Improved Construction Methods
Bruce McFadden founded Improved Construction Methods (ICM) in 1970 after working for an Arkansas civil works contractor performing highway, bridge and dam work, as well as storm sewer pipe and structures. After earning his civil engineering degree in 1960 from the University of Arkansas, McFadden’s first job was building hydroelectric dams with the Army Corps of Engineers. He returned to school, attending Stanford University on a fellowship. After a year of graduate work, he earned a master’s degree in civil engineering and construction management in 1965 before beginning work in the private sector in Arkansas.
McFadden’s background and varied experience in the construction industry has offered him unique insight into the operational needs of contractors, engineers, surveyors and laborers, as well as the wastewater and storm structural needs of municipalities and private contractors. In 1970 ICM first provided manhole forms made of ABS, the same plastic used to make football helmets, for the construction of monolithic structures.
Next, the company began distributing pipe and construction lasers and eventually trench safety products. Most recently, ICM has entered the surveying market, providing high-tech equipment such as GPS systems. ICM is still active in the private construction market, too. Outside of providing unique and efficient products, the company performs manhole repair and rehabilitation projects.
ICM started building a name in manhole construction early on, becoming an industry leader in 1970, which has evolved into providing rehab solutions for old deteriorated manholes from infiltration and hydrogen sulfide attack. Aside from manhole repair, the ICM rehab crews have worked on water and wastewater treatment plants, pump stations, stormwater systems, as well as dam repair and stabilization work.
The ICM team serves private and municipal customers all over the American South from locations in in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.
The manhole and sewer line repair end of the business is growing as many municipalities’ utility systems fall into disrepair. “We just finished a job in Tennessee,” he elaborates. “It was a 72-inch pipe that was leaking at the joints destroying the soil backfill. The town had considered digging it up and rebuilding the pipe and replacing pavement. We utilize an infiltration repair method with which we seal out the joints and repair pipe and manholes for a portion of what it would cost doing things the old way.” The crew has also been working on a number of wastewater treatment plants and hospitals across the region.
Supply in Demand
As a supplier, ICM faces a competitive market. McFadden and his crew are able to stand apart from other providers due to a better understanding of the industry.
“We sell manufactured products,” says McFadden. “We have a small manufacturing plant where we make manhole forms, but that’s all we do in-house.” ICM has become the number one distributor for a number of leading trench product brands and has been recognized by the AGL, Cherne, GME, Lansas, Hurco and Sokkia, among others as one of the top distributors in the field.
McFadden attends trade shows, subscribes to a number of construction publications and gets in touch with companies that provide unique products to stay on top of industry trends. He and his team are consistently abreast emerging technology, methods and safety regulations. One of the company’s growing product lines is GPS technology for precision surveying and machine control for site grading.
The business offers underground products for trench safety, pipe lasers, pipe plugs, manhole rehabilitation, sewer maintenance, vacuum excavation, compaction equipment, attachments and specialty equipment. The business’ above ground product line includes: rotating lasers, machine control systems, surveying instruments, saws, blades, light construction equipment, hand tools and concrete forms for a number of applications.
Thriving in a Changing Market
The recent economic downturn affected much of the construction industry. McFadden says his team felt the tremors of the recession, although the business’ diverse products and services and hard work have kept ICM alive. “The residential market went through a tough time in the downturn,” he explains. “We put some plans on hold. A lot of major projects for us are in subdivision work where contractors are putting utilities in. We diversified into different product lines, including high-end products in trench safety, like a slide rail system used for major infrastructure. Having those lines has allowed us to turn around and head slowly back in the right direction.”
According to McFadden, the company has seen a gradual increase in opportunities. “I think the next five years will be good for us,” he clarifies. As time goes on, McFadden is looking to reduce his role in the company. As of 2013, ICM is 20-percent employee owned. In the coming years, Improved Construction Methods will continue to grow in the leadership of loyal employees who bring experience and expertise on a daily basis.
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