Neil H. Daniels Inc. – Daniels Construction
A high school drafting class first sparked an interest in the construction field for Mark Thompson, president of Neil H. Daniels Inc. (Daniels Construction). Once ignited, Thompson has brought his curiosity full circle. “After high school, I went on to major in engineering,” Thompson shares. “I did construction inspection for an engineering firm for a few years, but became frustrated with my lack of construction experience, so I bought a hammer and became self-employed in residential construction for several years.”
When Thompson decided it was time to find a steadier source of income to support his new family, he applied to Daniels Construction on a whim. “At that time my concrete experience consisted of premix, a wheelbarrow and a hoe, but they were charitable enough to hire me,” he jokes. “I’ve been here for 30 years.”
Based in Ascutney, Vt., the heavy construction general contractor has been doing business since 1965 throughout the Northeast, particularly Vermont and New Hampshire. “We employ 35 individuals,” details Thompson. “We have two engineering vice presidents on staff, Barry Sleath-Construction and Matt Belden-Structures, as well as a dedicated group of supervisors and talented tradesmen.”
Though Thompson’s team may be naturally gifted, he assures that the company will never rest on its laurels. “We encourage our employees to join professional organizations and continue their education,” shares Thompson. “Other than safety training, we don’t require additional certifications, but our staff achieves significantly out of their own motivation and inspiration and, of course, we support that drive.”
Daniels Construction is not a run-of-the-mill general contractor; in fact, the company is completely employee-owned and -operated. “We’ve had an active employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) since 1986, but when founder Neil Daniels decided he wanted to retire we figured it was a good opportunity to do a leveraged buyout and pay off the stockholders,” explains Thompson. “We’ve been 100 percent employee-owned since 2000. We are diligently supported in our efforts by David Antonioli of Pension Works of Colchester, Vt., who is our third party administrator.”
Thompson attributes the success of the company’s ESOP to a history of committed employees who are invested for the long haul. “It definitely contributes to employee tenure, there’s no question about it,” he says. “There are many people here who’ve been with Daniels Construction for 10 years or more, and some who have 35-plus years under their belts. But, I think the greatest benefit we’ve seen is the pride of producing a quality product and in the protection of corporate assets by our members. In return our employees are able to retire with reliable retirement income.”
Maintaining a Steady Workload
The diversely talented staff at Daniels Construction has helped the company prosper during turbulent economic times. “We cover a broad client base,” tells Thompson. “We’ve performed projects involving treatment plants, commercial and industrial turnkey building construction, including excavation, backfill, framing, concrete, steel erection and even finish carpentry. We also are a fully capable design-build firm and partner with Eckman Engineering of Portsmouth, N.H., on many of our projects. The majority of our work consists of heavy civil construction in concrete and steel bridges, covered bridges and precast concrete culverts.”
Daniels Construction has recently completed a below-grade contract for a substation for Vermont Transco LLC (VELCO), in addition to several cast-in-place bridge projects that were victims of Tropical Storm Irene. “An Eckman Engineering bridge project in Goshen, N.H., and Bridge 23 in Killington, Vt., are examples of Hurricane Irene storm damage and are currently underway,” adds Thompson. “We utilize Carroll Concrete of Newport, N.H., on the majority of our projects due to the level of service, quality of product that never waivers and convenience of numerous plant locations throughout Vermont and New Hampshire.”
The company performs some of its own fabrication in-house through its wholly-owned subsidiary Weld-Tek. “Weld-Tek is its own division specializing in contract manufacturing and ornamental fabrications in steel, aluminum and brass,” shares Thompson. “We established this arm of Daniels Construction in 1995 and entrust the management to Dan Richardson [general manager of Weld-Tek].”
The company occasionally subcontracts out construction services such as drywall, electrical trades, highway paving, guard rails and pavement striping. “We try to use the same local subcontractors we know and trust,” admits Thompson. “We like to be confident in our subcontractors’ quality and accuracy.”
Thompson is confident that Daniels Construction can continue to remain stable in the marketplace. “Given the current economic situation, I think we’re in the best position we can be,” he says. “Even after 48 years, it is business as usual. We won’t be having any fancy celebrations, but we’ll probably get some new promotional stickers for our business envelopes, chalk up another year and get back to work.”
According to Thompson, that’s the kind of determined attitude it takes to survive in a lagging economy. However, Thompson admits the company’s highway sector has struggled. “There’s more work than there is federal or state funding,” he reveals. “The government always struggles to keep roads and bridges in shape, but especially when money is tight; they get overrun with projects. The state of Vermont has done some incredible things since Hurricane Irene.” And despite the struggle, Thompson remains confident.
Another challenge for Daniels Construction has been finding capable younger employees. “We need to recruit more young professionals if we want to survive,” says Thompson. “The culture of the construction industry can be difficult for a new employee. It’s unlike manufacturing where there are the same expectations every day. It varies in our world; each job site has different rules and things to learn.”
Despite the economic downturn and the need for a younger workforce, Thompson is cautiously optimistic about the future. “I think we’re well-situated where we are,” he says. “If we continue on the same course in this shaky economy, I think we’ll be fine.” Neil H. Daniels Inc. continues to grasp an adequate portion of the market in New Hampshire and Vermont through empowered employee ownership.
For more information about Neil H. Daniels Inc., please visit: http://www.danielsconstructionvt.com.
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