Family-Owned Thompson Construction Finds Success By Expanding Its Niche
For some people, working with family members can present a variety of challenges, especially when they are working together 10 hours a day, five days a week. However, for Kelly Thompson, President of Thompson Construction, family is the glue that keeps his thriving business together.
"About 75 percent of our employees are related in some way," Thompson says. "We are fortunate that we have a great family. You can have the best equipment in the world, but having dedicated family members who care about their jobs and work hard for our customers, that's priceless."
Thompson Construction - located in Fremont, Nebraska, just west of Omaha - was the brainchild of Wally and Jean Thompson, who started the soil conservation firm in 1980. After helping the family business part-time during college, it was a natural transition that Kelly, his two brothers, Scott and Steve, and sister, Julie French, took over their parents' business. Fast-forward to 2017, and Kelly manages the business side, Scott is Project Supervisor and handles the equipment, and Steve serves as Project Manager and Safety Director. Brother-in-law Mike French supports the business as Project Superintendent.
With a variety of construction equipment, Thompson Construction was able to expand its niche from soil conservation to civil utility work projects, including water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer installation, as well as dam construction and substation concrete foundations. In addition, the company still completes site preparation and soil conservation projects in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. Approximately 60 percent of the company's jobs consist of public works projects, while the rest is private development.
Dodging an Erosion Bullet
For years, the Council Bluffs Municipal Airport located in Council Bluffs, Iowa, has seen significant soil erosion due, in part, to heavy rainfall. The airport, built in 1932, sits high atop the Loess Hills - a rare formation of wind-deposited loess soil located in western Iowa and Missouri, along the Missouri River. Dry loess particles form stable surfaces; however, when wet, loess is very susceptible to erosion. To combat this issue, the Council Bluffs Municipal Airport recently awarded a $240,000 contract to Thompson Construction to replace four stormwater outfall channels located at the base of its two runways.
"Starting at the top of the runways to each site, we were looking at a 200-foot difference in elevation," Kelly says. "We knew this project would be quite challenging due to the varying ground conditions and the steepness of the project location."
According to Kelly, it was obvious a tracked machine would be needed for the repair and mitigation project. Not only would he need a machine that would take into consideration the ground conditions, he needed a machine that was large and powerful enough to excavate the outfall channels as well as lift and place riprap and sheet pile. Sheet piling is an erosion control technique that takes steel sheet sections with interlocking edges and connects them to create a retention wall.
The choice for this job was a Doosan DX225LC-3 Crawler Excavator with an operating weight of 49,604 pounds from his sales specialist at Bobcat of Omaha. The machine also was equipped with optional two-way auxiliary hydraulics, a quick coupler and a hydraulic clamp.
"The DX225LC-3 was the only machine we considered for this project," says Scott Thompson, Project Superintendent. "It had everything we needed - optimal horsepower, durability, operator comfort, productivity and fuel efficiency. The tracks were crucial because they maintained greater contact with the ground, creating a stable machine."
With the machine's maximum dig depth at 21 feet, 7 inches, the crew was easily able to excavate approximately an acre of outfall basins to slow down water runoff. After excavating the basin, a hydraulic clamp was used to grab and place a 12-foot sheet pile on top of the newly excavated soil.
"The fact that the DX225LC-3 was available with a hydraulic clamp solidified my decision to go with Doosan for this project," Scott says. "We needed to have controlled movement when we were placing the sheet pile and also when we were excavating the loess soil."
Once the sheet pile was laid, the soil was compacted and large riprap was placed to help stabilize the basins. Currently, the first of four outfall channels have been completed.
"We will have to excavate a lot more material at the other three sites as well as lay corrugated metal pipes and concrete structures, so we anticipate we will use the Doosan excavator for that portion of the project as well," Kelly says. "The machine has a lift height of approximately 20 feet, which will make it easy to place the material using the integrated lifting point on the quick coupler."
In addition to leasing the DX225LC-3, Thompson Construction is no stranger to other industry-leading equipment, such as Bobcat skid-steer loaders. The company purchased its first Bobcat skid-steer loader - a 642B - in the mid-80s, and continued adding to its fleet with a handful of compact track loaders in the late 90s.
Thompson Construction's most recent purchase was a T650 compact track loader that was used for a trail renovation project at the Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area, located 3 miles west of Fremont, Nebraska. The park consists of 40 acres of land with nearly 300 acres of water and 20 sandpit lakes.
The Flatwater Group, a Lincoln-based engineering firm, and Thompson Construction were awarded the $680,000 contracted project under the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Angler Access program. As part of the project, Mike French and his team were tasked to reshape banks, build small fixed piers and large floating concrete piers, construct over a mile of access trails to primitive areas and design handicapped-accessible features.
"This was a nice winter project because of the favorable ground conditions," Kelly says. "In order to efficiently complete the project we needed a mid-sized tracked machine, and the T650 fit the bill. The compact track loader worked out great because its increased torque and faster cycle times allowed for greater productivity."
To construct the crushed rock access trails and reshape the sandpit banks, the T650 was equipped with a Bobcat grader attachment.
"Setting up the grader attachment saved us a considerable amount of time and labor on this project," French says. "Instead of using three crew members, I only needed one to move the crushed rock and sand in the right spot and at the right grade, helping us get the job done more quickly."
Using the right equipment has played a part in Thompson Construction's success, but treating each jobsite as its own is what makes the company different than most.
"This project was a big deal for the community, so we feel like it was our job to treat it as if it was our own," Kelly says. "Whether we are working for the public or on private jobs, it is important that we show that we are a first-class operation through our work and by using the best equipment for the job."