“Komatsu makes a great machine, and the things we value the most are the fuel efficiency and dependability”
When a trend delivers impressive results, conventional wisdom says to invest heavily in it. But, that’s exactly what Jeff Jordheim and Chad Lee, co-owners of Grand Forks-based East & West Excavating, LLC, avoided when launching their business. As companies flocked to Williston in droves to cash in on the oil boom, this duo took a different approach.
“There were so many big jobs available at the time, that no one wanted to do the smaller, specialty work for the City of Williston,” recalled Jordheim. “Chad and I saw an opportunity to get int o business and stay busy.”
East & West Excavating built its reputation by tackling storm sewer and water line repairs, valve vault installations as well as fire hydrant replacements for the City of Williston. It was an extension of the work that Jordheim and Lee had done for their previous employer, Molstad Excavating, before its owners talked ab out retiring.
“No one was interested in those repair jobs,” noted Jordheim. “We were, though. We had a relationship with the city through our time with Molstad, and we went all in with them.”
In the six years since East & West Excavating formed, it has completed utility and site-development jobs across North Dakota and grown to 10 staff members, who are the lifeblood of the company.
“We’re loyal to our employees,” said Jordheim. “We like to make sure that they get enough hours in the day and week, so they aren’t living paycheck to paycheck. Chad and I were in their position; we know what it’s like. We want to be the best in the business, and you need good employees to do that.”
Bigger projects, smarter equipment
After making its start with specialty work, East & West Excavating graduated to larger projects. One of those was for Williston’s landfill. In order to help the facility handle the significant uptick in material it was receiving, East & West Excavating built a road, scale house and shop at the site.
To complete the work, the company rented a Komatsu Intelligent Machine Control D61PXi dozer from General Equipment & Supplies, Inc. and Sales Rep Wayne Slinger. The results were immediate.
“We couldn’t have done it without the D61PXi,” reported Jordheim. “We finished two weeks early, used less equipment and manpower and saved the city a significant amount in fill material. We liked the dozer so much, we bought it after that job.”
The machine, along with the company’s D51PXi dozer that it later purchased, have also come in handy with site-development work for apartment complexes and cleanouts of water-treatment ponds.
“We show up at a site and get to work without using any stakes,” said Lee. “We start from scratch, put the plans into the computers and start moving dirt. With apartment projects, we get everything graded and ready to go vertical, and for pond treatment we set the GPS to clean the ponds by removing exactly the amount necessary.”
General Equipment connection
Before Jordheim and Lee were driving intelligent Machine Control dozers, they hopped in a minivan to find an equipment dealer who would help them put together a fleet.
“Everyone looked at us like we were two crazy guys in a van, and no one wanted to talk to us except General Equipment,” remembered Jordheim. “They embraced us and went out of their way to get us some Komatsu equipment to start with. We’ve been loyal to them ever since.”
Eventually they retired the minivan in favor of pick-up trucks, but the Komatsus from General Equipment & Supplies have remained. In addition to the dozers, East & West’s Excavating fleet includes two WA320 wheel loaders, an HM300 articulated truck and four excavators – a PC138, PC220LC, PC400LC and PC490LC.
“Komatsu makes a great machine, and the things we value the most are the fuel efficiency and dependability,” stated Jordheim. “We hardly have to stop to refuel during the day. We see significant savings just from that. That helps us compete against larger companies.”
When it comes to excavators, Jordheim says the Komatsus are unbeatable.
“They are so much faster and smoother than any competitor,” he said. “We set up a demo with a Komatsu and another brand. Three operators used each machine for a day while digging a trench. On average, the Komatsu excavator completed 20 more feet per hour. It was impressive.
“We also love the design of the counterweight,” he continued. “The excavators are situated in a way that we have full bucket-load capabilities in all 360-degrees of rotation. No matter which way we face or how deep we dig, we can reach maximum capacity. We love it.”
As the company prepares to celebrate its sixth anniversary, Jordheim and Lee still have an eye to the future.
“Ideally, we’d like to have five divisions and up to 100 employees in 10 years,” shared Jordheim. “I think it’s more realistic that we could have two divisions and as many as 20 employees, but that depends on the type of people we can hire. We are on the road 230 days a year throughout the state, so we need people who love to work. If we can find them and continue to produce good results for what they get, then growth is definitely an option for us.”