State Utility Contractors

State Utility ContractorsState Utility Contractors’ employees, vendors and subcontractors play an important role in the heavy civil contractor’s success.
By Jim Harris

The slogan painted on each of the trucks operated by State Utility Contractors Inc. sums up the company’s philosophy succinctly: “Quality in Action.” For the company, maintaining a high level of quality on its projects begins with the people operating the equipment and driving the trucks.

“We follow the philosophy that you cannot build quality projects without quality people. We have many long-tenured employees who have high morals and are very ethical,” says Ron Brown, president of the Monroe, N.C.-based heavy civil contractor. “We empower our employees to make crucial decisions in the execution of their work and hold them accountable. This allows them to take ownership in what they are doing, because they always know that upper management has their backs when it comes to defending the decision that they made.”

Each of State Utility Contractors’ employees has a literal stake in the company’s success, as the company since 2008 has been 100 percent employee-owned through an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). The company was established in 1985 following the sale of the utility construction division of Dickerson Group, a Monroe-based general contracting firm.

State Utility Contractors specializes in water and wastewater treatment plants, water/sewer pipelines and infrastructure construction in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

In addition to its tight-knit internal culture, the company also prides itself on maintaining close relationships with vendors, subcontractors and clients. “We would not have the success we have had for 30-plus years without the contribution of our subcontractors and suppliers,” Brown says. “We strive to help our subcontractors be successful on our projects by keeping them informed of the schedule, helping them with ensuring safe workmanship on our projects and providing them with information and resources to complete their work in a timely manner.” 

Although the majority of the company’s projects are hard-bid, State Utility Contractors often finds itself working for repeat clients including state transportation departments and other public entities. “We have good relationships with owners and engineers,” he adds. “We are very proud that in 30 years in business we have never had to go to litigation with any owner with whom we have worked.”

A Record of Success

Two ongoing projects demonstrate State Utility Contractors’ commitment to quality. The company in June 2015 began relocating 100,000 linear feet of sewer and water utility pipe to accommodate the Monroe Bypass Expressway, now under construction. The expressway extends nearly 20 miles from U.S. Route 74 near Interstate 485 in Mecklenburg County, N.C. to U.S. 74 between the towns of Wingate and Marshville in Union County, N.C.

State Utility Contractors’ $13.7 million contract with Monroe Bypass Constructors LLC through the North Carolina Department of Transportation includes removing abandoned mains while relocating existing water and sewer mains. The company is coordinating its efforts with multiple towns as well as with three different grading contractors, each of which is coordinating a different segment of the project. State Utility Contractors box

“Our challenge is to supply enough crews to stay in front of those contractors,” Brown says. “Instead of each contractor hiring their own utility subcontractor, they are confident that we can stay ahead of them and meet the schedule.” The project is slated for completion next spring.

The company in October 2016 began work on a $25.9 million expansion and improvement of the Hardeeville Water Reclamation Facility in Hardeeville, S.C. The project includes installing a 120-foot diameter concrete flow equalization tank, an equalization basin pump station, two oxidation ditches, two 85-foot diameter secondary clarifiers and several process pumps. The project is broken into two phases, with the first concluding in September 2018 and the second ending in January 2019.

The project includes dewatering the 10-acre site as well as elevating the plant finish grade by several feet utilizing 40,000 cubic yards of import fill. The company is using a sock-drain dewatering system, installed by Phoenix Dewatering of Sanford, Fla., to assist in lowering the subsurface groundwater elevation, thus permitting those structures with subgrades below mean sea level to be built.

State Utility Contractors maintains a robust safety program on all of its projects. This includes regular site inspections by the company’s two full-time safety professionals as well as daily safety huddles and regular training sessions. The company has earned recognition from the state OSHA branch as well as the Association of General Contractors and the National Utility Contractors Association for its safety programs.

“I would hope that our safety record and quality performance distinguishes us from our competitors,” Brown says. “Being an ESOP company, our employees know that having a safe work environment pays dividends to each of them in the long run.”

State Utility Contractors is actively tackling the nationwide challenge of hiring and training qualified employees. The company works with Labor Finders as a source to help with trained workers. Labor Finders helps State Utility Contractors meet its schedules on projects during the many occasions the contractor needs to ramp up its labor force to accomplish certain tasks on projects. “When we are looking for good trained temporary help we call on Labor Finders to furnish workers to help accomplish these tasks,” he adds.

Executive Transition

Brown became the company’s president in November, succeeding retiring president Bill Norwood, who will remain with the company in a part-time advisory role in 2017. Previously, Brown, who has worked with the company since its inception, served as manager of its pipeline division.

He is one of three longtime State Utility Contractors employees to ascend to a higher executive position this year. Steve Brown, a 23-year employee, is now in Ron Brown’s former position as pipeline division manager; while Mike McLamb, who has 27 years of tenure with State Utility Contractors, took on the role of manager of the company’s treatment plant division from Charles Morgan, who will be retiring in 2017.

Ron Brown’s goals for the company included continued investment in new technology such as computer-aided construction equipment and tools, as well as overall continuous improvement and growth for its next generation of project leaders and managers. “My vision is that we continue to provide a great place to work for our employees that allows them every opportunity to provide for themselves and their families while also providing great quality projects for the communities where we work,” he says. 

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