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HARCO Prospers With Help From ASCENDUM, Volvo CE

Thu June 20, 2024 - Southeast Edition #13

Wet, boggy conditions did not slow down HARCO Construction’s Volvo artic trucks.
CEG photo
Wet, boggy conditions did not slow down HARCO Construction’s Volvo artic trucks.
Wet, boggy conditions did not slow down HARCO Construction’s Volvo artic trucks.   (CEG photo) Wayne Foskey (L), equipment fleet manager, and Jeffrey Hardin, vice president, both of HARCO Construction.   (CEG photo) HARCO Construction has enjoyed superior performance from its fleet of Volvo A25 artic trucks   (CEG photo)

Opening a business as a 21-year-old is a daunting prospect for anyone.

In the case of Jeffrey Hardin, he had plenty of help in getting his company started and continued to build it through hard work and sheer determination.

In 1999, with amazing support from his parents, Hardin formed HARCO Construction, a site preparation firm in Bloomingdale, Ga., just outside Savannah.

Twenty-five years later, HARCO is recognized across southeast Georgia and the South Carolina coastal region as a trusted and reliable full-service site contractor. Among the company's services in 2024 are land clearing, earthwork, underground utility installation, erosion control, paving, cement stabilization, concrete and surveying and layout.

Moving Dirt, Controlling Own Destiny

While attending college for two years — long enough to realize it was not the pathway to success for him — Hardin also worked on a large farm with his cousins over the summers in nearby Screven County, Ga.

There, he had a pair of epiphanies that set the course for his future business success.

"I enjoyed farming a lot, but I saw you couldn't 100 percent control commodity prices or your yield," he said. "I figured out quickly that I wanted to have more control over my destiny. Another thing I learned, because we built a bunch of roads and fixed a lot of washouts, was I enjoyed moving dirt."

To help his new site prep operation get going, Hardin's mom and dad bought him a dump truck and backhoe in 1999, he said, because at 21 years old, he had no credit to be able to do so himself. That lifeline also gave a boost to his confidence that he could make HARCO a success.

"My parents did very well and are very smart people," he said. "They were smart with their money and could potentially prevent me from getting into any serious financial trouble."

Hardin also knew a few people who had worked in the construction industry for decades that he could call on for advice.

"They have always been happy to open up, share their wisdom and help me," he said.

In the first couple years of HARCO's existence, Hardin's first projects were simple — just hauling dirt here and there and clearing a lot or two.

"Whatever work I could pick up," he said.

CEG photo

Wayne Foskey (L), equipment fleet manager, and Jeffrey Hardin, vice president, both of HARCO Construction.

But HARCO became more well known over the next several years as Hardin's knowledge in delivering projects increased.

In addition, he said, his firm experienced a growth spurt when a demand for dump truck contractors was created in the Savannah area in 2004 after a large, local company with many trucks went out of business.

"There is always a huge dump truck need in the market, but back then an opportunity arose for someone with 10 to 15 trucks to step in and pick up the slack," he said. "So, my parents again helped by buying seven dump trucks at one time, and we went from being a small company using just a single truck and one backhoe, to a considerably larger one pretty quickly."

In doing so, HARCO was able to get hired as a subcontractor for builders working on bigger job sites.

Hardin added that he also spent time carefully watching more experienced professionals move dirt and install underground utilities so that he would become adept at those tasks one day.

During the recession in 2009, HARCO adapted by scaling back to using only a few dump trucks, along with a dozer and excavator that were already in its stable of equipment. Focusing on the basics of moving dirt and laying pipe for the next several years helped to keep the company going, Hardin said, but it saw much slower growth during that time, as well.

"We were installing waterlines and septic tanks, but no deep sewer or huge storm drains like we do now," he added. "We weren't what you would consider to be a true utilities contractor, but we were available if someone needed our help to finish some shallow water or sewer work."

HARCO cleared a high hurdle in 2012 when Hardin received his Georgia utilities license for the first time.

"I did that because everybody we were working for had asked for it," he said. "Prior to that, we had to subcontract pipe work because I was not licensed. We could do a lot of the smaller private work, but municipalities require a licensed contractor to do their projects."

