Getting it Done

Plote Construction

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Jerry Reece, chief operating officer of Plote Construction Inc., calls his company a “get-it-done organization” that is proactive in solving problems and works closely with clients. The family-run firm is also innovative, multifaceted and committed to developing leaders from within its ranks.
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Based in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, Plote (pronounced “Ploh-tee”) is “a vertically integrated civil contractor and material supplier. We produce our own aggregates, and we manufacture asphalt and concrete with our own plants,” states Reece.

Working primarily in the Chicago-area, Plote has vast experience in highway and airport construction jobs. Snow removal, excavation and residential/industrial/commercial property development are other available services. Construction materials made by the company plants are used either in-house or sold to other firms.

Plote Construction was founded in 1964 by Ray and Jan Plote. Their son Dan Plote is the President of Plote Construction. The third generation of the Plote family is actively involved in day to day operations in various roles, and the company is very committed to preserving and growing the family business.

Plote Construction began as an excavation contractor. Over the years, the firm acquired new companies, including an asphalt production and paving company and an aggregate producer and folded them into its operations. The latest addition includes a start-up landscape waste composting facility.

Sustainability is a huge commitment of Plote’s. The company is one of the largest recyclers of construction materials in the state, turning this material into useable products.

“In the last two years, we have used well over a million tons of recycled concrete and easily a half-million tons of recycled asphalt. We also recycle asphalt shingles, referred to as RAS – roofing shingles, that is. Last year alone, that number was around 44,000 tons. I would tell you in past two years, that number is probably 100,000 tons,” says Reece.

The focus on sustainability has in part been driven by economics. One of the company’s main clients is the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority (ISTHA). The Illinois Tollway, as both the roadway and the highway authority are often called, has embraced sustainability and materials recycling in a big way. This ‘green’ focus works to Plote’s advantage. As a vertically integrated firm that recycles and supplies construction materials, Plote has a decided edge any time a construction job with sustainability specifications comes up for tender, at ISTHA or elsewhere.

Along with sustainability, safety is a major concern at Plote. The firm has a safety director with two support staff plus a safety board containing representatives of the different segments of the company. Plote holds monthly safety meetings and an annual safety breakfast for employees. Roughly five hundred people attended the last such breakfast, which featured presentations on safety issues and concerns. Personnel are given awards for working safely, and the company offers a safety bonus program.

Reece explains how the safety bonus program works: “We start off with a defined pool of money, and we make deductions from that. We’ve devised a way where everyone is accountable – everyone suffers when we have a safety incident. But then we’ve also devised a way, when we don’t have a safety issue, to put money back into the pot.”

To add to this, Plote works closely with the insurance companies it has ties with, holding regular meetings to review safety issues.

The number of employees at Plote varies throughout the year. While the company removes snow in Illinois villages and at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, winter represents something of a slow period. Once warm weather returns and the construction sector picks up, Plote’s staff will number “around eight hundred” workers, says Reece.

It has a core of seasoned employees who have been with the firm for years. When hiring new employees, the company looks for younger people with a background in engineering, construction management and environmental work, among other disciplines. Industry certifications also help.

Plote is very active in terms of recruitment outreach, taking part in university job fairs, for example. The company also runs an internship program. The two efforts complement each other. Students who show an interest at job fairs are given interviews and ratings by Plote staff. If the student then wants to apply for an internship, their job fair ratings and interviews are graded alongside their application. There are usually about six or seven interns at any given time, working in the field. Ideally, interns will stay on to become full-time employees.

Plote also likes new hires who can speak Spanish as well as English. This ties in with the company’s safety focus; according to Reece, construction firms with bilingual workers, who can communicate easily with each other, have statistically lower rates of accidents. It is a good strategy, given that Plote has a significant Hispanic workforce in some of its segments.

If you’re looking to get a job at Plote, “you’ve got to be a guy who gets along. We’re a family held organization,” says Reece. This family ethos also plays a big part in its corporate culture.

“We’re the perfect blend of a family business and a corporate environment. We have enough corporate structure to give us efficiency … but we’re a nimble organization in that we can make quick decisions if we need to. We can enable a workforce and deploy it very rapidly. We can get a lot of work done in a short period of time without a lot of people standing in the way. We’re also different from the corporate structure in that we are more willing to empower people to make their own decisions and trust people. We know you’re going to have a mistake now and again and that’s okay,” states Reece.

The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority has been one of Plote’s biggest clients for the past few years. Thanks in part to tollway work, Plote “just completed our two largest revenue years in history,” says Reece.

In late December 2016, Plote was named General Contractor of the Year by the Illinois Tollway. The award was given in recognition of a rebuilding and widening project on Interstate 90 on which the company worked.

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has been another steady client for the past few years. Plote has also worked on a huge expansion of cargo facilities at O’Hare Airport which involved the company’s concrete, asphalt and excavation sectors.

Plote likes to keep on top of the technology curve. The firm uses drones, for example, to survey stockpiles of construction materials, among other tasks. Having a drone do this job fits in with its commitment to efficiency and safety, in that a worker does not have to climb the pile to survey its contents by eye. It also sometimes flies drones to scope potential sites for land development.

While very focused on safety, Plote is equally devoted to quality. This extends beyond merely living up to contractual requirements for quality in construction assignments.

“When we sell materials, even to third parties, we evaluate those materials just as if we were using them for ourselves or if they were going to an agency such as the tollway or other highway jobs. If it’s going to Grandma’s driveway, it gets the same testing as if it’s going on an interstate highway,” says Reece.

Plote also offers input on quality issues through its participation in various technical committees and state and local boards for concrete, materials, asphalt, etc.

The company promotes itself with a newly revamped website and a social media presence. Company officials also say the firm’s university recruitment and intern programs help promote its name. Plote’s recent promotional efforts have been largely aimed at the private sector, to expand that aspect of the business.

“During this past year, we set out to intentionally promote ourselves in the private sector. We’re preparing ourselves to enter back into some more private sector work. [To this end] our new website was launched in November,” says John Lichty, vice president of business development.

Plote also runs the Plote Leadership Program (PLP). In this program, roughly ten potential future company leaders are given special training. PLP participants meet monthly and work with a leadership consultant. The goal is ensure a steady stream of youthful leaders to lead the company in the future.

Over the next few years, Plote officials anticipate doing more work for existing customers, while expanding the firm’s client base. Reece says the Illinois legislature recently passed regulations preventing government officials from transferring money earmarked for transportation purposes to general state funds. This move will hopefully provide steady funding for new highway work, which will ultimately benefit Plote.

On top of doing more private sector construction jobs, the company wants to expand some of ancillary portions of its business.

“One vision we have is to become more diverse. We’re a fully integrated construction company, and on the fringes of that… we have these relationships with companies that are in the construction recycling field,” says Lichty.

That said, Reece makes clear that, in years to come, the firm will not be straying from the core offerings that made it a success in the first place. “If you look at the percentage of our business, I still think it’s going to be largely construction and materials,” he says.

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 18, 2019, 5:54 AM EST

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