Jim Waldron – Wausau Tile
Glass and concrete: Two seemingly diametrically opposed materials, one known for its fragility and the other for its strength. So, how could glass ever replace concrete? One Wisconsin company has discovered the secret to using post-consumer recycled glass as a one-for-one replacement for cement—and the leadership at Wausau Tile is working in partnership with it.
It’s not just better for the environment but a somewhat unexpectedly superior product in general. Quality doesn’t have to be sacrificed to go green, explains Jim Waldron, the president of Wausau Tile, who joined the company in 2022.
Based in Wisconsin, the 70-year-old manufacturer of architectural products, like pavers, outdoor concrete products and terrazzo tile, has been leading green and sustainability initiatives. Glass and other concrete alternatives are just one small tile in the mosaic of Wausau Tile’s efforts in this area.
“Most items are recycled at Wausau Tile, and nothing is wasted if it can be put to use,” Waldron tells Blueprint in June 2023.
If team members make more concrete than needed for projects or some is left over, they pour it into premade molds for bird baths. These are then donated to community events and other such charitable endeavors and organizations. Water used in Wausau Tile’s processes is also recycled and reused multiple times.
Aggregate, cement, crushed stone, glass, gravel, concrete and even seashells can be used in making interesting tiles. Occasionally, when the company has an excess of material, it is transported to local farmers’ fields. Apparently, as a lime-based byproduct it is soothing and helpful to cows’ hoofs.
“Our green initiatives are setting us apart from the competition, as is our focus on providing the best quality products and services for our clients throughout the state and nation,” Waldron says.
An aggregate of projects
According to Waldron, Wausau Tile has built its reputation on listening to clients and their needs—and McDonald’s is the perfect example.
When Edward Creske founded Wausau in 1953, he connected with Raymond Kroc, who became the owner of McDonald’s in 1961. Kroc would complain about trashcans being vandalized, knocked over or simply creating a nuisance in parking lots when wind speeds rose. Creske’s solution was cement trash cans. Since then, McDonald’s has remained a loyal client and Wausau Tile has continued making the same waste containers and tables, while also providing site furnishing and outdoor seating for other fast-food chains throughout the country.
“The goal is to be a one-stop-shop for our clients and customers,” Waldron says. “I strongly believe this focus has to led to our products existing in virtually every community in the nation.”
Accordingly, Wausau Tile has created five different business lines over the years: Precast concrete, architectural pavers, precast and regular terrazzo tile as well as site furnishings. The lines allow Wausau Tile to provide a broad spectrum of services, including customization like the hand-inserted steel buttons in the Times Square project in New York.
Architectural pavers are basically concrete tiles. The ones Wausau Tile created for Times Square and completed in 2016 had to be customized in several aspects, least of all the various sizes—think a sidewalk of concrete Morse Code with some tiles the length of an arm with a lot of aggregate, resembling the look of the street, with others boasting a much smoother, dark gray aesthetic and measuring barely the width of a palm.
The most difficult, complicated part of the project, Waldron says, was the nearly two-foot-long dark gray rectangular pavers with rows of thousands of silver metal circular buttons running down one side, which met the client’s request to capture and reflect the city’s lights.
Employees placed each thumb-sized circle by hand, thousands in total, “which is exactly why no other company wanted to get involved,” he says.
As stated on Wausau’s website, “These custom pavers for New York City’s Times Square…are unique works of art in what is undoubtedly one of the most iconic projects in the Wausau Tile portfolio…seen by millions of residents and visitors each day.”
Customized pools and careers
Custom work is nothing new or unusual for Wausau Tile. In 2019, the company created a 690-by-100-foot reflection pool for the Christian Science Plaza in Boston.
Precast concrete work and red granite tile combined to fashion a curved edge infinity pool, which won the 2022 Preservation Alliance award. Waldron found the project fascinating, as he and the team had to match the old concrete with the new materials as the site is a historic one.
When speaking with Blueprint, he also shone a light on the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center in Orlando, Florida, for which the company created precast terrazzo tiles, used for the building’s rotunda and sweeping, crab claw staircases.
“Even now, no other company that I know of in the current market has the ability to tackle such a complex undertaking,” he says of the 2015 project.
Such work and the company’s family legacy drew Waldron to this role. His first day with Wausau Tile, he met with every one of the nearly 400 employees, in groups as small as five and as large as 50.
To further grow its workforce, he’s expanding on Central Wisconsin Manufacturers Alliance, the organization the company started eight years ago to attract and retain talent alongside 160 companies across nine Central Wisconsin counties—and that has, to date, accepted over 50,000 students into its Heavy Metal Tour program; Wausau also hired several of these students.
“Everyone was engaged and curious about what I had to say that first day and now, and no one was on their cell phone, which was unusual in the best way,” Waldron shares with Blueprint. “It just reiterated and reinforced my perception of the company and its amazing people, who care about where it’s headed.”
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