Shortly after becoming licensed, HARCO picked up its first warehouse site work project, which he said was the result of having "some good opportunities and the right doors opened." Also, a number of outstanding referrals got the company firmly entrenched in the warehouse building sector.

Hardin said that that initial warehouse project in 2018 was a 400,000-sq.-ft. facility in Bryan County, Ga., for Alabama-based Cooper Construction.

It was also HARCO's first big mass grading effort where Hardin and his crew moved approximately 70,000-80,000 cu. yds. of dirt on site by running several Volvo trucks at a time.

"We did everything there, from clearing the land, to striping the parking lot, to installing everything underground," he said. "That also included handling all the water, sewer and storm work, plus the mass grading, rock placement and fine grading. We don't self-perform any asphalt or concrete, but we did subcontract that work."

HARCO's Mass Grading Increases With Volvo's A25 Artic Trucks

Today, HARCO has long since established itself as one of the Savannah area's best site contractors because of Hardin and his team of professionals. They also are ably assisted by the equipment they get from their local ASCENDUM Machinery dealership, located off Interstate 95, south of Savannah in Richmond Hill.

ASCENDUM sells, leases and services several brands of equipment and is the area's dealer for earthmovers made by Volvo Construction Equipment (CE).

One of HARCO's more essential machines, Hardin said, is Volvo's 28-ton A25 articulated truck, a "rugged beast" that he said works very well in the wet, native soils found in the low country of Georgia and South Carolina.

The company primarily stuck to using dump trucks and excavators almost exclusively for many years, and only rented artic trucks as needed.

However, after the recession, when HARCO began tackling more mass grading projects, Hardin and his team realized they needed more articulated trucks in their permanent fleet. Finally, they decided to purchase them when Volvo came out with a 12-month flex lease on an A25 truck that, Hardin described, as being "mind blowing to us."

CEG photo

"We did two of them and it was so inexpensive and appealing that that was when we fell in love with the Volvo trucks," he said.

Having the A25s on hand opened up HARCO's ability to take on a variety of site prep work in the region.

"We picked up jobs here and there, including a project in Augusta, Ga., about five years ago that had roughly 400,000 cubic yards of dirt on it, requiring a total of six trucks to do the work," Hardin said. "We leased four of them to work with the two we already had. But, when it came time to drop them off, we had picked up some more work, so we thought, ‘Well, we don't want to lose these trucks,' so we either extended them another six months or leased even more.

"Now, we are running a total of 14 Volvo artic trucks."

In late March 2024, HARCO was working at the site of the Coastal Trade Center in Effingham County, Ga., made up of three different warehouses encompassing a total of approximately 2.2 million sq. ft. of space.

"We are doing our usual mass grading and underground utility work there," Hardin said. "It is a warehouse-industrial complex with a major spine road coming into it. That job has about 400,000 cubic yards of imported dirt from our own pits, and approximately 350,000 cubic yards of cut and fill."

To complete the task of moving the site's soil, HARCO has six of its Volvo A25s operating there.

Wayne Foskey, HARCO's fleet manager, described the Volvo A25s as "very dependable," adding that "they stand up better in the wet conditions than those from other manufacturers, are more powerful and outperform every other truck on the market with a 25-ton frame. Our operators also like them because of their smooth ride."

Hardin and Foskey both agreed that the Volvo A25s are the "dominant machines" in their artic truck category.

The dirt found in southeast Georgia — more specifically, the Savannah area near the coast — is a very heavy material full of moisture, they said, which only a few trucks can maneuver through.

"Because we are so close to the Atlantic Ocean, if you put a bucket into the ground, you are going to hit water," Hardin said. "Our dirt is not only finer and kind of gummier but has 30 to 40 percent moisture in it. If you were to go 50 miles northwest up Interstate 16, you get into a lot coarser material with only 15 percent moisture, making it a lot easier to move that lighter dirt. It is just a rough environment here for dirt work and those Volvo A25s are the only trucks that will operate well in it."

He said HARCO also prefers to use the Volvo A25s because of their weight, although the slightly larger A30 models, at 32 tons, "would probably do just as well, but certainly nothing larger. The ground here just won't support it." 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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