Taking Projects to the Next Level
Meridian Contracting is a full-service contractor that specializes in providing heavy, civil, structural and industrial construction services to public sector agencies such as the Arizona Department of Transportation, the New Mexico Department of Transportation, Pima County, Town of Oro Valley, City of Nogales, Oklahoma Department of Transportation, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Tucson Airport Authority. It also serves private sector clients at mines, power plants, and railroads throughout Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Sonora, Mexico.
Construction in Focus spoke recently with one of Meridian Contracting’s founders, Mark Sutton and Jeff Jones, Meridian’s controller, to discuss the company’s origins, philosophy, projects, and its goals.
Meridian was founded by Mark Sutton and Ted Haworth in 2003 and has grown to now have a permanent staff of over thirty professionals. It is located in the Southwestern United States and has offices in Tucson, Arizona; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Norman, Oklahoma.
This growth is seen by Sutton as being a demonstration of Meridian’s commitment to its employees. “In order to make great careers for its people, the company has to grow. You have to be able to create opportunities for people that have made a commitment to the company. If they have to wait for attrition, for an opening to come available, that can be too long,” he says.
It is clear that Sutton is at the helm of a company that is very agile, and Meridian prides itself on being a contractor that can mobilize very quickly with staff who can perform a variety of functions on site.
“We are that way on purpose. I would use the term ‘nimble’ to describe us. We do a lot of cross-training – a lot of different types of work. We have all of our people involved in many different types of the work so that they have a broad base [of experience], and whenever the opportunity comes along [we can take it]. We like complex projects; we like jobs with lots of different types of work involved. That doesn’t mean we won’t go out to do a pure earth moving project, but it is the complex projects that really allow you to distinguish yourself.
“When we have a pool of employees that understand a fair amount about mechanical [engineering], and maybe structural concrete is what their passion had been at some point in their career. They also may have a very good knowledge of underground piping and those sorts of things. So when they are seeking ways on the job to bring added value to a client, they don’t have to go ask somebody else about it; they are looking at [the problem], and then they pick up the phone and start brainstorming. That’s where our nimbleness comes from and our ability to come up with solutions on complex projects in short order,” says Sutton.
Sutton notes that Meridian places a high value on training its employees and creating the essential environment that will allow them to grow in their careers and their skills. Meridian hires engineers – sometimes fresh from university – and is a proving ground for these employees to increase and expand their skill set over the years they spend in the company. Sutton suggests that his company has a culture of innovation and an entrepreneurial approach to the work that maximizes value for Meridian’s clients.
“[New employees] aren’t all multidisciplinary when they get here, but we screen them for their willingness to expand their horizons and their comfort level of dealing with the discomfort of taking on new challenges. [We hire] people that are willing to grow, adapt and broaden their base,” says Sutton proudly.
Of primary importance for Meridian is applying rigorous standards for safety on its job sites. Sutton considers making certain that the job is done safely with no accidents a true value-added service for clients.
“We don’t do anything unless we can do it safely. The safety culture starts with me, and there is nothing that we do at Meridian that is more important than safety. What that means is that if there is a situation that comes up where safety is a concern, that gets my attention – not only the attention of anyone involved in the project or management of it, but it also comes straight to me. If I have to, I’ll drop what I’m doing, and everything else will have to wait until safety [on that job] is clearly being treated with the utmost respect,” says Sutton.
Everywhere that Meridian works, it brings safety to bear. This often results in the company enriching the safety culture of the local workers on job sites, as Meridian requires that even subcontractors who work with the company understand the importance of safety, and its crews provide training and mentoring to achieve this. Meridian has been recognized as a safety leader in the industry and has been awarded the District Commander’s Civil Construction Program’s Safety Achievement Award for work on the Abiquiu Dam Bank Stabilization project in Abiquiu, New Mexico.
Meridian performs much of its work in remote locations, and this is where having multi-disciplinary employees is such a benefit to clients. “Being able to plan with an in-house knowledge of the job requirements, our execution in remote locations is better. We are geographically diverse; we’ve got a mobile workforce – we can offer a diversity of services – that can travel to numerous areas, and we can apply [all of] these resources to the project.”
An example of one of Meridian’s state-of-the-art projects is the Pedestrian Undercrossing Facility at Mariposa Land Port of Entry, a busy border crossing between Mexico and the United States. Meridian worked on this project in cooperation with the Arizona Department of Transportation and Stanec Consulting Services, Inc. The project was challenging, as the design team needed to find a way to facilitate the growing volume of large, commercial vehicles transiting the border while protecting pedestrians who are also seeking to cross.
The area within which the pedestrian crossing would be placed was a confined space, presenting a concern from a safety perspective as the construction site was only feet away from the highway that serves the port of entry. As well, construction had to take place without overly hindering the active border crossing. Meridian’s collaborative and novel approach to this project ensured that it was delivered on time, under budget, and with no lost time due to injuries. The project showcased Meridian’s superior safety record, its nimble planning, and out-of-the-box thinking on site.
Sutton sees Meridian’s multi-functionality as having been vital to its success in gaining an impressive roster of clients. “Our private industrial clients [ask for] a lot of specialty work. They want someone who has a broad knowledge and capability; where they don’t bring in a lot of sub-contractors; where they have an incredible focus on safety; and where they don’t have high maintenance requirements to accomplish the work they’ve [contracted for].”
Finally, seeking a diverse client base is also part of Meridian’s ongoing growth and success. “We have client diversity for a reason. The federal government, state government, local government and industrial clients – some of these clients have counter-cyclical work that we can perform, and continuity of employment supports employee retention, and that is of the utmost importance.”
Sutton’s goals for the future of Meridian encompass careful but deliberate expansion, both in terms of the lines of business that Meridian undertakes, as well as a geographic expansion beyond current locations in the Southwestern United States.
“We want to expand geographically, but also in areas where we feel we can deliver our products. We will continue to expand the work types that we perform, and that could be anything from high voltage electrical to other construction specialties,” says Sutton.
Meridian’s superlative safety record, as well as its reputation for doing complicated jobs on time, at a high quality, is what results in its clients coming back time and again and is what will support the company’s growth into the future.
“We are focused on building careers at Meridian; our people come first. We are focused on them winning, and Meridian wins as a result. There is a difference with Meridian. We like challenges, and we like projects that utilize our expertise,” concludes Sutton.