Giving Back to the Community
Sunstate Equipment Co. forms foundation to assist those in need
Sunstate Equipment Co. (Sunstate) is more than a construction equipment rental company with a reputation for its commitment to people, integrity and service; it’s a company that has a long-standing history of being a charitable steward within the communities that it does business.
Originally founded in 1977 as a mom-and-pop shop in Phoenix, Sunstate now operates at 65 locations throughout 10 states from coast to coast, with more coming soon. As the company has grown its national footprint, it has also increased its efforts to support the charities that are most important to its vast team of nearly 1,700 employees throughout the county.
“It isn’t about the money. It’s really all about the people—our No.1 core value,” says Larry Cox, Sunstate’s Vice President of Culture. “We desire to encourage involvement in recognizing and endeavoring to meet the needs throughout every market in which we work.”
Sunstate is dedicated to improving the circumstances of people in need. Throughout the company’s 41-year history, it has often made both financial and in-kind contributions for a wide range of community outreach and improvement projects, including the American Cancer Society’s The Big Dig in the Desert, American Heart Association Heart Walk events and Thirst Aid which provides purified water to third world countries.
But charity at Sunstate has never been limited to corporate giving. Its people—the core of Sunstate’s culture—also have a long history of donating their personal time and skills to mentor youth, help veterans, combat homelessness, support women’s shelters and child advocacy, and to provide hands-on help with home renovations for low-income and disabled persons.
Sunstate team members throughout the country also share an all-hands-on-deck attitude when it comes to helping their co-workers and community neighbors during times of crises and natural disaster, as was witnessed during Hurricane Harvey, the 2017 California wildfires, along with countless other events.
Sunstate Equipment Foundation
In 2015, Sunstate decided to provide an easy channel for their community-minded employees to have even greater impact with their charitable giving with the creation of the Sunstate Equipment Foundation. The foundation is a 501(c)(3) that approves grants to other nonprofits, but what makes it unique is that it is primarily driven by Sunstate’s employees. Sunstate CEO and President Chris Watts, SVP/CFO Garth Price and Cox currently serve as members of the board.
The foundation is funded by voluntary employee contributions with dollar-for-dollar matching from Sunstate. As a testament to the true giving nature of Sunstate and its team, in just two years, Sunstate Equipment Foundation was able to give over a quarter million dollars in grants to 62 charities.
“The whole idea was to involve our employees in assisting the communities that help us grow,” says Cox. “We’re pretty proud of the fact that currently about 40 percent of Sunstate’s workforce nationwide contributes to the foundation on a weekly basis. And we are gaining traction. Some smaller branches may come in at 100 percent participation, but in metropolitan areas like Los Angeles or the Bay Area, 40 percent is pretty consistent.”
The foundation focuses on charities that help with disadvantaged children and adults, medical aid and research, housing assistance, domestic violence awareness and protection, military and veterans assistance, and care of abused and neglected animals.
One example of how grants from the foundation directly benefit members of the community is their recent grant to TechForce Foundation. When a member of the military wants to attend a technical school as part of transitioning to a post-military career, it takes about six weeks before GI benefits kick in. “These veterans need provisional finances, and the TechForce Foundation offers scholarships to tide them over. We funded that scholarship,” Cox says.
Every market has a volunteer advisory group comprised of managers and non-managers, including drivers and mechanics. “We encourage involvement across the spectrum of our personnel, and we rotate those folks just so we get others involved in the process,” says Cox.
Groups meet twice a year to review the grant applications that have been received from within their local area. “Some have multiple grant applications and some have just a single, but they bring charities to the forefront that really do need help,” Cox says.
After reviewing grant applications, the advisory group recommends to the foundation board which nonprofits they want to fund and how much of their available funds should be earmarked for each grant. When a grant is awarded, the local advisory group takes part in actually giving the check to the charity. “You can see the participants’ delight at being able to make the presentation to communities that have been so gracious to us,” Cox adds.
Big Dig in the Desert
Sunstate and its employees participate independent of the foundation on several community fundraising events, such as the Big Dig in the Desert. But this year, Big Dig planners needed more cash for operations; they submitted a grant request and received funding from the Sunstate Equipment Foundation, as well.
The Big Dig, now in its third year, benefits the American Cancer Society and raises money for cancer research. Pediatric cancer patients and their families are invited to participate in the simulated construction site. This year’s event will be in downtown Phoenix. The Big Dig committee includes Todd Vaughan, regional sales manager for Sunstate Equipment and one of the founding members of the event.
“We bring different pieces of equipment there that the kids can operate—not just walk around,” Vaughan says. A slew of activities are provided including equipment to climb on, operable excavators and large scissor lifts that children can ride 40 feet in the air. Last year, more than 1,400 guests attended, including volunteers, pediatric cancer survivors and their families. The event raised $175,000 for the American Cancer Society.
“It’s just great to see the look on the kids’ faces, especially when they are going up and down in the big scissor lifts. They get so excited. Kids like to look at big construction equipment—boys and girls alike,” says Vaughan. Many of Sunstate’s crew volunteer their time to help at the event. Sunstate supplies five four-wheel-drive scissor lifts, a water truck, a few golf carts and a couple of industrial carts for the event.
“It’s great to have an event like this that directly affects the kids and families of Phoenix, especially those suffering from pediatric cancer, and brings a smile and joy to them,” Vaughan says. “It’s all about the people—those who find themselves in difficult circumstances and those who are willing to come alongside and offer assistance.”