While most growers got into the business because they like to grow plants, George Lucas would be the first to admit he loves building greenhouses even more. He takes great pride in his dedicated employees and crews and enjoys working closely with structure manufacturers to build the best greenhouses most cost effectively.
“The one thing that occurs to me is George has always been very interested in how better equipment and structures could give him an edge,” says Jim Rearden, president of TrueLeaf Technologies. “He could have done what everyone around him did, but he went in a very different direction. George remained profitable because he doesn’t accept it any other way. He hasn’t allowed his facility to sink into obsolescence.”
When Lucas Greenhouses was one of TrueLeaf’s first integrated technology projects, including flood floors, heating systems and environmental controls, Rearden asked Lucas for a report card and honest feedback. “He and his head grower, Joe Moore, gave me completely honest criticism without spite,” Rearden says. “It was a seminal thing in our company’s growth in terms of understanding what we needed to do and where we had not done a good job on execution. He has always been willing to try stuff as we’ve been on the bleeding edge. As long as you’re straight up with him, he’s always willing to give you another chance.”
The two employees Lucas relies on the most during the construction phase are Dave Miller (pictured, right), who manages site work, subcontractors and crews, and Scott Burger (left), who handles all the electrical, environmental controls and inside mechanical work. “Most of what I’ve learned came from hands-on experience working with everyone from electricians to boiler repairmen,” Burger says. “I’ve always been interested in how things work and why they run. I’m fascinated by electricity and how it can be used to do almost anything.”
Jeff Warschauer of Nexus Greenhouses advises growers to have their operations manager or an employee or two involved in building projects. “What’s great is if something breaks or goes wrong, or if they need to replace glass, they can fix it.”
Training employees to help with greenhouse construction also helps Lucas retain quality people. “A lot of growers lay off their common labor after spring,” Warschauer says. “It’s another opportunity to use the help and save money on construction. I’ll go in and set the posts with our guys and George and his crew will take it from there.”
While a typical greenhouse construction crew is eight or nine people, Lucas will deploy 25-30 and finish jobs with lightning speed. The greenhouses were getting built faster than the trucks could deliver the parts. Now, Nexus lines up the semis in the yard.
The construction process also presents opportunities to fine tune and optimize processes and controls. “One of the advantages of an automated control system is you can use it to test and evaluate the performance of new equipment systems during the installation and commissioning process,” says Rich Miller of Argus Controls. “During the commissioning phase of the project we used the monitoring capabilities to help identify instances where specific processes were not operating to their maximum efficiency. This resulted in physical improvements to the equipment layout and design, as well as some fine-tuning of their control strategies and monitoring methods. We were able to work with George and his staff to ensure any problems were correctly diagnosed and quickly resolved.”
Miller adds, “The entire company has been a pleasure to work with and we trust our relationship will continue to prosper for many years to come. George knows where he wants to be in the future and what has to be done to get there.