White Construction & Associates
Celebrating 30 years in business, Mississippi-based White Construction & Associates is living proof that adaptability is crucial to success in business. Since the recession, the business has undergone significant structural changes allowing for flexibility and ensuring value for clients. The firm specializes in heavy civil construction, railroad construction and maintenance and trenchless directional boring.
Charles “Chuck” White, president and co-owner of White Construction, grew up in the construction industry. His father established the business in 1985 — White took over the family enterprise after his death in 2008. Over the years, this legacy company has taken a page or two from its founder’s book and maintains distinct values that are so often the hallmark of a successful family business.
Thomas “Tommy” Sanders, corporate secretary and co-owner, is White’s business partner and a longtime friend. The two met in college and White’s father hired them both right after graduation. “I’ve only worked for one company in my professional career,” Sanders notes. “Chuck and I are like family, his parents always treated me like family and that’s the mentality we have with our employees as well.”
Change for good
During the difficult economic downturn, White Construction managed to maintain an outstanding reputation for quality and honest work. However, severe market fluctuation meant the business either had to make dramatic structural changes or be lost to the tide. White is endlessly grateful to his team, which unfortunately downsized during the recession. Those left helped rebuild the business with a new direction and the company is on the up and up again.
“In the early 2000s, we had 100 employees, now we have approximately 30,” White explains. “It was a very difficult decision and we had to let some great people go. As a family business, that was hard — we consider our employees to be part of that family. But by downsizing and getting to a position where we were flexible, that was a key element: to be able to identify a path and direction to take. Our revenue took a huge hit, but that enabled us to be patient and act on opportunities as they identified themselves.”
At the time of the housing market crash, White construction’s target market was primarily private residential and commercial work. More than 50 percent of the company’s volume disappeared over the course of months and White and his team had to figure out how to replace that business.
“We had to sit down and ask, ‘What are our strengths and how do we diversify to compete?’” he recounts. “Going out and being vanilla, laying pipe and moving dirt like everyone else was not profitable in such a competitive market. Prices weren’t where they needed to be to sustain business. So during that downtime, we did some soul-searching to determine where we would fit in the new economy. We discovered our strength was doing complicated work: design-specific, design-build, more intricate, attention-to-detail things. We determined we could bring services to the table that can help clients. They see the value in us, something unique they can’t find with competitors. We didn’t stretch far from what we knew, these things were already associated with our business, but we specialized ourselves with the services we provide.”
White Construction purchased Memphis Road Boring, a directional boring company, allowing the team to tunnel under railroads, roadways and other infrastructure that cannot afford interruption for open-trench digging. This has allowed the company to specialize in trenchless boring and pipe bursting. The White Construction crew still performs much of the same heavy civil work it has built a reputation on, but at a smaller scale. Work with railways opened the opportunity to branch into railway service and maintenance contracts as well.
The restructuring of White Construction has been a major boon to the organization and White credits his father with the inspiration to take on major change. “My father was involved in urban renewal in the Memphis region before this business,” he recounts. “Everything was great but that market dried up and the company he worked for refused to mold or change with the economy and the industry. It ended up going under. He went into business himself and always promoted the need to change and be flexible.”
Honesty, integrity and innovation
White Construction operates on two core values: honesty and integrity. “We all take pride in what we do,” says Sanders. “We’re happy when we accomplish the project owner’s needs. We have great people, which helps, but we all work for a great company. None of us want to leave this world with a bad reputation.”
The firm now serves as a specialty subcontractor on a majority of projects, but White Construction’s experience as a general contractor makes the team more self-sufficient on jobsites. General contractors and construction managers know they can trust the company to operate efficiently and independently without micromanagement.
“Instead of working against everyone else, we’re working with everyone else,” White explains. He and his colleagues have put their specialized expertise to the test with dozens of complex and high-profile projects over recent years.
“We worked on a 60-acre Bill Dance Signature Lake in Telephone, Texas, for a client that had a 30-year-old lake with a seepage problem,” White explains. “The levee constructed 30 years ago wouldn’t hold water and had structural issues. With our experience in earthwork and the engineering background of our leadership, we were able to go in, identify the problems with levee system and the lake and reconstruct the levee system for that client to solve the problem of the lake losing water.”
The team has also performed a significant amount of utility work with partners throughout the South. White Construction is currently working with SAK, a St. Louis-based contractor, to perform sewer line repairs in Memphis. The massive undertaking includes waste water service for half of the city
A lot of sewer pipe, pipe repair Saint Louis-based SAK, they have a contract with the city of Memphis to repair the main sewer interceptor. “It is our responsibility to provide access points for bypass pumping and repair the lines,” says White. “It’s a 70- to 80-inch sewer for the city, not your every day job.”
As the company continues to take on new challenging projects, White refers to the business as “a work in process.” He and his colleagues maintain a focus on evolving to meet the needs of the market, allowing White Construction & Associates to provide value in service to a range of public and private sector clients and end users.
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