Case Studies

Site Work Specialists Inc.: Grading and Utility Experts

  • Written by: Site Work Specialists Inc.: Grading and Utility Experts
  • Produced by: Site Work Specialists Inc.: Grading and Utility Experts
  • Estimated reading time: 3 mins

Doug Wilson has been in the horizontal construction industry since age 18. “That was 24 years ago now,” laughs Wilson. “I started at the bottom as a laborer.” Wilson worked at the same company for over 10 years until eventually he and his business partner founded Site Work Specialists Inc. (SWS) in 1999.

“I used to work for him,” says Wilson. “We decided to start our own company focused mainly on grading and utility construction.” SWS now operates within a 200-mile radius from the company’s home base in Rapid City, S.D.
In many ways, Wilson says SWS is like other dirt work companies in the area, but with a twist. “What sets us apart really is that we have a combination of utility and grading capabilities,” he explains. Serving double duty saves SWS and its customers’ time and money by reducing reliance on subcontractors. With over two decades of experience, Wilson has been around the business for longer than most contractors. His experience keeps projects on track and allows SWS to foresee potential scheduling obstacles.

Digging a Niche

Wilson considers SWS primarily a utility and grading company. However, he aims to be more specific. “Our focus is underground utilities, primarily sewer and water construction,” details Wilson.

Especially in the recent economic climate, SWS has been picking up public work. “We’re doing more street reconstruction, sewer and water projects,” continues Wilson. “They’re all pretty standard.” However, there is one recent job that stands out.

The team at SWS recently completed work on an unusual project on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation outside of Mission, S.D. In 2011 the Department of Veterans Affairs awarded over $438 million for cemetery development for states and tribes across the U.S. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe is the first of the American Indian tribes to begin construction on a cemetery that will offer a final resting place close to home for many veterans.

The project is an important landmark for American tribes. Until 2006 the federal government did not award veteran cemetery grants to tribal governments, despite a vast percentage of American Indians serving in the military. The cemetery will be complete in late January 2013 and will open with a ceremony on Memorial Day 2013.

SWS’s role in the project involved excavation work and laying utilities for the cemetery grounds. The 75-acre site features a medicinal garden, a prayer walk and a celestial star map/star knowledge plaza, which branches into seven walkways to seven sacred sites. Utilizing a new trend in cemetery construction, 600 preconstructed crypts have been laid in the earth. The cemetery also includes 544 traditional burial plots and 32 columbarium sites.

Organized Operations

The SWS team self-performs all excavation and equipment work on the sites it prepares. “It’s important to manage our relationships and keep everyone on the up and up,” says Wilson. “We sub out to general, concrete and asphalt contractors.” SWS’ relationships with subcontractors and suppliers help SWS stay on track, especially in a tight market.

“Regionally we’ve been fortunate,” Wilson says of the market. “It’s been at least consistent. We’ve talked to a lot of people and heard stories from other parts of the country. We’ve been able to stay busy and we haven’t had any layoffs.” Right now, Wilson says SWS has been breaking about even, but he’s optimistic.

The team has tightened its belt to stay ahead of the recession, which has helped SWS absorb some of the recently shrinking business in the area. “Competition is a lot tougher and the margins are nowhere near what they used to be,” explains Wilson. “We’ve followed where the market’s going, ratcheted our margins down and tightened things up. We’re monitoring overtime closer. We haven’t purchased any new equipment and instead we’re focusing on repairs and maintenance for the fleet we have.”

Wilson says he worries about maintaining the slim margins left in the business more than anything else. “We have a pretty tight rein on our operating costs,” he says. “We monitor that on a weekly basis and as a result we are saving more.”

Because of the increasingly thrifty operations, Wilson is confident that SWS is in it for the long haul. “I see us staying stable and maintaining where we’re at now,” he says.

Strong leadership is guiding SWS through the rough patches. Wilson and his trusty team at SWS will continue to compete aggressively for projects. The economy is starting to come back around, and Site Work Specialists Inc. is prepared to pick up where the Midwest left off.

Published on: March 13, 2013

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