Getting it Done Right
W.M. Schultz Construction
W.M. Schultz Construction is a heavy civil construction company specializing in a variety of infrastructure projects including water and wastewater treatment plants, water, sewer and stormwater transmission lines, roads, highways, and bridges, as well as industrial and private site work. Through an unwavering commitment to excellence and safety, Schultz has been in business for 50 years – and continues to grow.
“Over the past 15 years, the company has grown from a small business with a handful of employees to one that consistently achieves over $30M of annual revenue and employs more than 125 craft employees throughout New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut,” says David Rakvica, Vice President of Construction Services. “The growth of the company was a strategic vision of owner Bill Schultz to develop a systematic approach to the development of strong business relationships based on the company ethics.”
As a family owned company, Schultz has cultivated a tight-knit, principled company culture where ethics come first. “The family ownership affects the company in a very strong way as Bill Schultz is committed to the company’s vision statement and Core Values & Code of Conduct, which is integral to everything that we do and based on the Schultz family ethics.” These core values are honesty, respect, integrity, excellence, reliability, and accountability. “Bill spends countless hours creating a unique company culture and ensuring its legacy for many years to come,” Mr. Rakvica remarks. “Bill says, ‘if we can create a first class organization that people are proud to work for, we can attract the very best talent the industry has to offer.’ People are the key to everything we do.”
Protecting these people is also key, so employee safety is another core company focus. “The main thing that has separates us from other construction companies is our safety program and daily focus on safety,” Mr. Rakvica remarks. “Schultz really takes it to the next level.” While good safety is good business, the company’s primary motivation is the welfare of its workers. “It pays off, but it is really a moral issue.”
The team works to eliminate risky and unsafe actions by improving employee awareness and changing attitudes and behaviors. “We analyze the situation and try to be vigilant because it is a dangerous world out there,” Mr. Rakvica explains. “Bill Schultz always says that awareness is the key.” In an effort to achieve Zero Incident Performance, the team constantly evaluates past and present performances and makes the necessary changes as needed through its “safety focus group” in order to continually improve. This is not easy, of course. “Improvement is a daily challenge for our people who must always remain vigilant to do the right thing. Creating the right company culture, whether it be through our Safety Awareness Training Days or through the company’s weekly written publication The Safety Line, the company continuously strives to be the unique company our employees want to work for.”
Safety awareness begins as soon as workers arrive in the morning with the company’s Flex & Stretch program, which “requires all employees to start their day out performing a specific stretching routine to create awareness of soft tissue injuries.” A great example of Schultz employees thinking proactively about safety is the design and development of its own fall protection handrail system to protect workers when servicing its company owned excavators.
The company’s safety efforts have earned the firm multiple awards. In 2014, Schultz won the Associated General Contractors New York State (AGC NYS) Safety Excellence Award, which recognizes AGC NYS Members with outstanding safety programs that exceed industry standards, as well as proven safety excellence in the field. Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC) gave Schultz a Safety Training & Evaluation Process (STEP) Gold Level Award last year. The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) handed Schultz the Contractor Safety Excellence Award in 2014 and 2015. “We have won the Contractor Safety Excellence Award two years running, which is quite a feat but we remain focused on each day.”
Schultz has completed a wide variety of noteworthy projects over the last five decades. A recent bridge replacement in Castleton, Vermont, proved to be particularly challenging. “The project needed to be finished in a 28 day shutdown,” Mr. Rakvica recalls. “Using Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) methods, we were able to demolish the bridge, rebuild the new bridge, and open it to traffic within the required timeline. It took a lot of intensive planning and a lot of hard work by a number of Schultz employees and it took a commitment from the entire corporation to ensure our success.”
In addition to good old-fashioned hard work, the team relied on new technology to keep the project on track. “We had some webcams that you could view from your smart phone to monitor the project to be sure that we were meeting our very intensive schedules.”
After completing the bridge, Schultz improved railroad clearances beneath the bridge by excavating and relocating the existing train tracks beneath the new structure and thereby wrapping up the $2 million project ahead of schedule, earning an incentive bonus. “The Castleton project was definitely a large undertaking, but it was very successful for the Vermont Department of Transportation, the railroad, and the local community.”
In another recent – and very different – $2 million project, Schultz made significant infrastructure improvements to a water system in Johnstown, New York. The team constructed a new 300,000-gallon elevated steel water tank, booster pumping station, and approximately 1,500 lf of water main to upgrade the existing potable water supply to the Tryon Technology Park. Located on a site that once housed a prison, the technology park was built to serve as an economic development engine to Fulton County. To drive future business growth, the team demolished existing structures and built new water infrastructure facilities both in the Technology Park and along Maloney Road, bringing a much more reliable water supply to the park for future economic growth.
Schultz is currently well positioned, despite increased market pressure. “The public market is strongly competitive with a lack of a long term infrastructure plan in place,” Mr. Rakvica points out. “We observe a deteriorating transportation, water, and wastewater infrastructure and the challenges are huge for our state and country to commit to a full scale improvement to our communities.” He argues that infrastructure investments are not only good for the construction industry, but for the nation’s ongoing wellbeing. “The infrastructure in this country has a lot of age on it. Some of the water lines that we replace are over 100 years old. These critical facilities need attention.” But Mr. Rakvica is not optimistic that there will be a major infrastructure overhaul anytime soon. “Unfortunately water mains don’t vote; people vote. And, for the most part, we take these services for granted until they suddenly don’t work.”
Another industry challenge is the lack of the next generation workforce. “We see our workforce aging and shrinking at the same time. Who will be the next generation that will build the future? As an industry, we need to market the construction industry as it truly is a ‘great path to the middle class’ for young people to consider. Not only do we build exciting projects, but every day presents a new challenge. We need to market ourselves to young people to consider the construction industry as a fantastic career path that offers many challenges for all walks of life.”
To ensure a healthy future, Schultz is committed to diversification. “The challenge for the company is to excel in traditional markets, but also to serve new marketplaces and diversify as with any company; a firm needs to reinvent itself or be left behind. The company remains focused on its strategic mission of building relationships with our clients to achieve superior growth.”
With a wide variety of projects on the horizon – as well as strong client relationships and a superior safety program – Schultz has carved out a promising path for itself, regardless of what direction the market takes. “The sky is the limit at Schultz.”