Some of the assistance that Cumberland received in recent years to become more profitable has come from Parman Tractor & Equipment, the Nashville, Tenn., full-service dealership.(Cumberland Pipeline LLC photo)
For almost a decade, Cumberland Pipeline, headquartered in Columbia, Ky., has blossomed into one of the top underground utilities contractors in the central part of both its home state and that of Tennessee.
That success came after enduring several years of rough sailing following its founding in 2009, and through the efforts of Bo Ellison, its current co-owner, president and project manager, who worked to steer the business into much calmer waters.
In fact, Ellison was specifically hired by Cumberland in 2014 to accomplish that very task. He managed to steadily bring prosperity to the company so that in 2023, the contracting firm is the preferred choice of many municipalities, water districts and waste districts to plan, install and repair their underground water and sewage utilities.
"Along with a lot of help from other people, we were able to stabilize the ship to the point that now we are sought after, and people call us to come work on their projects," he said.
Among those on the Cumberland management team with Ellison are Terry Stephens, also a co-owner of the firm, as well as the owner of Stephens Pipe and Steel, the nation's largest chain-link fence supplier.
"He has almost 50 years of business experience," Ellison said.
In addition, he considers Jeremy Sneed to be "my right-hand man. Jeremy is the vice president of operations. He helps hold it all together. We have a lot of talented people working for us."
Overall, he said, Cumberland is a well-experienced, but young and energetic company.
"I am 50 years old, and one of the older people here," Ellison said. "I have a mechanic, a project manager and one equipment operator older than me, but the field management teams probably have an average age of 35 years. We're fortunate that most of the people working here have done this work their entire adult lives."
Nashville Equipment Dealer Becomes Trusted Partner
Some of the assistance that Cumberland received in recent years to become more profitable has come from Parman Tractor & Equipment, the Nashville, Tenn., full-service dealership. It has partnered with Cumberland to help the contractor procure a number of machines, the most important being several Link-Belt excavators. Parman also provides Cumberland with Takeuchi compact tract loaders and Hitachi wheel loaders.
"What drew me to Parman in 2021 was that they carry Link-Belt, Hitachi and Takeuchi," Ellison said, noting that the distributor is now Cumberland's primary source for its equipment. "But we also get attachments for the skid steers, and we go to them for our parts and service on those pieces of equipment. Additionally, we purchased five 12,000-pound Epiroc hammers from them."
When asked about what he likes about Parman, beyond the fact the dealer sells the construction equipment brands he prefers, Ellison said, "They have just met all of our needs, including being able to get new machines for us in a time when equipment was not readily available. For instance, I had my eye on the Link-Belt 355 X4S since the 2020 ConExpo."
Ellison called Casey Bohanon, one of Parman's sales representatives, to see if he could help find a Link-Belt 355 X4S for Cumberland.
"After we had established the account, they were able to get us everything we needed," Ellison said. "Since that time, just 18 months ago when our first 355 X4S was delivered, Cumberland now has five of them, with another on the way. We like that Link-Belt because it is the largest reduced-tail-swing excavator on the market."
He also prefers the 355 X4S because it is perfectly suited for construction, residential or commercial excavation, site prep, pipeline construction, sewer, and utilities work, with minimal tail swing.
Such excavators are ideal when digging and backfilling trenches in a confined area, the type of work Cumberland regularly does as an underground utility contractor.
"I just don't care for excavators with a large counterweight," he added. "The Link-Belt 355 is a large machine and has the capabilities of an 80,000-pound excavator, but it has a small footprint."
Notably, Cumberland now has more Link-Belt 355s in North America than any other contractor, according to Colin Hockenberger, the general manager of Parman Tractor & Equipment.
Additionally, Cumberland relies on Parman to get most of its parts and its maintenance services, Ellison said, if the problem is with machines under warranty or is something his mechanics cannot diagnose. He noted that when a machine issue arises on site, Parman is quick about making the necessary fixes and getting the piece back up and running on the job site.
"Parman services our needs in Kentucky and Tennessee — they are just a phone call away," he added.
When Hockenberger was asked about the relationship between his company and Ellison's, he said, "Cumberland Pipeline is a great partner and customer and the entire employee-owned team at Parman is appreciative of Cumberland's business."
