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Georgia's Dustcom Limited Perseveres to Become Prosperous

Thu May 23, 2024 - Southeast Edition #11

(L-R) are Sue, Johnny and Dusty Williams and Timmons Herring, all of Dustcom Limited.
CEG photo
(L-R) are Sue, Johnny and Dusty Williams and Timmons Herring, all of Dustcom Limited.
(L-R) are Sue, Johnny and Dusty Williams and Timmons Herring, all of Dustcom Limited.   (CEG photo) Keeping projects running smoothly are Matt Campbell (L) and Brian Moore, both superintendents on the Waterside at Rice Hope project.   (CEG photo) (L-R) are Dusty, Sue and Johnny Williams, all of Dustcom Limited.   (CEG photo) Dustcom Limited specializes in excavation, utility installation and site preparation for residential developments.   (CEG photo) Dustcom Limited is recognized as a top provider of excavation, utility installation and site prepreparation services to several notable homebuilding companies in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.   (CEG photo)

When the Great Recession swept across the United States in 2008, it destroyed or damaged countless businesses in its wake. Construction companies, too, were not immune to economic disaster, no matter the size of their operations.

As might be expected, smaller family-operated companies took the brunt of the damage, and, of that group, the outfits that managed to not only stay open, survive and prosper were the ones that found creative ways to pull themselves through the crisis.

CEG photo

(L-R) are Dusty, Sue and Johnny Williams, all of Dustcom Limited.

A perfect example is Dustcom Limited, a contractor in the Savannah, Ga., suburb of Garden City, specializing in excavation, utility installation and site preparation for residential developments.

Today, Dustcom is recognized as a top provider of these services to several notable homebuilding companies in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, including D.R. Horton, Beazer Homes USA, Pulte Homes and Smith Family Homes, the latter of which is one of the Savannah area's largest builders.

In addition, Dusty Williams, the owner and operator of Dustcom, said he and his team also are in the process of establishing relationships with other residential companies, including Mungo Homes, Ryan Homes and Lennar.

"Typically, we handle sites from 30 to 70 acres in size," he said. "We also do some commercial projects and perform some of the utility work needed for municipal roadwork. I subcontract the curb-and-gutter work and the asphalt, but other than that, we self-perform every other piece of the site preparation work, including all clearing, erosion control, utility work, mass excavation and grading."

Earlier this spring, Williams noted that Dustcom had approximately 10 different projects running at one time — all within a 50-mi. radius of its southeast Georgia headquarters.

Older Company Reborn as Dustcom Limited

Years before the recession, Dustcom was incorporated in 1997 as a relatively small offshoot of a larger company called Dixie Contracting, operated by Dusty's father, Johnny Williams, since 1983. In the beginning, Dixie was a utility-only business, and it remained that way until approximately 20 years ago.

"When my dad's Dixie Contracting customers told him that they didn't want to deal with both a utility contractor, and then a grading contractor, he decided to put everything under one umbrella," Williams said. "So, he came to me and said, ‘Hey, what do you think about doing your own grading?' I had never run a motor grader and had rarely operated a bulldozer, but he bought me one of each as well as the latest GPS equipment at the time from Topcon. He literally handed all that stuff to me and said, ‘Now, go figure it out.'"

CEG photo

Dustcom was originally started as a business to allow the teenaged Dusty Williams to operate a wet-tap machine to drill into a water line.

"At the time, it was a $25,000 to $30,000 machine with a gasoline-powered hydraulic motor," he said. "I would charge $600 to $700 apiece for jobs in places like Dublin, Macon, Brunswick and Pooler — all in Georgia — as well as Bluffton and Hilton Head in South Carolina."

As the recession progressed, the Williams family had to take its lumps like nearly all U.S. small business owners and figure out a creative way of keeping their lights on.

"Everyone was sent scrambling, but we were able to be rebuilt even better and continue the family atmosphere and culture that makes people want to be part of our group," he said. "That led us to start operating Dustcom full time in 2011.

"So, that little company that drilled holes in water lines when Dixie Excavating was irreparably damaged was what eventually saved us," Williams added. "We knew we had to start over, and soon we realized Dustcom was who we were now."

In the early days, when he spent time becoming proficient in operating various machines, Williams also trained other ambitious employees how to take over that part of the business once he took on other duties.

He added that since then, he has been blessed to be able to attract people to Dustcom that want to work, succeed and buy into its culture.

