Cornelius, North Carolina-based asphalt paving company Granite Contracting was formed nearly twenty years ago, and now has three locations, three plants, and close to 140 employees. We spoke with its President Steve Cosper to find out more.
Granite Contracting began operations in January of 1999. It now has three asphalt plants and operates across both North and South Carolina. “For the first four years, we performed primarily stone base, paving, curb and gutter. In 2003, we added a grading and utilities component. There are not a lot of companies in the Charlotte area that provide full-service offerings,” says Steve.
Most site projects are broken into two components: a “rough” package comprising grading and utilities and a “finish” package that includes stone base, paving and curb. “Providing both packages makes us somewhat unique,” says Steve. “In 2014, we purchased a concrete paving company and integrated those services into the ‘finish’ package offering. This allows us to offer the owner a complete package with options for every conceivable application.”
Granite has a varied customer base including local developers, private contractors, schools, municipalities, large industrial, large commercial, NCDOT, SCDOT and Federal agencies. While there is some overlap, each of these customer groups have specific needs and require a unique skill set from their contractor. “Our focus at Granite is to provide value through good planning, coordination, communication, quality, safety and solid construction practices.”
This kind of work can be dangerous; however, Granite Contracting has maintained a spectacular safety record since its first day. In 1999, it started with a team of professionals with years of experience in every aspect of the business. Despite being a small company, every one of the foreman had worked with large companies and had a real appreciation for safety. The company then reinforced this by adding both an in-house safety manager along with an outside risk management consultant.
It has also retained an external safety advisor to help ensure material transport, highway, and equipment safety compliance. “It is an integral part of who we are. Our incident severity and frequency has remained well below industry standards,” says Steve.
Recently the company was selected as the “Contractor of the Year” from a pool that spreads across the entire Caterpillar footprint in the U.S. and Canada. The field was narrowed down from a large contingent of applicants to twelve. All the finalists went to Las Vegas for interviews and to dig deeper into all components of safety, quality control, and technologies employed. “It was a rigorous vetting process and we were honored to be selected as the winner amongst so many finalists. It was a real acknowledgement of our team’s hard work and commitment to our industry and customers,” says Steve.
A project that defines what the company is capable of would be its work on Camber Ridge LLC’s 2015 tire test track facility, an asphalt track that allows tire manufacturers to monitor tire performance under laboratory conditions. Granite Contracting built the three-quarter-mile track, inside of a building, which presented some unique challenges.
A robot runs around the track at fifty-five miles per hour while a bank of computers monitor a tire’s response to different road conditions and air pressures, and how they affect endurance, rolling and stopping characteristics. There is only a quarter-inch deviation throughout the entire length of that project, making this one of the smoothest surfaces anywhere. “Providing surface deviations inside a quarter inch blanking band over that entire three quarter mile test track was quite an accomplishment,” says Steve.
Granite Contracting also built a NASCAR road course at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The entire project was built without conventional survey staking using only robotic and GPS horizontal and vertical control. Granite demonstrated its ability to perform at the highest level of trade practices in the construction of the world’s first “Four Wide” drag strip. Due to the high speeds generated by drag racers, the specified tolerances were incredibly tight, and Granite was successful in providing the smoothest asphalt drag surface in the County.
Rock Hill South Carolina has become quite a national destination for cyclists. Granite helped build a Velodrome track, a BMX track and Criterium course at the River Walk cycling facility. Again, precision and hyper attention to every nuance of the construction process is essential to achieve the required tolerances on projects such as this.
Project managers are a central part of the process, guiding the client through the entire project. Each project manager with Granite Contracting prepares their own estimates, and when the project moves to contract, they lead the construction team. Throughout the work, the project managers are very involved, making it easy for the client to follow along and be apprised of any situations that may develop.
“This construction team is made up of Field Operations, Quality Control, Equipment, Transport and asphalt Production managers working with the appropriate job Foreman and crew. It is rare in this industry to have a customer experience whereby each customer has one primary point of contact that walks them through the entire construction process, from estimating to construction to billing, to revenue and through to completion,” says Steve.
The paving industry is growing rapidly and so is the need for qualified people. In response, the South Carolina Asphalt Pavement Association (SCAPA) has put together an initiative to attract, educate and retain a skilled labor force. “There is a dearth of qualified people for the construction trades across the board,” says Steve. “SCAPA has taken a two-phase approach. First we have launched a marketing initiative to identify and attract people using a full gambit of advertising across various platforms such as social media, billboards, and television to put asphalt construction in the spotlight. Second, we have launched SCAPA Academy, a computer-based tool that provides technical training on every aspect of asphalt construction. This country is running desperately short of people that know how to work and are equipped with a skill set of mechanical knowledge,” says Steve.
“We want to use these tools to elevate and educate the public that asphalt construction is not what it used to be. This industry offers tremendous opportunities for people that are motivated and eager to learn and want to build a rewarding career,” says Steve. Young people today are racking up historic levels of student debt, and upon graduation are often unable to find a job that allows them to pay off that debt. The asphalt and construction industry offers a fast track to good salaries and opportunities.
“People’s attitudes toward construction are a little old-fashioned. It is still physically demanding and involves a lot of sweat occasionally, but there has been a tremendous amount of innovation in equipment and processes that makes our industry far more labor-friendly and much safer,” shares Steve.
Steve is in the middle of a two-year term as president of SCAPA. In addition to working with industry specific issues, SCAPA works closely with the Department of Transportation to develop construction specifications and to help provide the public with safe, cost-effective transportation solutions.
“We create long-term value for the asphalt industry because if our product doesn’t hit longevity or drivability standards, it’s a blight on the industry. We need to deliver a product that delivers over time. ‘Together We Know More,’ is the motto. That attitude delivers value to the driving public and makes our industry indispensable,” says Steve.