. Las Vegas Rock won the bid, which meant Wickman had to travel to the Middle East in August to meet the project’s main contractor.

Before he knew it, Wickman had an offer. The rock boss then spent the next several months wading through paperwork to establish a new line of credit with banks so he could get his money upon shipment.

Though Vegas Rock has done business in foreign countries before, the Kuwait deal marks the first time the company has fashioned rock for an order according to an architect’s plans. They mostly fill orders for raw materials. Locally, Las Vegas Rock has supplied stone to build portions of CityCenter, UNLV and city of Las Vegas fire stations.

The builders in Kuwait, who were not reachable for comment, hope to finish the campus by 2018. Meanwhile, Wickman and his company are working to secure deals to supply raw material in Europe and China.

“Kuwait is a big feather in our cap,” Wickman said, “because now it shows we’re part of a worldwide market.”

Contact reporter Ed Komenda at ekomenda@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0270. Follow him on Twitter @ejkomenda.

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