“We know what we’re getting with Komatsu equipment: a top-of-the-line machine that we can rely on every day”
Change is a constant for construction companies. Vice President of WB-Koester Construction, Greg Head has seen his excavation and grading company go through many phases. As an independent company in the early 1990s, the main focus was on DOT and government contracts that took it across the country. From there, it focused on private, regionally located work and eventually the firm found its niche in the energy sector. No matter the focus, Head says one consistent element of the assignments was their size – large.
“Large-volume projects have always been our preference,” related Head. “We have an experienced workforce and a fairly significant fleet of equipment. We’ve been doing large, fast-track jobs for a long time, so we know how to gear up and take care of customers’ needs.”
Successfully completing complex dirt contracting projects helped Evansville-based Koester Contracting build its reputation. In 2005, Weddle Bros. Construction Co., Inc., a general contractor with offices in Bloomington and Evansville, purchased Koester Contracting and formed WB-Koester Construction. While the name changed, a knack for finishing big contracts on schedule has remained.
“The association with Weddle Bros. has been great; all of us have benefitted from it,” shared Head. “They had 70 years of experience and an excellent reputation in this industry, and we helped them expand their company and become more diversified. As always, we still concentrate on delivering quality mass-grading jobs for our customers.”
Today, the company specializes in regional private-sector jobs ranging in size from $1 million to $20 million, with its sweet spot in the $2 million to $10 million range. WB-Koester has 25 full-time employees and uses craft labor during peak times throughout the year. Head says that the firm’s quality reputation has helped build its client list.
“A lot of our time is spent on big plants, so that may be the only thing a customer does for a long time,” said Head. “The best compliment we can get is for a customer to see our work and ask us to stay longer and finish other aspects of the project. We also have a lot of success from word-of-mouth advertising. Most of the time, customers know about us and have heard good things, which definitely helps.”
The bigger, the better
Koester Contracting already had several significant projects under its belt before joining the Weddle Bros. team. It did the site work for a Toyota plant in the Evansville area, as well as the site work for AK Steel that required the excavation of four million yards of dirt.
WB-Koester recently completed a two-phased $17 million runway expansion for the Evansville Regional Airport. There, WB-Koester excavated more than one million cubic yards of dirt, removed 2,400 feet of existing runway; placed 50,000 tons of crushed aggregate/crushed concrete base; removed 3,700 feet of existing storm pipe; and installed more than 2,500 feet of storm pipe, 90,000 tons of asphalt pavement and roughly 140 acres of seeding.
“It was a significant job for us,” recalled Head. “We were on the site for approximately six months to get the south runway built, opened and operating.”
Another noteworthy opportunity for the company was with Indianapolis Power & Light in Martinsville. WB-Koester was originally contracted to perform site work for the 30-acre project, but it remained on the job after earning additional assignments.
“This is an example of a customer rewarding us with more work on another phase,” Head added. “We started there in April 2015 and completed the original contract work in September 2015, but our customer has continued to assign additional work, an indication of their satisfaction with our performance. We graded the site, removed a leach field, put up a 12-acre staging area for the construction of the plant, as well as installed a circulating pipe system that had 84-inch, reinforced concrete pipe.”
The company was also part of a two-year effort at Prairie State Energy in Marissa, Illinois, a coal-fired power plant that involved the excavation of two millions yards of dirt.
A commitment to safety at all times is priority number one for WB-Koester, and it starts at the top.
“With many of our customers, you must have a good safety record in order to be involved in their projects,” explained Head. “We’ve developed and maintained a safety culture that values our employees and establishes good work practices.”
The company takes several measures to maintain a strong safety culture. It holds daily briefings for its crews, a committee conducts monthly jobsite visits to evaluate safety practices, and the firm employs a full-time safety director.
“It’s more than lip service, we’re committed to safety,” promised Head. “We tell our employees that we aren’t simply concerned with how many loads they have completed, but that they focus on safe practices so they can go home healthy to their families every night.”
Production and convenience
WB-Koester Construction has amassed a sizable fleet of equipment to fulfill those bigger contracts throughout the years. Komatsu excavators from Brandeis Machinery & Supply Company and Sales Rep Dustin Olander are a staple of the company’s fleet. WB-Koester has 12 Komatsu excavators ranging in size from a PC78LC to a PC400LC.
“When our operators are going out on a job, they ask for the Komatsu excavators,” noted Equipment Manager Doug Vinnedge. “We know what we’re getting with Komatsu equipment: a top-of-the-line machine that we can rely on every day.”
The newest additions to the fleet are a PC290LC WB-Koester purchased in early 2016 and a PC350LC it acquired in 2015. Both continue to live up to the company’s expectations.
“The PC290 is a great machine,” noted Vinnedge. “It’s very fast, and it has a larger bottom, so the machine is extremely smooth. We’ve primarily used it to load trucks, and even when watching it from a distance, you can tell how much stability it has. The PC350 has also been outstanding. We’ve put nearly 2,000 hours on this excavator; it’s one of our most utilized machines.”
Another favorite of WB-Koester is its PC400LC-8, which the company purchased with 2,000 hours on it. This machine is primarily used for loading articulated trucks.
“Pairing the PC400 with a 40-ton truck has been an ideal combination for us,” reported Vinnedge. “The PC400 has been such a solid machine. We were already big fans of Komatsu excavators, but the way the PC400 operated – even with 2,000 hours on it – led to us purchasing the PC350 and PC290.”
The company also rents several machines from Brandeis’ Evansville branch, which is conveniently located less than a mile from WB-Koester’s headquarters.
“They’re just a stone’s throw from us, but we continue to do business with Brandeis because of their excellent service, not just their location,” declared Head. “We’ve rented all types of machines – excavators, dozers, articulated trucks and power booms – and Brandeis is great about making sure we have what we need.”
With its expansive fleet of purchased and rented equipment, KOMTRAX, Komatsu’s telematics system, has proven its value for WB-Koester.
“We try to use any tool offered to improve efficiency,” said Vinnedge. “KOMTRAX is the most user-friendly. If we need to locate a machine or pull up a code, it only takes a couple of seconds, and we have our answer.”
When it comes to the future, WB-Koester is focused on delivering quality results to its customers. By doing that, Head believes the company will continue to enjoy the same steady growth it has experienced through the years.
“Our goal has always been to produce quality and safe work instead of focusing on growth,” he said. “Of course, we want to grow, but we have never had aggressive goals regarding our size. We are more concerned with delivering high-quality results.”
For now, WB-Koester will continue to pursue challenging projects, especially in the energy sector.
“I think there are still many opportunities in the power industry,” predicted Head. “Coal has taken some hits lately, but we have strong relationships, and there are still good possibilities for us in that area.”