Making Market Gains
Clark Excavation & Utility digs deep to broaden client base
Over the last two years, Clark Excavation & Utility, a division of Clark Farm Drainage, has expanded its capabilities to support a broad range of projects within the construction industry.
The company’s recent focus on building relationships with general contractors is a process that is inherent to its early days in the agricultural drainage business, when its first clients were farmers. Its ability to foster the care required to help something small, such as an initial collaboration with a client, grow and flourish into a fruitful relationship is, after all, not unlike planting a seed.
Both involve seeing long-term potential, paying attention to detail and knowing the ultimate value in contributing factors. Not all excavating and earthworks companies possess these traits, according to Patrick Meyer, Project Superintendent with TWG Construction Services, Inc. of Indianapolis.
He calls Clark Excavation & Utility’s wide view a major benefit that proves itself where it counts most: on the job site.
“They were doing an underground storm retention system on one of our projects,” Meyer says. “Well, a lot of our engineered drawings had problems. There were conflicts. [Clark Excavation & Utility] went above and beyond and found solutions. They helped me get ahead of schedule rather than fall behind.”
Expertise in Acres
The late Bob Clark Sr. launched Clark Farm Drainage in 1979 in a two-car garage in Richmond, Indiana.
The company initially installed farm drainage systems, ensuring fields wouldn’t be saturated with excess water so that farmers could get the soil conditions they needed to help cultivate their crops.
Proper drainage—using surface ditches or systems of subsurface drains—allows for more timely planting and harvesting, setting the stage for better crop yields, says Bob Clark II, Clark Sr.’s son and President of the veteran-owned business. Improper farm drainage can delay fieldwork, prevent soil aeration and hinder plants’ root development.
Farmers invest in drainage systems to maximize their yield and profit. The company discovered a way to add to its profits as well, by using its wisdom and equipment in a different way.
“We’ve been successful in the agricultural sector, moving dirt and putting pipes in the ground for over four decades,” says Clark II, a U.S. Army veteran. “But agricultural construction has seasonal cycling with crops. And when crops are in the ground, construction is at its slowest time, in the summer. I always felt that we were not taking advantage of our experience and our equipment to the fullest extent that we could.”
A More Bountiful Base
In 2018, the company made a focused effort to expand beyond the agricultural sector by establishing Clark Excavation & Utility to handle projects in markets such as roadway infrastructure and water/wastewater. Its capabilities include earthwork and sitework, utilities installation, and paving and hauling services.
The firm has been able to layer these new markets atop its established reputation of providing quality work while abiding by best practices and meeting client deadlines.
The company still provides farm drainage for agricultural clients under its brand name Clark Farm Drainage, delivering large-scale design-build agricultural water management projects across the country.
Now with over 20 employees, Clark Excavation & Utility, though small, brings the experience of a much larger firm to each of its projects, says Vice President Bob Clark III.
The excavation company has served as a trusted partner for TWG, says Meyer, even contributing to parts of the aforementioned project that didn’t involve excavation. “If they saw something was amiss, they’d say right away, ‘This will not pass inspection.’ I was able to better predict future issues and save time,” he says.
Right Time, Right Leader
Some of the company’s experience comes from outside the Clark family.
Clark II says that the formation of the company’s civil division came after a yearslong search for the right person to lead it. They found that leader in Tom Williams.
Clark II says Williams has the right mix of experience and skills for his role as Chief Operating Officer, a major part of which is acquiring customers for this new business unit. Williams’ background includes the launch and management of several companies, as well as sales and management of projects in excavation and earthwork. Clark II cites Williams’ sense of entrepreneurship—including finding new ways to combine resources—as resonating with Clark Excavation & Utility’s efforts toward attracting clients.
“In the Indianapolis market, we are a relatively newer player, and every project’s success is critical to our vision of building a solid brand. It’s really amazing that we can come to the job with 40 years of project and business management skills and bring in people who have sold and managed multimillion-dollar civil projects,” Clark III says. “General contractors see a competent team with us,” he states further, adding that the firm provides great personal service, calling it the best of both worlds.
Safety is a key part of that success, says Williams. With the risk of cave-ins—soil loss under a trench shield or support system potentially causing a crew member’s entrapment or worse—there is no room for distractions or noncompliance, he says. Safety is a core value of the company, with proper training and appropriate equipment prioritized to ensure that crew members return home safely from each job.
Downtown Indianapolis is reinventing itself these days, creating new districts for residents to live, play and work in while expanding waterfront connectivity, innovation hubs and convention resources.
Clark Excavation & Utility has been involved in making way for downtown apartment complexes, senior housing, commercial buildings and multiuse developments that often call for value engineering, Williams says, a process by which alternate means and methods are used to keep a project’s timeline and pricing on course. Basically, an obstacle will present itself in a plan, and a solution is needed quickly, whether it’s one that will work independently or together with other facets of the design.
“It could be a different type of pipe, a modification in overlay flow design or a different technique,” Williams says. He notes that minimizing any negative impacts on the project owner is always the priority.
These kinds of projects allow Clark Excavation & Utility to show its ability to innovate as well as the range of work it can perform. One of the team’s top goals is to build relationships with general contractors, Williams says, and the challenging circumstances presented in value-engineering scenarios give its members a chance to show contractors how working together can be beneficial.
“Our job is to anticipate the unknown, be in control and manage how to overcome that obstacle or change,” says Williams—all on behalf of clients.
Value engineering that comes from decades of experience is a unique asset that gives Clark Excavation & Utility a competitive edge.
Another is the company’s commitment to stay current on industry technology, enabling the team to present the data its larger clients require. Municipal clients, for example, often need GPS coordinates and elevations for excavation or pipe work to reference future easements and underground utility work, Williams says.
He adds that constantly changing technology calls for cyclical monitoring, learning and research, all of which take time and dedication. The company also promotes an environment of teaching where employees, who have come to Clark Excavation & Utility from different backgrounds, help one another grow personally and professionally.
Clark Excavation & Utility aims to continue nurturing relationships with general contractors, staying abreast of technological advancements and broadening its scope of work.
“General contractors’ projects are just as important to us as they are to them,” Williams says. “There are many times we’ve been called in to finish jobs other excavation companies have started. General contractors appreciate our professionalism.”