Case Studies

G.D. Nielson Construction Inc.

Building Success Around the Right People

Some might say Diann Nielson, president and owner of G.D. Nielson Construction Inc. (GDN), is a bit of a workaholic, but you never work a day if you love what you do as much as she does. The business owner and mother of three truly possess a passion for her work and those who have helped make it possible.

“For me, it’s all about people, from my employees to our customers,” shares Nielson. “The biggest reward is completing a successful project and knowing you’re making a living for your employees and their families.”

The opportunity to work with great people in a problem-solving environment is what originally attracted Nielson to the construction world. “I was actually in nursing and started working with my husband, George, who’s a civil engineer contractor,” recalls Nielson. “I dove right in back in 1978, laying pipe and driving a dump truck and realized I really enjoyed the people and being able to work through challenges together.”

The Road Less Traveled

After working for her husband’s company for about five years, Nielson established her own horizontal boring company. “All along, I was very much interested in civil construction, but when I started out there were very few others in my position,” she shares.

Nielson set out to make her way in a male-dominated industry. “I tried not to consciously think about the challenges in front of me, because I didn’t want to play that card,” she explains. “If they had a problem with me as a woman running my own business, then that’s their hang-up, not mine.”
Luckily, Nielson says she had a great support network to fall back on. “It’s all about how you respond and if you’re going to bring yourself down to their level,” continues Nielson. “I’m not going to sit here and say it’s always easy, because it’s not. I often don’t get invited to guy’s night out so-to-speak, but at the end of the day that’s OK, because I have good industry players around me and I’m glad I’ve stuck it out.”

Extensive In-house Service

But Nielson has more than stuck it out; with the support of a dedicated team she has turned GDN into one of northern California’s most trusted heavy civil and environmental engineering contractors. Over the years, GDN has added extensive in-house equipment, resources and personnel, allowing the company to cover the private, local government, state and federal sectors. “We sub very little out,” adds Nielson. “We perform about 85 percent of our own work.”

GDN provides civil engineering and construction solutions involving underground piping, grading, mass excavation, paving, pump stations and wastewater treatment facilities, all of which require extensive design-build and construction management expertise. “We’re based in Napa, Calif., and we’ve played a major role in shaping downtown, from the streets and paving to grading and sidewalks,” shares Nielson.

The company also comes to the rescue when the city’s roadways and water mains fall under distress. Off Redwood Road in Napa, GDN installed sheet piles to shore uphill soil and maintain single lane traffic while performing emergency slide repair. Once the shoring was in place, 10,000 cubic yards of material was removed from the site and GDN spread engineered fill in compact layers on a geo-grid. The roadway and erosion control was installed in less than a week, on time and under budget.

“We also have a great deal of experience in environmentally sensitive areas,” notes Nielson. “One of the best examples of our environmental work is at the Tallac Creek Bridge in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.,” shares Nielson. “This area consists of state parks and habitats. While performing reconstructive and restorative bridge and road work we have worked in conjunction with multiple agencies while also taking residents and traffic into consideration.”
GDN frequents the South Lake Tahoe area. The company also performed the replacement of 2,500 linear feet of HDPE water main line for the restoration of the Tallac Well and the construction of the water system controls for Camp Richardson and the Fallen Leaf Campground.

The Toughest Hurdle by Far

While GDN has focused on public projects with the onset of the recession and a dwindling private sector, Nielson says GDN is gearing up for more high-profile winery projects; some of the few the company has seen in recent years.

“Honestly, we’re lucky to be standing,” admits Nielson. “This recession has been devastating, much worse than ones I’ve seen in the 1980s or 1990s. When things fell out they fell out hard for us. The private market dried up and even wineries came to a standstill. The public work became so competitive that people were working for less than cost.”

Nielson goes on to note that GDN relied on federally funded jobs and the company was forced to reduce its staff by 70 percent. “Now that we’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, most of our competition is gone,” she says. “They didn’t make it.”

Nielson attributes GDN’s comeback to quality work and long-standing relationships. “The relationships you build pay off in the end,” she explains. “We also have committed employees that stayed with us and a reputation that says we’ll show up and be dependable.”

Now that GDN has come out the other side of the downturn, Nielson finally might get a well-deserved break. “All three of my children are involved in the business and we’re transitioning to them taking it over,” she shares. “Our goal is to continue to grow and make this transition happen.”

What started as a modest operation and a not-so-easy career change has taken shape as a solid business the Nielson family is proud of. G.D. Nielson Construction Inc. remains a passion for all people involved.

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Spring 2018



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