Heitkamp Construction


Dec 17, 2010

Komatsu equipment, efficient and with minimal downtime

From his office on the south side of Wahpeton, N.D., Neil Heitkamp could recently see part of his staff constructing new conveyors for the local Pioneer plant. Later in the day, when he stopped by Heitkamp Construction’s shop on the other side of town, he could look across the road and see the company’s handiwork at the Minn Dak facility.

Those are only two of the hundreds of projects Heitkamp Construction has finished in southeastern North Dakota and northeastern South Dakota during the course of 30-plus years. In many cases, Heitkamp Construction served as a general contractor, completing nearly all the site work as well as the construction.

“We do many start-to-finish projects for commercial and industrial clients,” explained Heitkamp, who founded Heitkamp

Construction in 1979 as a steel-erection company. “For instance, we may put up a steel building in a plant that involves site work, concrete footings and foundations, in addition to putting up the building itself. With our background and experience, we can do all aspects of the job, including the carpentry work on the inside. We’ll sub out the plumbing and mechanical, but take responsibility for getting it done.”

In many cases, Heitkamp’s work begins before crews and equipment hit the jobsite. “We work with customers to find out what they need and design a project to suit them,” said Heitkamp. “We provide a set of drawings and have those approved by engineers. Next, we handle layout, then start construction. Most of the time, we’re the first and last people on a project.”

Sand and black dirt for projects often come from Heitkamp Construction’s sand pit, at the company’s north shop location. The company also has several crushed-rock products that it trucks in, as well as large rocks it has gathered from various places to use as riprap. At its south location, the company has a fabrication shop for making steel pieces used on erection jobs.

Experience plays a vital role

Heitkamp Construction’s ability to handle multiple aspects of a project is directly tied to Neil’s background. During military service in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he took several courses related to the construction industry.

“I was part of a mobile team that had to be able to do a little bit of everything,” said Heitkamp. “First was learning to run equipment, whether it was wheel loaders, dozers or scrapers. That was followed by steel work and carpentry. Most guys specialized in one area, but I was able to get experience in everything.”

The experience helped him land a job as a steel worker when he left the military in 1973. Six years later, he and a couple partners founded a small, steel-erection company, which later became Heitkamp Steel Contracting. Eventually, Neil bought out the others.

“Our sole focus early on was steel building erection, and slowly the business continued to progress,” recalled Heitkamp. “I never thought the business would grow to this point. I’m kind of surprised, to be honest. I started with a car and a box of tools. Now there are 40 people working here, and we have about every type of equipment you can imagine.”

Included in the staff are three foremen who have some ownership in Heitkamp Construction — Richard Meyer, Brad Steussy and Ken Klosterman. “Like many of the people who work here, those guys have been with Heitkamp Construction for a very long time,” said Heitkamp, whose son Josh also works for the company. “That plays a big role in the company’s longevity and success. No matter the project, or the scope of work, I’m confident that our employees are up to the task. We typically have six or seven jobs going at once, and I try to get to every one of them at least once a week. When I’m not there, I know I can trust that they’re working hard to get the project done on time and on budget.”

Local jobs, ones in the immediate Wahpeton area, Heitkamp visits daily. At times, he’s running equipment. “I’ve always been a hands-on owner. Running equipment is something I enjoy. I come into my office and handle paperwork first thing in the morning, then head out to the field to do what I can. One day I may be running an excavator and the next a crane. Whatever needs to be done.”

Staying with Komatsu, General

The number of pieces of equipment that Heitkamp has to run has grown considerably in three decades. As he added earthwork to the mix in 1989, he began acquiring excavators, wheel loaders and dozers.

“Taking on earthwork gave us additional control of projects and made us a more well-rounded company,” said Heitkamp. “At first, we used a competitive brand. But we met (General Equipment & Supplies Sales Representative) John Gromatka, and he sold us on trying a used Komatsu PC200 excavator. That was about 1996, and it had around 1,500 hours at the time. It was productive from the start, and we never had any issues with it. Because of the value we got out of that machine, nearly everything we’ve added has been low-hour, used Komatsu.

“I’m comfortable with that because I’ve seen first-hand Komatsu’s durability,” added Heitkamp. “It lasts, and it doesn’t cost us in downtime. Much of the Komatsu equipment we have are pieces that were leased by others prior to us buying them. I know that John and General have thoroughly serviced and inspected those machines, and that they’ll stand behind them.”

Heitkamp recently traded in the PC200 for a PC228, which complements a fleet that includes a PC300, a PC120 and a PC50. The company added D65 and D39 dozers last year and runs a WA320 wheel loader at its sand pit to load, stockpile and carry materials. Heitkamp worked with Gromatka in purchasing the additional pieces.

“We believe the hydraulics and power in the Komatsu machines stand out,” said Heitkamp. “Case in point is the PC228. Steel-erection jobs often take us into tight spots, and even though the PC228 has a zero tail swing, there’s no sacrificing the ability to dig and load. It also has the hydraulic power to run attachments such as our demolition hammer. Like every Komatsu product we’ve run, it gets the job done efficiently and with minimal downtime.”

For parts and occasional service items, Heitkamp calls General Equipment & Supplies’ Fargo branch. “We’ve worked with John Gromatka for about 15 years, and I believe that says a lot about General. The continuity of working with one person throughout the years gives us peace of mind. We know they’re going to be there when we need them. John and General are great to work with.”

Bigger not always better

Heitkamp believes his customers see the same in Heitkamp Construction. He estimates that about 95 percent of the company’s work is done for repeat customers, including Minn Dak where Heitkamp Construction recently completed a two-year project. Heitkamp crews constructed three buildings at the facility.

“That project really points out the growth we’ve experienced over the years,” said Heitkamp. “The biggest building was 220 feet by 860 feet with 32-foot-high side walls, and it was 62 feet at the peak. The nice part was that it was right in our own backyard. We try not to get out any farther than 150 miles from home, so that our guys can be home with their families at night.

“Fortunately, through the years, we’ve been able to do that by taking care of our customers right here at home,” he added. “That’s a reason why I don’t have any plans to get bigger, because I don’t believe that bigger is better. We’ve grown to a point where we can handle multiple aspects of a job with the assurance of delivering on time and on budget. Getting bigger risks that, and that’s a risk I’m not willing to take.”