McDonald Excavating, Inc.’s emphasis on logistics turns heads in Portland
McDonald Excavating, Inc. is growing, and it’s not just because the Washougal, Washington, company has proved it can move a lot of dirt. It’s more about how they move it: With precision, efficiency and the ability to think outside the box.
Darin Kaysner, Senior Project Manager for Andersen Construction out of Portland, can attest. Having worked with McDonald Excavating on multiple clinic projects over the past three years, he has gained an appreciation for the excavator’s approach.
“They are just great team players when it comes to being a subcontractor,” Darin says. “They’ll bring solutions to the table every time. Their equipment is top-notch and GPS-enabled. I’ve had instances at a couple of clinics where the grades and elevation were not jiving so I called them in to help. Each time, they have come in with proposals and we’ve scrubbed original plans because they’ve been able to grade the parking lot so it will drain properly, no matter the contours or curb lines. They are precise with their equipment. They’ll get CAD files from civil engineers and do their takeoff on how to get it done.”
GPS technology in the excavation world isn’t new, but it isn’t cheap, either. Ryan McDonald, Owner and President of McDonald Excavating, says outfitting the graders, excavators and dozers—the finishing equipment—costs about $60,000 per unit. The payoff, he explains, is the ability to move the earth to precise levels.
“We don’t have GPS on all of our machines, but it makes a big difference in time and being efficient,” Ryan says. “As a company, we started with it in 2005. I’d like to think we’re taking it to another level, and we’ve slowly added to our capabilities as we’ve grown.”
GPS, it turns out, barely scratches the surface of how McDonald Excavating uses innovation to rise above the competition.
When The Who’s Who in Building & Construction magazine checked in with McDonald Excavating in 2019, the company was doing about $16 million a year in business. Ryan says this year, despite the pandemic and the ongoing protests in Portland, his company will top $20 million in annual revenue.
“I don’t know how big we will get, and that’s not really my concern,” Ryan says. “Growth is the product of good work. I have never wanted to be the busiest excavator, just the best. As long as I can hire great people and do great work, I’m sure we will continue to grow.”
Some of the staff members Ryan has depended on to grow are General Superintendent Tom Kennon, Project Manager Mike Logan and Dispatcher Mike Farrell.
“All of our managers and supervisors are rock stars,” Ryan says. “Tom is my lifesaver. If it wasn’t for him, I would probably be in the looney house because of all he handles. Mike Logan keeps the numbers in check and Mike Farrell keeps us on the road and moving. I’m fortunate to have a lot of great people working with me, and that feels good.”
Ryan also traces the large uptick in work to a complex three-month excavation for a 35-story Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel, condominium and office tower that is currently being built in Portland. The company’s scope of work included digging a 65-foot hole covering an entire city block for six stories of underground parking and moving more than 100,000 cubic tons of earth without disrupting the surrounding street traffic.
It accomplished the logistical challenge with the purchase of a $400,000 conveyor belt that paid for itself with that one project, Ryan says.
The belt is 130 feet long and loads into a 25-foot load conveyer that McDonald’s trucks can easily roll up to in order to be filled. Uniquely made and operating at a 25-degree angle, Ryan says the belt holds 15 tons of material at a time.
“It is so efficient we were able to weigh every truck before adding our load, and we maximized every load,” Ryan says. “We made sure not to underload or overload.”
By the time McDonald Excavating’s crew finished digging, the conveyor had caught the eye of other contractors. So much so that a competing excavating company rented the conveyor to complete its own nearby project when McDonald Excavating finished with the Ritz-Carlton.
“That was a nice bonus,” Ryan says with a smile. “We were fortunate to be able to plan it out, and that one project paid for the conveyor, which has also opened up a lot of deep excavating opportunities for us. These conveyors aren’t super prominent in Portland like they are in Seattle where you have larger companies that own them. Having this in our arsenal puts us on another level.”
McDonald Excavating removed about 500 tons of earth per hour with the belt, equating to 120 truckloads in a single eight-hour shift, 2,500 yards a day, Ryan says. “Without that belt you could probably still do that job, but it would be very difficult. Logistically, it would be tough with all of the traffic in the area. We were able to not have equipment sitting on the road, blocking or interfering with traffic. That’s something I’m really proud of. Digging a hole isn’t complex. The logistics of the Ritz dig was.”
Focusing on the Good
McDonald Excavating was started by Ryan’s father, Mike, in 1980 as a demolition and excavating firm.
The family home where Ryan grew up continues to serve as the firm’s office, which it was converted to years ago. But by spring of 2021, Ryan expects finally to be able to move into a new office/shop complex at Port of Camas-Washougal Industrial Park, approximately a mile from its current office location.
“It will be nice to have all of our equipment in one space and better conference rooms to hold meetings,” Ryan says. “The shop is four times the size we have now. But, what I’m most proud of over the past year has been how we’ve successfully navigated the COVID-19 outbreak and other problems. While some companies have run for the hills and laid off people, my mentality has been the exact opposite. I wanted to keep my guys working and on the payroll so they can support their families. We’ve grown from 50 people at our peak to 60 being the norm now.”
Among McDonald Excavating’s core values are to do jobs right the first time and be accountable. And although the firm owns a new giant conveyor belt, Ryan says McDonald Excavating will continue to tackle projects of all sizes, ranging from excavation and site preparation, heavy civil construction and underground utility work to emergency and environmental repairs and demolition.
Before the Ritz-Carlton project, one of McDonald Excavating’s signature projects was the remediation and site preparation for Oregon Health & Science University’s Knight Cancer Research Building in Portland.
Currently, the firm is being subcontracted to expand Concourse B at the Portland International Airport (PDX) in Portland, which is part of a $2 billion renovation project. “We’re doing one small chunk,” Ryan says. “It has its challenges. We’re working on a live airfield so there are a lot of logistics and coordination. We’re also demolishing the old U.S. Postal Service site in Portland and prepping the site for a new development, which includes getting rid of contaminated materials.” The company has also been subcontracted for work with Portland’s mass transit system TriMet.
Even with all the new business, more than half of McDonald Excavating’s clientele now consists of repeat customers. While Ryan says he’s happy to be at $20 million this year, he reiterates the company’s belief in service and quality work.
“It comes down to good people servicing their clients well and listening,” Ryan says. “That’s a key to getting clients to come back.” As is the company’s precision, efficiency and creative thinking to handle not just digs, but logistics.