If It Involves Water or Sewer, Cumberland Right for Job
Besides Cumberland's underground utility installations, the company works on projects that involve putting in wastewater pump stations, potable and raw water booster pump stations, treatment plant maintenance, insertion valves and wet tapping, excavation, site preparation and grading, rock excavation and clearing.
"If it concerns water or sewer, we can handle it," Ellison said.
To do all these types of projects, Cumberland employs five field crews that typically consist of six or seven people.
"We have some of the best people in business," he said with confidence. "I would put our guys against anyone in the industry, no matter the size of the contractor."
Cumberland also has six office personnel, and three shop mechanics to keep the machines humming.
The majority of the firm's work takes place along the Interstate 65 corridor in Middle Tennessee, which includes the always-busy Nashville construction market; and south-central Kentucky, where Cumberland Pipeline is based. The company also is licensed to do work in Alabama and Indiana, although Ellison noted that it currently does not have any projects under way in either of those states.
Wherever Cumberland's crews are hard at work, though, the Link-Belt 355s are more than likely to accompany them, Ellison said.
"Right now, we are putting in a 30-inch-diameter PVC sewer main for the city of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., just east of Nashville," he said. "On site for that $8 million project is a Link-Belt 355 and a Link-Belt 245. To the south, in the town of Lewisburg, there is another job where we are using four Link-Belt excavators, including two 355s, a 245 and a 235. At $8.5 million, that is the largest project we have going right now.
"Both of these projects started around the first of April," Ellison added.
In total, he said Cumberland is working on two jobs in Bowling Green, Ky., as well as another in the Bluegrass State, and seven projects in Tennessee.
Not surprisingly, Ellison feels very optimistic about the course Cumberland is on, particularly in light of the company's success in overcoming several hits to the construction sector in the last few years, namely COVID-19 and the resultant issues with supply-chain difficulties.
"We managed to stay busy, navigate the pandemic and remain profitable," he said. "Our best year was probably 2020, and we have done better each year since. In 2023, we have $32 million worth of work on the board. Last year, we hit $22 million in sales and the year before that, we did $12 million. That is all in comparison to when I first got here in 2014 and Cumberland was only at $1.5 million, so we have really been able to turn it around.
As far as supply-chain issues, Cumberland is just now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel concerning that headache.
"Today [Aug. 7], we are starting on a job that we bid on way back in July 2022 because of problems with the supply chain," Ellison added. "That really takes strategy to overcome, plus calling your supplier to get them to deliver what you need as soon as possible. Sometimes, we must borrow material from one of our jobs to get another started on time because we still have a deadline to meet. We are held accountable for that contract. A lot of that goes on here with help from many of our people behind the scenes."
Hockenberger added, "Amid supply chain woes, labor shortages and high equipment demand, Parman was able to provide Cumberland with the tools they needed to get the job done. We really had to interview each other to see if we'd be able to meet the other's needs during a crazy time in business."
Cumberland Prepares to Work On Largest Project Yet
Another reason for optimism, he said, is that Cumberland Pipeline is planning to bid yet another contract in Bowling Green in 2024, a $30 million project in Warren County's Kentucky Transpark business facility.
The development, when fully built, will encompass 4,000 acres, contain an ultramodern business park and intermodal facility served by CSX Rail, and will be the home of the new Bowling Green Airport.
MSE of Kentucky Inc., a Lexington-based engineering firm, noted on its website that Kentucky Transpark will incorporate best management practices for storm drainage control and is designed to have an attractive "campus-like" setting in its sensitive environmental location.
"The water district is taking infrastructure directly to the water and sewer plants, with an estimated cost of between $30 million to $40 million," Ellison said in reference to Kentucky Transpark. "Preparing to bid that project is how I am spending a lot of my time right now."
He added that the Bowling Green area, like the much larger Tennessee capital city 65 minutes to the southwest, is experiencing its own boom in industrial and population growth, part of which is seen in the five projects Cumberland has either completed, is currently building, or is preparing to work on in the area.
"Bowling Green is really a suburb of Nashville even though it is in a different state and 75 miles away, but a lot of people also commute between the two cities," Ellison said.
For more information about Cumberland Pipeline LLC, call 270/385-9000 (Kentucky) or 615/681-7426 (Tennessee) or visit www.cumberlandpipeline.com.
For more information about Parman Tractor & Equipment, call 615/865-7800 or visit www.parmantractor.com. CEG
Today's top stories