A Tiny Invention Makes A Big Impact in Alpena

Dustin Prevost was working in the mid-2000s as a project manager for a company in Pennsylvania that did water-based demolition, using high-pressure blasts of water to knock concrete off bridge overpasses or highway beds undergoing repair.

There was, he was sure, a better way to do the work. He thought he was the person to figure it out.

So in 2008, at age 27, he quit and moved back to his hometown of Alpena, buoyed by industry contacts who had encouraged him to go out on his own. He knew he wanted to start his own company, “but the cost of equipment is a barrier to entry,” he said.

He started building equipment in his grandfather’s unheated barn. Eventually he would end up with two patents. One item he designed looks too small to be of much value, but the secret to its utility is exactly that — lack of size. It is a nozzle, about an inch high and with a hole running through its middle barely larger than the diameter of a pin. He has them machined from carbide at a shop in Alpena.

The nozzle forces 60 gallons a minute of water to come out the working end at the concrete-pulverizing pressure of 20,000 pounds per square inch.

In 2009, he launched Premium Hydro Solutions LLC.

“I had a great business plan,” he said. “And I’ve always been the type to strive to maybe not be the best but to work hard.”

Alas, he had launched the business just in time for the Great Recession, and a guy with a business plan, some barn-made equipment and good connections but not much money and no contracts wasn’t going to impress any bankers. “I couldn’t get a loan.”

His luck changed a bit in 2009 when he went to a trade show in Louisville, Ky., where he got put in contact with an equipment-finance company that was willing to pay for water pumps he needed to round out the equipment to bid on jobs.

“I got enough invested in the company, there was no turning back,” he said.

And then his luck changed some more, thanks to those contacts.

Prevost called an executive at a company in Idaho he’d done some project work for with his Pennsylvania company.

“I called the guy and said, ‘Remember when I told you I might be starting a business?’ He said, ‘That’s great. We’ve got a job coming up. This is perfect timing. Bid on it,'” recounted Provost.

“I wanted a small job to start out. But this was a big project. But I put a bid together and sent it to him the next day.”

He got the job, which involved breaking concrete loose from a freeway bridge deck in Nampa, Idaho. Which induced a bit of panic. “I had never cut a concrete deck with this equipment.”

What if he drove his gear there and there wasn’t enough pressure, if his designs were flawed, if he couldn’t get any concrete to fall?

“But it worked out,” he said. “We finished way ahead of schedule.”

There were still sleepless nights ahead. “A lot of sleepless nights, not just one or two.” What he needed and didn’t have was a decent line of credit to cover cash-flow problems. You win a bid, your employees do the work and get paid, and then you wait, and often wait some more, to get paid.

“The equipment was worth a lot. I knew I could always sell the equipment if I had to.”

He never had to.

By 2012, Premium Hydro was doing well enough to be named by the Lowe Foundation as one of 50 Michigan companies to watch and was honored at a Michigan Celebrates Small Business event at the Lansing Center. At the time, he had eight employees.

Today, depending on the work load, head count varies between 15 and 20. Currently he has projects going in Louisiana, Idaho, Washington and Montana.

In the winter, when outside work comes to a halt, the company does indoor industrial cleaning of factories.

Premium Hydro has done demolition on bridge decks for Fargo, N.D.-based Industrial Builders Inc. since 2014.

“Their work performance has always been excellent and performed in a timely manner. Their level of cooperation and competence to perform the work in accordance with the construction specifications is excellent,” said Aaron Anderson, a project manager at Industrial Builders.

“They finish on time and ahead of schedule, with great attention to detail and job specification,” said Laura Helling, president of the Ennis, Mont.-based L&J Construction Group LLC.

The Idaho Department of Transportation even has a video of Prevost’s team hydroblasting a bridge deck on its website to promote the department’s capabilities.

Prevost said he sleeps fine, now, and has been able to fund the growing head count and additional machinery out of cash flow. There are, he says, bankers now interested in helping him fund future growth.

“When you are healthy and strong, banks always want to give you money,” he said.