Opelika’s Castone leader in concrete products for 55 years
By Kris Martins
Cynnie James and her son Cooper walked through the Castone Corporation plant, waving as they passed employees, often greeting them by name paired with a smile or joke. Though the corporation stretches across about 60 acres of land, one of its main goals is to keep its team close.
Cooper James and his two brothers, who own and operate the precast concrete and cast stone product supplier, consider the people of their operation one of the cornerstones of their business mission.
“It’s like a church: It’s all really about the people and relationships,” Sandy (David M., Jr.) James said.
Castone’s product has contributed to nearly 3,800 projects with its custom pieces — which its owners call the “skin” of the building — including Centennial Olympic Stadium in Atlanta. Closer to home, it has also contributed to Auburn Arena, the Auburn University Recreation and Wellness Center and more.
Castone prides itself on providing a high quality product on time, but also believes its team members are an important piece to the puzzle.
About 24 years ago, Ricky Lynch, 46, landed at Castone for a temporary job loading trailers with the precast concrete panels to send to the job. After 90 days, he found that he liked the job because he saw the last part of the process. He enjoyed being able to see the finished product.
And it seemed that the Jameses liked his work after those 90 days, too.“The question was like, ‘You seem to like it. You going to stay with us?’” Lynch said.
Cooper James laughed while talking to Lynch in the doorway of his office, which overlooks trailers loaded with panels. “We won’t let him leave,” Cooper joked.
As supervisor of logistics, Lynch tries to have an open, understanding relationship with his coworkers as well as his employers.
“It’s more like all of us are friends,” he said. “And when you become friends, you become family. Business and friendship kind of work hand-in-hand back here in this area [and] through the whole plant.”
The James brothers saw their father prioritize community in his management decisions. He believed in building up team members and rewarding them when they turned a profit at the end of the year.
“We all feel like we’re in it together,” Sandy said.
Michael James never knew a more sharing person than his father, and he hopes they adopted that trait.
The business has been a part of Opelika since 1962 after their father, originally a schoolteacher, heard neighbors talking about the product and believed in its promise.
The trio took on the management of the family business after their father died in 2013, but have been working there since they were boys.
When they were younger, the James brothers worked at the business during summers, after school and in between football practices. “It’s all we ever did,” Cooper said.
They, like their parents, attended the University of Alabama and have business backgrounds.
The corporation prepares plans based off architect drawings, creates precast concrete panels for buildings and sends them off to builders to assemble, which makes for quick completion of construction. Pieces can be a variety of shapes, colors, textures or sizes.
When the business secures a job with owners, architects or contractors, it always tries to introduce them to its team members, Sandy said, because they believe in the influence a good team can have on the product.
The brothers also try to show their employees the finished buildings they helped create — something that began with their father.
“In a way, you’re down here … every day just doing tasks, but the end product, even a big piece of hard concrete, really has a purpose and has a way of providing shelter and serving others,” Cooper said.
Even though the process is the same, every job is different. It’s never boring, Sandy said.
“But when it boils down to it, it’s dealing with people, whether it’s our suppliers, vendors,” Sandy said, “or whether it’s our customers or whether it’s our employees.”