Case Studies

Heavy Constructors Inc.: Building for Future Generations

  • Written by: Heavy Constructors Inc.: Building for Future Generations
  • Produced by: Heavy Constructors Inc.: Building for Future Generations
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David Gustafson, now third-generation president of Heavy Constructors Inc. (Heavy Constructors) and its divisions Gustafson Builders and Excavating Specialists, grew up understanding the importance of hard work. As an 11-year-old boy, David would experience his father waking him and his brother bright and early on a Saturday morning. “He would whip open the bedroom shades and sing, ‘How are you going to get your days work done, sleeping in the morning sun,'” recalls David. “My brother and I would get up, dress and head off to the shop with dad.”

Still family-owned and -operated, Heavy Constructors is a general contractor in the highway, bridge and civil construction industries and is based in Rapid City, S.D. During the company’s peak season Heavy Constructors employs nearly 275 people, with 150 full-time, year-round staff. Besides its home state of South Dakota, the company mainly serves Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Iowa and North Dakota.

A Family Foundation

David continued the tradition his grandfather started, working in the company throughout high school and summer vacations. After graduating college with business management and public relations degrees in 1987, David took over the company from his father, Wayne Gustafson, who remains actively involved in the business’ operations.

Heavy Constructors’ philosophy is based on the Gustafson family legacy. “We treat our employees as family, it works well,” says David. “As a result, many of them stay [with us for] anywhere from five to 30 years.”
The company’s history stretches back nearly 100 years. In 1919 David Sr. purchased Russell-Pull Blade and Flower City Wheel Tractor. Originally a dirt and excavation business, the company sought to diversify services by delving into concrete structure work. Some of the first major projects included a 30-mile stretch of highway in Alaska, and airport construction in Michell, S.D.

Then, in 1959, second-generation Wayne Gustafson took over the business and purchased a bituminous asphalt plant, allowing the company to lay miles and miles of roadway throughout South Dakota. With a growing record of quality performance in the field, the business’s workload and revenue steadily increased. In 1971 the company purchased Henry H. Hackett & Sons in Rapid City, which lead to commercial building endeavors. The 1980s brought more expansion as the team started working with communication cable, city road reconstruction and utilities. In 1982 the company combined all divisions as its current inception, bringing each part of the business under one roof in Rapid City.

Grand Design

A well-established building division sets Heavy Constructors apart from its competition. Driving on a main route or past an established building, “you can be sure we had a hand in it,” says David. Arrowhead Country Club, Fenske Media, Culver’s restaurants, Black Hills Harley Davidson, Arby’s restaurants, East North Street and Central High School are just a few of Heavy Constructors’ accomplishments on an extensive list of specialized sites. Heavy Constructors’ clients call on the company for a variety in size and cost, anywhere from a $10,000 remodel to the $28 million Deadwood Mountain Grand Hotel and Casino.

Once a gold mining site until 1986, the hotel and casino in Deadwood, S.D., is one of the most exciting projects the company has worked on in the past few years. The two-year project began in April 2010 and completed in May 2012. The site features a 98-room hotel, a restaurant, event center, concert hall and a 376-spot parking ramp. The venue is a prime tourist destination, boasting famous acts like Big & Rich, Charlie Daniels Band and Merle Haggard. Due to the historic nature of the site Heavy Constructors had to maintain certain guidelines during construction.

The company is also well known for the abundance of paving jobs it has completed over the years. “Being able to drive down a road we’ve worked on gives me a sense of pride,” says David.

As a full-service general contractor, the company divides its services into building, highway paving, concrete, bridges, grading, cable TV, sewer and water. Heavy Constructors has the means to self-perform, conducting about 80 percent of utility work, 60 percent of heavy highway jobs and 100 percent of all cable TV and phone projects.

“The only things we don’t typically do are middle trades,” explains David. “Although we have the capability, we sub out mechanical, electrical, painting, carpeting jobs, etc.”

Completing a job on time is critical to success and couldn’t be done without the assistance of trusted relations with subcontractors. “Subcontractors like to work for us,” notes David. “We normally get jobs done, receive payments well and pay well. We like to think we run projects systematically, helping everyone finish on time.”

The company has implemented cost cutting changes over the past years to counter economic downturn. David says input from employees at all levels provided enough information for the business to scale back in a few areas. “We don’t leave equipment idling anymore, we cut down on travel,” explains David. “Labor is a huge dynamic, we have to hold people accountable for being productive while they’re on the clock.”

David also attributes the influx of new businesses and competition in the growing Rapid City area. “We are trying to get back to more private company negotiated work,” he says.

David sees a future for the company and himself indefinitely. “The good thing about this business is there’s a lot of dynamics,” he says. “You never have the same day.” His only concern is maintaining the business as a family-owned operation with the fourth generation spread across the country. However, with many people who might as well be family in his employ, David knows he can rely on talented, devoted individuals, and someday make more employees the future of Heavy Constructors Inc.

Published on: March 16, 2013

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