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Since 1912, the company has been operating from the same Newman Road location
in Hudson and building- and rebuilding- pretty much all the roads in a 50-mile
radius of Hudson. Indeed, the Hudson Evening Star newspaper article lists
a litany of roads built by the firm, including "all but one or two streets
in the city of Hudson." It also mentions how Antonio Colarusso was about to
rebuild the Hudson-Hollowville road "in modern concrete" which he had first
built in asphalt - one of the first such roads in the state - while superintendent
from the Joseph Walker Construction Company in 1900. It was that job which
had brought Antonio to the Hudson region, where the Italian immigrant decided
to put down roots.
Paul Colarusso, a Vice President in the firm and a member of the fourth generation of Colarusso's to be active in the family business, says the firm routinely rehabilitates roads his great-grandfather, grandfather, father, and uncle help build. He points to one picture on a wall of the firm's recent work on Route 66 and, digging through a stack of old pictures, finds pictures showing the firm building the original road. "That happens all the time, " he says. "Myself, I've paved the same road three times. A lot of the roads around here, either myself, my dad, my uncle, or my grandfather have done work on, multiple times."
For 98 years, the Hudson Valley has offered a base of operations for A. Colarusso and Son. "Our markets always been about the same," says Paul. "We've gone as far north as Lake George and as far south as Orange County, but we really have stayed pretty much in the Hudson Valley."
Which is not to say the firm hasn't undergone some dramatic changes; it has.
When the young Antonio Colarusso arrived in the United States from Italy, he found work, as did many other immigrants, building on the nation's roads. When he started his own firm nearly two decades later, he had a very good grasp of what was needed for a successful road builder. The site he picked to locate the operation's headquarters still pretty much stands today. "They opened the quarry on Newman Road in the 1930s, just down the road from the current office and quarry," says Paul.
In the beginning, of course, roads were built of concrete, so Colarusso had a concrete plant. Between 1917, when Mr. Parker departed the business, and 1935, according to the Evening Star, Colarusso "put down more miles of concrete pavement in Columbia County than any other contractor."
"Basically, they just opened the first quarry to support the construction work the company was doing," says Paul.
"In the late 1950s, we put up our first blacktop plant, right here, in the same place where the one we have now stands," says Paul, son of Peter, Jr. At the same time, the company also opened a new quarry, also on Newman Road. "That's when we moved up the hill down to where we are now and put up a blacktop plant and a new crushing plant, as well as a new office."
The firm was still supplying ready-mix concrete from two cement plants, a branch of the firm that would end in 1965 because "there really wasn't a big market for it here."
And still the watchword for Colarusso was slow, controlled, steady growth. "The volume of business grew as the area grew," says Paul. "Plus, as each generation has taken over, there has always been a little step up." Each generation comes in with new ideas, a new focus and new ambitions, he says.
And while that may not sound like much change, Colarusso is currently up to the fifth generation, with two from the fifth generation working full-time in the business.
Peter G., Jr. is President and his brother Robert is Secretary/Treasurer. Their sons- Paul Vice President of construction, and his cousin Robert, Jr. Vice President of plant and quarry operations are the two most visible members of the fourth generation of Colarusso's, however they are not alone. Of four boys, and two girls in their generation, all but Paul's youngest sister- a veterinarian who he calls "the smart one" - work for the firm. There's also a baby girl who is the start of the sixth generation, just born, but still a promise that the Colarusso family will continue to run the firm for maybe another 98 years.
Balancing the tug-of-war between generations is Gary Graziano, Vice President of Human resource and Finance.
Despite the family changes over the years, 90 percent of the firm's work has always been NYSDOT Thruway or municipal work.
"We never really expanded construction-wise into the big, interstate construction," says Paul. "I think by design. They just didn't want to get into that as far as expanding the business that big."
Once the blacktop plant opened, the company concentrated to a great extent on paving. "We basically concentrated more on that type of work than, say, pipe work or excavation or things like that," says Paul. "We did all of those things, but we concentrated on the asphalt paving."
In the 1970's, the focus turned somewhat to construction work. "We increased our volume of construction by about 50 percent, but it wasn't a jump, it was a steady progression," says Paul. He says it was a very up and down period because of the economy but, for Colarusso, "the downs weren't as far down as the last one and ups were a little higher than the last one," which translates into growth, again.
During the same decade, Colarusso began doing sewer work. Although we "were still mainly concentrating on NYSDOT highway rehabilitation work, all the towns and villages were putting in their sewage collection systems. So we did the work that entailed: paving, pipe work, excavation, etc."
The second big, physical expansion also came during the 70s, when Colarusso bought a gravel bank just down the road from its offices and quarry operations in 1974. "When we bought it, we put in a whole new screening, washing plant. One of the motivations for doing that was for our blacktop. That's the time when the Marshall Mixes were starting to come into use and we needed a natural sand to put in our blacktop." Another motivation was that the owner was looking to sell and Colarusso was not looking to have a competitor just down the road.
In the last 20 years, Colarusso, working with its base of construction and aggregates, has continued to expand, both by tackling bigger projects and by looking at projects it once would have not bid on.
"In the mid-80s we started to increase our volume in construction again, because the opportunities were there", says Paul. Capacities were increased at the plant so Colarusso could supply bigger jobs that it was bidding. "We've always looked a little bit farther than we've gone in the past. In other words, here comes a job that's say $5 million. In the past we've done, say a $3 million job, so if we did that, then why not the $5 million?" He says it's that philosophy that has kept the company growing all these years, continually willing to meet the challenge of a bigger job.
That willingness to meet challenges caused the company to double its construction volume 15 years ago. A whole new crushing plant- the third in over the course - was put in during the 1990s.
It's also been over the last two decades that Colarusso has taken a dip in the waters of commercial site work, such as schools, shopping malls, and commercial buildings. Paul points to two projects- a boat launch and a pedestrian/bike trail- that typify how the firm ventures into new avenues to expand its work, while not straying far from its core. In 1999, Colarusso completed a boat launch on the Hudson River for the State Parks Commission, which Paul says took them into some interesting areas of construction. Also, it is completing one of the projects on the Harlem Valley Rail Trail in eastern Dutchess and Columbia counties, the job has nine old railroad bridges that had to be taken apart, repaired and replaced with new beams and decks.
"We are constantly looking to grow, to expand, and when the right opportunities come along, we grab them, if we can," says Paul. He says the firm just did a big site job in Poughkeepsie's Arlington High School, including the parking lot, sidewalk, curb and a six-court tennis court. "We have the expertise in house to do most anything but we always pick and choose our work based on profit," says Paul.
In addition, Colarusso has been successful at maintaining what Paul calls an "informal structure."
"We all do our own little specific things, but there's a lot of overlap of responsibilities as the needs arise. I'm in the office a lot, but I'm also in the field, too."
At its peak, Colarusso employs about 150; all still working in the same geographic area where Antonio did 98 years ago.
Despite all the changes the business has undergone, Paul says the part he hates the worst is the state's recent tendency to pass late (and low) budgets. "A late budget can screw things up top to bottom."
When the state budget doesn't come through in the spring, municipalities don't approve any work, so when the budget finally does come through in the summer, everyone- state and locals- need their paving done in September, October and November. It also puts a crunch on the availability of materials and personnel that makes it almost impossible to meet deadlines. This is an industry-wide concern and lament often voiced.
Paul says the company is so low key that it tends not to celebrate its anniversaries, although with 100 years coming up, he says they probably will. He won't say how far in the future he expects the firm to last, but says its virtually impossible that A. Colarusso & Son won't be in business in 2012.