Great Northwest Inc.

Although John Minder founded Great Northwest Inc. as a seasonal landscaping firm that handled $30,000 worth of work in its first year and now produces about $50 million annually performing heavy highway, site and utility work, don’t give him the credit for the company reaching its 35th anniversary. 

“It says a lot for the people I’ve surroun­d­ed myself with,” Minder states. “Some guys have never worked anywhere else. We’re a union contractor, and we have guys steadily come back every year.”

Minder acts as the CEO and president of Great Northwest, which is headquartered in Fairbanks, but he explains that there is no div­­ision between management and labor at the company. “We are a blue collar company with white collar educations,” he says. “We have engineers with Stanford degrees – as a matter of fact, most of the superintendents have college degrees, but we all go out and work. We are more bottom heavy than top heavy. Even myself, I get out in the trenches, and the employees enjoy that.”

Minder acknowledges that there are strong egos in the company, but when Great Northwest is on the job, the egos get checked at the door. “We are a very talented company,” he says. “From an employee standpoint, we are a highly reputable company who is known for taking care of its employees. We have the lowest turnover ratio of any contractor in Alaska. I think that is because you have to be really self-motivated to work here.”

Getting Aggressive 

Minder describes Great Northwest as a versatile company that he believes is hard to match in the industry. It specializes in road/airport construction, ice road and oil field support, site development, site reclamation, underground utilities and remote sites. Great Northwest performs 60 percent of its jobs in the government market and 40 percent in the commercial market, but Minder notes that the last year has been government job heavy due to the economy. 

Recently, Great Northwest teamed up with Roger Hickel Construction (RHC) to complete work for a project on Dalton Highway that surpassed all expectations. The $32 million job was scheduled to be finished in October 2011, but Great Northwest/RHC finished more than a year a head of schedule, completing the job in one season.

“It was a pretty aggressive schedule,” Minder asserts. “Everyone thought I was crazy when I said we were going to do it in one season, and we did.”

The project called for the rehabilitation of approximately 22 miles of the highway from the town of Coldfoot at mile 175 to milepost 197, about 70 miles above the Arctic Circle. The project included widening, grade raises, replacement of drainage structures, surfacing with hot mix asphalt and various repairs to several bridges.

“We had a good crew, and I spent a month there myself,” Minder says. “It added up to 1 million ton of borrow for widening and grade raises – the largest culvert order ever placed in Alaska for a single project – and 150 tons of asphalt in 162 days. It was quite a feat.”

Taking Care

Great Northwest sticks to the northern region of Alaska for its work, which is all seasonal. Projects generally get rolling in mid-April and wrap up in November, “and that’s a good year,” Minder says.

The company begins to do preconstruction work for projects in April – the heavy equipment normally does not get going until June. Work will rev along until September or October, depending on the weather, with construction work closing in November. For the other five months or so, Great Northwest does estimating and puts together bidding packages, and also performs maintenance on its equipment. In season, Great Northwest employs 250, and it goes down to 25 for the off-season.

According to Minder, safety is the most important thing to the company. “Our policy is that safety is a mindset you have to instill in employees,” he states. “It is not about just putting them in a hard hat. It’s about making sure everyone understands what it takes to work safe.”

Over the last five years, Great Northwest has reduced work-related in­­ju­ries and accidents by more than 40 percent while increasing its total em­ployee hours worked by more than 300 percent. “When I see something unsafe is the only time I blow a gasket,” Minder says. “Otherwise I’m pretty calm, but if I see something unsafe, no one wants to see my fury.”

Great Northwest shows no signs of slowing down, and is prepared for the future. “I believe we’ll be going strong for quite a while,” Minder says. “We have really good, young engineers and superintendents. I have had some guys retire in my tenure that were really excellent at what they do but groomed some young guys to take their place.

“We take really good care of the key people here,” he continues. “There is an appreciation that’s shown to employees around here, and an appreciation and respect amongst employees.”

Current Issue

Check out our latest Edition!

 

alan jim blog ct

Contact Us

Construction Today Magazine
150 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 900
Chicago, IL 60601

  312.676.1100
  312.676.1101

Click here for a full list of contacts.

Latest Edition

Spread The Love

Back To Top