SAS Construction Inc.
Baldwin, Louisiana, a tiny town in the southern part of the state, is small in both size and population. It measures just 3.2 square miles and is home to just over 2,000 residents.
But key industries, including carbon black processing—a little known but important chemical powder—and sugar mills, anchor businesses like SAS Construction Inc., a full-service general contractor specializing in industrial construction and maintenance work in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kansas and Alabama.
The 16-year-old company services industrial plants for petrochemical, manufacturing and water and sewage clients. It works in salt mines and sugar and rice mills, as well as food processing and government facilities.
SAS provides everything from heavy equipment and tank setting to process pipe fabrication and installation, concrete paving and foundation work, demolition and design-build contracts.
Because SAS serves industries with some of the largest, most powerful machines and equipment in the world, safety is a make or break issue. While the modest company isn’t one to boast, it will shine a light on its clean safety record. Clients who appreciate that commitment to safety often become repeat customers.
Clients in the bag
The majority of SAS’ work is in the carbon black industry, for major players like Cabot Corporation, Sid Richardson, Orion Engineered Carbons and Columbian Chemicals Company.
The product they manufacture, carbon black, is a fine black powder or pellet formed by the incomplete combustion of heavy petroleum products, including various types of tar. Carbon black is used predominantly in tires and other rubber products, but it’s also used to some degree in plastic products, printing inks and coatings.
According to the International Carbon Black Association, carbon black is one of the top 50 industrial chemicals manufactured worldwide with about 18 billion tons produced annually. In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency identified 22 domestic carbon black production facilities, 14 of which were located in Louisiana and Texas.
For companies like SAS, that means plenty of work, which often includes installing bag filters. As Josh Sanders, the company’s office manager, explains it, a bag filter consists of several equally-sized compartments with paper filters that separate the carbon black soot from the gaseous byproduct created during the controlled burning process.
In 2013 and again in 2016, SAS installed bag filters at Cabot Corporation facilities.
“Those were pretty big units, and that was everything from the civil work, the foundation for this unit, the structural steel, setting equipment, running pipe and tying it back into their existing [facility],” Sanders says.
Now, SAS is assembling a bag filter unit that was dismantled in France and shipped to one of SAS’ largest clients, Orion Engineered Carbons.
Keeping dirty jobs safe
SAS has a track record of working with carbon black manufacturers, and it’s become an expert in the industry.
“The material they produce is not necessarily from the cleanest environment to work in, so it turns a lot of people off, but we don’t mind getting our hands dirty, and we really strive to be able to meet the customers’ ever-changing demands,” Sanders says.
Often, he explains, the scope of a project changes as clients learn more about what needs to be done. For its part, SAS is flexible and willing to “change things on the fly.”
Because of the nature of the business, safety is paramount, and Sanders says it’s ingrained in the company’s culture. SAS offers bonuses to employees who adhere to best practices and gives everyone the authority to stop work if they feel something is potentially dangerous.
In 2016, SAS received Cabot Corporation’s Supplier Excellence Award for Outstanding Safety Performance. Cabot Corporation invited SAS to its global supplier conference in North Carolina, where SAS was one of just three contractors to receive recognition. That’s significant, considering Cabot Corporation has roughly 10,000 suppliers, and just 100 were invited to the conference.
Because carbon black is an industrial chemical, it does face its fair share of environmental regulations. While the manufacturers bear responsibility, SAS shares in that, too.
“We’re responsible for the work we do,” Sanders says. “Carbon black is made from oil, so we have to be extra careful about not introducing any into the environment.”
Beyond the cookie cutter
Carbon black manufacturing isn’t the only industry SAS works in. It is also active in the Gulf State’s sugar and salt mills for clients like Cargill, which has a salt mine in Avery Island, Louisiana, home to a massive, natural salt dome.
“The type of work we do isn’t cookie cutter type stuff,” Sanders says.
SAS is able to tackle complex industrial construction projects, due in part to the decades of experience its owners have. After years of working for other companies, Allen Sanders, David Holmes and David Hay decided to launch their own company, and SAS was born.
Today, the owners and managers take a hands-on approach. They have an open-door policy, and SAS project managers frequent job sites more often than most.
With around 50 employees, the company has a family feel, Allen Sanders says. SAS strives to take care of its employees, offering retirement savings options and covering most of their employees’ health insurance premiums. When employees reach their 10-year anniversary, they’re recognized and presented with a $1,000 gift card.
The in-house advantage
In the coming months, SAS is planning to move from the office space it’s currently leasing to a new facility it purchased, about a mile from their current location. The new office will give the company double the office space, and the facility includes a shop, in which SAS plans to do light fabrication.
“It definitely helps if you can remove a lot of the variables of the work on-site and get things done in a controlled environment; it helps speed the process along and make things easier for field installation,” Sanders says.
That ability to fabricate in-house should serve SAS well as it continues to work in the black carbon industry, one that by all indicators appears to be doing well. While it is made from oil, Sanders says, it’s made from low-grade oil so it’s not impacted as drastically by the price of oil as some other industries.
With a quiet optimism, Sanders admits, “everything looks to be good going forward.”
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