ASCENDUM Extends Williams Helping Hand

As it turned out, one of the more critical moves that the reconstituted contracting firm made was turning to ASCENDUM Machinery, the Huntersville, N.C.-based dealership — specialists in Volvo Construction Equipment (CE) — to lease Dustcom the equipment it would need to successfully complete its projects.

CEG photo

Williams said that ASCENDUM, through its branch office near Savannah, was the first distributor after the recession to give him the financial credit that he needed to start rebuilding and growing Dustcom.

That lifeline was just the boost that Dustcom needed.

"They had flex lease programs that were amazing, were short-term and had great value," he said. "We were damaged goods financially as a result of the recession, like everyone else, so I was humbled by the fact that they gave me the opportunity first over everyone else. I decided at that point that they were my guys."

Williams now has his own fleet maintenance director in Will Mallard to handle all new equipment purchases and leasing through ASCENDUM.

"He is the guy that gets phone calls and deals directly with ASCENDUM," he said. "And they have done a very good job of taking care of our needs when they arise. I am also very happy with the Volvo CE machines we use."

Recent Restructuring Improves Dustcom's Operation

Williams said he has always prided himself on being a very hands-on owner.

In 2023, though, he realized that to keep all facets of the company running smoothly, he needed to put more structure in place "where I am not the center of the universe here to everyone at all times."

For instance, he enjoyed identifying employees who were skilled in a particular area, such as site clearing and connecting them with customers that needed that type of work done.

"As I find people who show drive and initiative, I don't hold them down and make them just stay as a laborer or as an operator," Williams said. "If someone shows me they can run a job or can lead other people, I will make them a supervisor. We do a lot of promotion from within and if they display initiative, I am going to capitalize on that by putting them in a position to make our company bigger and better."

In that respect, he ran Dustcom the same way his father operated his contracting company 40 years ago, Williams said.

But, in 2023, Williams discovered that Dustcom, while still growing, would be better off if he relinquished some of his duties as the decider about every aspect of the business.

"At the end of last year, we enlisted the help of a management consulting service to assist us in putting a more effective structure in place," he said. "And that has been an amazing journey."

CEG photo

Williams freely admitted that at times, though, he was not always happy about hearing that he needed to loosen the reins at Dustcom.

"I don't sit in this office very often; rather, I prefer to be out on that job site. But for about 11 weeks I was here for 10 hours every single day working and talking with consultants and saying things like, ‘What do you mean I need a general manager? Wait, a what? An operations officer? I need to do all of that! This is my business!'

"But they broke me down and told me that I could not continue to do everything well all by myself," he said.

The consultants also helped Williams surround himself with other talented people from the Savannah market to assist in making key decisions.

"My general manager, Jeff Andrews, came from what is now APAC-Atlantic," he said. "Plus, we have put project managers in place, and our new operations manager, Timmons Herring, had been a superintendent for me for about three years.

"As of the first day of January, we have the proper structure, we have order and we tell our people, ‘This is your job, this is your role, and these are your responsibilities,'" Williams said. "We are holding it all together now with a structure of managers and operations officers that do their jobs better than I did. They assist me greatly and are highly valued."

At Andrews' suggestion, the contracting firm moved some of its long-time veterans out of their supervisor positions and into superintendent roles because they had proven themselves to be so well-versed in their trades.

The turnaround in gross sales and in customer satisfaction at Dustcom since the changes were implemented, Williams marveled, has far surpassed his expectations.

"We saw the results in less than 90 days," he said. "It has been nothing short of amazing and made me ask myself why I didn't do this five years ago." CEG

Eric Olson

A writer and contributing editor for CEG since 2008, Eric Olson has worked in the business for more than 40 years.

Olson grew up in the small town of Lenoir, NC in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he began covering sports for the local newspaper at age 18. He continued to do that for several other dailies in the area while in college at Appalachian State University. Following his graduation, he moved on to gain experience at two other publications before becoming a real estate and special features writer and editor at the Winston-Salem Journal for 10 years. Since 1999 he has worked as a corporate media liaison and freelance writer, in addition to his time at CEG.

He and his wife, Tara, have been married for 33 years and are the parents of two grown and successful daughters. His hobbies include collecting history books, watching his beloved Green Bay Packers and caring for his three dogs and one cat.

Read more from Eric Olson here.

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