Infrastructure a hot topic during Ernst visit to Pattison Sand

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U.S. Senator Joni Ernst greets Pattison Sand Company employees during a May 4 visit. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst visited Pattison Sand Company, in Clayton, May 4, as part of her 99-county tour.

During the one-hour stay, Ernst toured the Pattison site, learning about the operation’s history and its products.

“It’s interesting,” she shared. “This is my first time down here. They’ve grown so much...They’ve done well with taking challenges and making them into opportunities.”

“I want to find out how I can be of assistance at the federal level,” Ernst continued. “It sounds like they just want to be left alone, to be able to produce materials.”

Pattison is known for selling silica sand for hydraulic fracturing, a process that extracts oil and natural gas from the earth.

“[The sand] breaks tiny cracks in shale formations with high-pressure water so the natural gas and oil can come out,” explained Pattison adviser Gil Gutknecht to Ernst and her staff.

The sand, he said, is critical for energy independence, and demand will only continue to grow.

As a result of the economic outlook, owner Kyle Pattison said the company, which currently employs 334 people, gave all employees a $1.50 per hour pay increase. That was before the new U.S. tax law passed last fall.

“I’m quite bullish on the economy,” Pattison admitted.

Afterward, in December, each employee also received $600 in $2 bills, resulting in a $165,000 collective payout from the company.

Because of the tax change, which Pattison thanked Ernst for supporting, he said employees will see more take-home pay, and the company will be able to reinvest savings into equipment upgrades.

“I’d much rather invest in equipment than pay taxes,” Pattison said. “If we have to buy more trucks, [other companies] will have to make more trucks. We will sell more rock and sand, and employees will have a more secure job.”

Another area where Pattison Sand has seen growth is in the limestone aggregate rock it produces, a venture that’s only a couple years old.

In the past year alone, Pattison has gone from producing half a million tons of aggregate to one million tons, said  spokeswoman Jackie Lee.

That aggregate can be used for concrete and asphalt, in the construction of everything from airport runways to highways.

“An infrastructure bill would be huge for us,” Gutknecht said. “If we start rebuilding highways, bridges and airports, the rock we produce in this part of the world will be incredibly important because of its hardness and because it holds up better.”

“It also means more jobs at Pattison and that job stability will be greater,” he added. “The energy industry tends to cycle. The rock business will even out that cycle.”

The company’s aggregate, said Pattison, is already yielding cost savings for customers involved with transportation and roads. The quality of the product, as well as Pattison Sand becoming another competitor in the market, helps lower the cost, he explained. 

“It’s a huge opportunity, especially with the economy going this direction,” Pattison stated. “We’re aggressively investing.”

“Infrastructure is really important,” agreed Ernst, who said she hopes to see an infrastructure bill early next year. “If I have this information, then I can use it to talk up an infrastructure bill and how it will help businesses in our communities. It helps when I’m out lobbying other senators.”

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