Diversification Paves Road to Growth at RT Vernal
NORTH LIMA, Ohio — As a teenager, Rick Vernal spent his summers working for paving contractors, aspiring to make it his occupation.
At age 24, he added entrepreneurship to his aspirations as he and his wife, Jody, founded RT Vernal Paving Co.
Back then, 1975, the company specialized in residential paving projects. Today, RT Vernal employs 42, performs all types of paving jobs and has diversified by adding niches in excavating and operating golf courses.
“There’s a handful of guys who have almost been here for 40 years,” the owner and president begins.
“Because it’s a family business, there’s guys whose kids and sons-in-laws work with us.”
One employee, Ricky Baird, has been RT Vernal’s mechanic since the second week the company was operating. Baird likes to tell how after Jody Vernal gave birth to Hannah, the couple stopped at the shop on the way home from the hospital so Baird and others could meet and hold the newborn.
“We’re like family,” he says. “We all get along great and they’re good people to work for.”
In 1983, the company built its headquarters where it is today, 11299 South Ave. in North Lima.
“Business has always been steady but good,” says Vernal, who credits his company’s success to having hard-working employees.
“Anybody can buy equipment,” he adds, “but we have really good guys working here.”
In 1985, RT Vernal acquired Wurster Excavating and added “Excavating” to its name.
The acquisition expanded its services to site-work and land development, clearing, underground utilities and drainage work, and major road excavation, Vernal says.
To further expand his business, Vernal built Tri-County Asphalt Materials Inc. in Youngstown in 1994. It supplies asphalt to the local market.
The plant manufactures state-approved asphalt along with customized asphalt mixes.
“We purchase half of it ourselves and the other half we sell to our competitors,” he says. The plant also sells asphalt to municipalities.
Most of the asphalt it manufactures is mixed with recycled asphalt grindings recovered from streets before they’re resurfaced, he notes, which is the industry practice.
“The asphalt plant in the old days would require a guy to stand there and mix each two-ton batch at a time by hand,” Vernal says with a laugh. “Now you have a guy sitting in an air-conditioned control room doing it on the computer.”
Although the family rarely golfs, Jody Vernal says, the family business built both Reserve Run Golf Course in Poland in 1999 and The Links at Firestone Farms in Columbiana in 2001. Her husband is co-owner of both.
“What we bring to the table is the construction part of the golf courses but our partners are more on the business end,” he says. “We are good at pushing around dirt.”
The Vernals’ son RT – named after the family business – joined the company as vice president in 2008.
Rick Vernal, with help from RT, reorganized the business as a corporation from a sole proprietorship in order to receive more government paving contracts.
“We’re pretty diversified now,” Rick says. “We still do small residential work for driveways or digging basements, but 25 years ago we did that every day and now we just do it periodically.”
Two years ago, with a push from RT who wanted to expand the family business, the Vernals acquired Ohio Structures in Canfield. The company fabricates steel girders and beam bridges, structural expansion joints, bridge drainage systems, steel railings and other steel products.
The founder of Ohio Structures, Jack Donadee, went to high school with the Vernals.
“I was looking to retire and my three children were professionals living across the country and weren’t interested in taking over the business,” he says.
Donadee was left with three options: Find someone to buy his business, put it up for auction or close it but cost the 50 employees their jobs.
“At first the guys were worried because they didn’t know who was going to buy the business or if it was going to be auctioned out or closed,” Donadee says.
When he saw that the Vernals were one of a few interested buyers, he trusted them enough to accept their offer because they have worked in the construction industry for so long.
“I know the family and I know they’re capable of doing the work,” Donadee says, “and they were willing to pay the price I was asking.”
The Vernals kept all 50 employees at Ohio Structures and “the transition was real nice,” Donadee adds.
RT, along with his brother-in-law, Evan Morrison, now oversees day-to-day operations at Ohio Structures.
“It was another local business in town that we didn’t want to see close,” RT says.
“I’m interested in growing the company. So it was a natural fit for us. It’s in the construction industry, but wasn’t something we were doing currently.”
Having the second-generation mix with the more experienced workers has only benefited the company, Rick Vernal says.
“It’s nice in our company we have some young guys and some guys who have been here for 40 years. So the chemistry between the old guys and the young guys is pretty cool,” he says.
RT Vernal Paving & Excavating recently completed work for the Ohio Department of Transportation on state Route 46 in Canfield. The road project called for widening the highway and adding new pavement and storm sewers.
The company also did the site work and paving for the newly opened Kusalaba Library in Youngstown.
In the private sector, the family business is doing site work for the addition of Southwoods Medical Center Building 250 for the Muransky Companies. And it subcontracted for site work and paving at the PurFoods plant in North Jackson.
On Feb. 24, the Columbiana County Chamber of Commerce honored RT Vernal Paving & Excavating at its 65th annual awards banquet for its work on Phase II of the Cedar Run Development south of the Cimarron Development in Columbiana.
“We did Phase I of Cedar Run Development in 2008 through 2009, and then we completed the development in Phase II this past year, so now there will be 34 lots for sale,” RT Vernal says.
The biggest changes Rick Vernal has seen in the industry since he learned the paving trade as a teenager is the new technology installed on the bulldozers, excavators, and pavers.
The machines now have CAD, or computer-aided design, software that takes the blueprints of each project site and puts them into a digital file paired with a GPS that reads the grades and the grading on a site.
“It can tell you where you’re at on the site and what grade you’re supposed to be at for that point,” RT Vernal says. “We have more control over the work we’re doing and it’s more efficient.”
Adds his father, “In the old days, you’d have two guys walking around with a transit stick saying, ‘You’re two inches too high or two inches too low.’ Now you have one guy sitting in the bulldozer looking at his screen that tells him the same thing. It’s incredible.”
Pictured at top: Rick and Jody Vernal and their son RT oversee the company’s many operations.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.