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Florida’s City Excavating Enjoying Success Despite Lean Economic Times

Tue September 08, 2009 - West Edition
Eric Olson

City Excavating LLC, a site development company in Fort Myers, Fla., was created just last year. Yet even amidst challenging times, the company is doing well and its owners believe things will get even better as construction stabilizes.

Located on Florida’s southwest Gulf Coast, the firm came about when owners Gino Campobasso and Anthony Geach merged their excavating outfit with Apollo Excavating, another area company that had been in business for several years.

Apollo’s Alex and Jason DeMarco, a pair of brothers, joined their father, Jim, a 37-year veteran of the business, at City Excavating with the advent of the merger.

The elder DeMarco now serves as the director of operations at City, while his sons have joined Campobasso and Geach as managing partners.

“Essentially, the merger brought youth to the organization as Alex is 30 and Jason is 35,” said Jim DeMarco. “It also helped establish City with some local contractors that they already had a relationship with and it added to our equipment spread — it just beefed up the whole operation.”

Besides bringing new youth and new ideas into the firm, a critical decision was made to also open a Davie office on the state’s southeast coast to boost City Excavating’s presence in the lucrative Miami-Fort Lauderdale market.

“A lot of the federal stimulus money is funneling down into the southeast portion of the state and that is one of the reasons that we opened that location” Jim DeMarco explained. “In today’s market with the way the economy is, we’ve kind of targeted the infrastructure roadwork aspect of it, because that is where the money is right now, but we also do complete site development, as well as commercial/industrial, just as the sign says.”

Another crucial move that has proven to be a boon for City Excavating is its partnering with the Florida offices of the internationally known Italian contractor Astaldi Construction. City is currently working as a subcontractor to Astaldi on the Santa Barbara Extension, a road project in Naples, Fla.

City’s work on the 2-mi. (3.2 km) long project began just before Christmas and is expected to be finished in October. The company is working on approximately 270,000 cu. yd. (206,430 cu m) of excavation and embankment. In addition, the firm also is doing rock crushing and processing, sub-grade stabilization, base rock installation and general grading.

“It has been our good fortune to be able to get a nice anchor project with Astaldi Construction like the Santa Barbara Extension,” he said. “That association is a good thing to have and we think it puts us in position to take the full ride up once the economy turns around.”

In addition to the Santa Barbara Extension, another exciting project that City Excavating has managed to procure is with Owen-Ames & Kimball Company at Southwest Florida International Airport, which serves the Fort Myers-Naples area.

In August, City Excavating will begin clearing land for a new runway and adjoining taxiways at the airport in a $2.5 million contract.

“We picked up a 400,000-cubic-yard fill job over there,” said Alex DeMarco. “It is 100 acres of clearing, 417,000 cubic yards of import and 127,000 cubic yards of de-mucking.”

Other projects that City Excavating is laboring on include work at the nearby Naples Equestrian Challenge, where City will make parking area improvements that include grading, base rock installation, and dry detention excavation; and site development, demolition, earthwork, site concrete utility drainage and paving for a new Regions Bank branch office in Miami.

The Regions Bank project is being administered by City Excavating’s new Davie office and represents the firm’s first foray into the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market since the location was opened in April.

“We had never had much of a presence in that market, but we are finding that we are getting more activity there now,” Jim DeMarco said. “There is more building activity on the East Coast of Florida now than on the West Coast and that, coupled with our wanting to work more over there, especially on the I-95 corridor, is what led us to open that office. And now that we have a relationship with Astaldi and they have an office just down the street from ours in Davie, we didn’t see how we could lose by being there.”

Despite the relative youth of Alex and Jason DeMarco, both men have grown up around the construction business and have spent their time working in and learning all aspects of the excavation industry.

“Right now, I would say I am working mostly at the management of the company in my role as a partner, but I am also the chief estimator,” Alex explained. “Jason is also a managing partner and I would say that is his chief duty, but he is also our general superintendent.”

They employ almost all full-time people in the field, with the number fluctuating between 24 and 29 people.

Most of the equipment that City Excavating uses is made by Case and that is largely a result of the firm’s rock-solid relationship with Briggs Construction Equipment in Fort Myers, Fla. Jim DeMarco said that that relationship stretches back years and has stayed strong due to the exemplary service that Briggs and its local branch manager, Rich Swanson, have given to City.

“Their service far exceeds anybody else down here,” Jim DeMarco said. “They stand behind their products and if we do have a problem they step up to the plate without hesitation. They have always been there for us.”

At the end of the day, Jim DeMarco, his sons and their partners all believe that establishing long-term, symbiotic relationships with their customers is what has driven the success of City Excavating.

“Those relationships are what it is all about,” he added. “Are we better than other companies? I would like to believe we are but I would never say that publicly — but I will say that we are trying to be.

“As far as our customers go, we put them first. We don’t look at the work we do for them as just another project. We take it very seriously. We’re undoubtedly selling service and I think we do pretty well at that.” CEG

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