Colorado Stone Quarries is being touted as a bright spot in the effort to diversify the economy in Delta County.
"When Delta County lost hundreds of high-paying coal mine jobs, no one could have predicted that five years later sales tax would be up and unemployment rates would be low," Delta County Commissioner Don Suppes said at a Morning Business Buzz recently hosted by the Delta Area Chamber of Commerce.
Colorado Stone Quarries is one of the county's success stories, he said.
The firm recently purchased the old Pro Build site just south of Delta. Marble quarried in Marble is trucked to Delta, then transported via truck or rail to the Norfolk Marine Terminal in Virginia. From there it is shipped to Italy, where much of it is cut into tiles and slabs to meet the growing demand for high-end marble finishes both domestically and around the world.
Because much of the marble winds up back in the U.S., Colorado Stone Quarries is planning a production facility that will utilize one of the most technologically advanced cutting systems in the world. The production facility will also be located in Delta, in a second free standing building on the property at 1734 Highway 50.
"We are so excited," Suppes said. The marble quarry is not located in Delta County, but 90 percent of its work force calls Delta County home. The production facility is expected to be completed in early 2019 and will create an additional 15 to 20 jobs to begin with.
General manager Daniele Treves said he began searching for a suitable location in 2013. He pored over Google maps, looking from Gypsum to Grand Junction for a location with a rail spur and good highway access. Colorado Stone Quarries began stocking marble at the Delta site in 2014, then after a couple of years decided to buy the property. "We closed on the building and land last year," Treves said, adding that the firm may try to purchase additional land for future expansion.
Sales manager Marco Pezzica said, "Delta is, for us, the best location, with a rail spur, an existing building -- and little snow"-- in contrast to the quarry at Marble.
The marble was first discovered in 1873, and today is quarried inside a mountain at 10,000 feet above sea level, unlike most marble that's quarried from an open pit and at much lower elevations.
When Colorado Stone Quarries purchased the marble quarry in 2011, production averaged 200 to 300 tons per month. Today, the quarry is producing about 2,000 tons of material. New portals have been opened, and Colorado Stone Quarries is working new, virgin areas.
Production has not only increased, safety has been enhanced for the miners. With property acquisitions, Pezzica says, "We are no more a marble quarry, we are a marble basin. Production in next year will be incredible."
But not all marble coming out of the quarry is suitable for monuments like the Lincoln Memorial -- built with granite from Marble -- or for large commercial designs. Of 10 tons of material, maybe two and a half or three tons are suitable for export, Pezzica explains. The area surrounding Marble is dotted with "trash" blocks of marble, but as production increases at Colorado Stone Quarries, the company is looking for environmentally friendly alternatives.
"It is our idea to use part of this material for slabs and tiles, small pieces of 3/8-inch thickness, generally cut into 12x12- or 12x24-inch sections," Pezzica said. "This is absolutely a great way to use this natural stone, so we decided to invest money in creating a marble factory for here in Delta.
Pezzica said the ability to produce tiles and slabs locally will save RED Quarries & Blocks, the parent company of Colorado Stone Quarries, considerable shipping costs. The blocks of marble vary in size, but can weigh up to 50,000 pounds.
On the lot at Colorado Stone Quarries, Pezzica points out the blocks marked with the letter "DT," for Delta Tile -- blocks with some type of imperfection that makes them best suited for tiles and slabs. "We are set up and ready to go for the factory. Because our main market is in the U.S., it will be a big advantage for us to have a factory to here."
Pezzica has a practiced eye for the blocks of marble, pointing out color variations, imperfections and small fissures.
"For some people, these are just cubes of marble. It's not easy for others to understand if something is good or something is wrong, but these blocks have major problems like cracks or patches, so we're keeping them here ready for factory to open."
Pezzica is from the Carracas, the marble capital of the world, and has also worked for RED Graniti in India.
"I like to imagine what I'm getting from a block," he said.
Pointing to the smooth texture and luminous surface of the pure white Calacatta Lincoln marble that's quarried in Marble, he says no material from the U.S. has the same veining as the most expensive marble from Italy. "If Michaelangelo was born in the United States, 100 percent he was using this marble to make the David," he said.
Richard Collins, logistics and safety manager, has worked for Colorado Stone Quarries for three years. He was born in Great Britain and raised in Australia; Pezzica is Italian but worked in India for RED Graniti for four years. General manager Daniele Treves is also Italian. Together, they represent the multinational workforce behind Colorado Stone Quarries.
Collins said there's been a "huge transformation" at the quarry since it was purchased by Colorado Stone Quarries in 2011.
"Frankly speaking, everyone who owned the quarry before us failed," said Pezzica. "This is the kind of quarry the more you invest, the more you get. If you don't keep investing in people, in the equipment, in the safety, in everything, you will never get any profit."
Collins and Pezzica agree that RED Graniti is the type of firm that's willing to make that type of investment, both in the quarry and in production facilities in Delta. "They have spent millions buying land and improving the machinery and the roads up in Marble and the same here," Collins said.
RED Graniti is also the type of firm that wants to be a good neighbor. Currently under construction at the Delta site is a huge berm to keep noise and dust down. When planted with trees and shrubs, the neighbors will also have a better view. The company purchased an additional piece of property so the truck entrance could be moved away from nearby homes and closer to the highway, further reducing noise. Trucks that need to park overnight will be hidden behind the berm.
"Keeping good relations with neighbors is very important to us," Pezzica said, a comment that was reiterated by both Treves and Collins.
RED Graniti owns more than 100 quarries throughout the world, including three in U.S., two marble and a granite quarry in Virginia.
Two of the four marijuana questions on the November ballot were narrowly approved by voters in the City of Delta. Measure 2F allows the establishment of medical marijuana centers. Measure 2H permits the establishment of medical marijuana cultivation, testing, research and manufacturing facilities.