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Hard Work, Honesty Keeps N.J. Firm on the Right Track

Fri November 05, 2010 - Northeast Edition
Jim Duffy

George Harms knew what he wanted when he was just 16 years old.

“I had an ambition to run a piece of equipment,” he said. “My mom and dad helped me buy an old front loader/backhoe, and dad helped me fix it up. My first job paid $40.”

High school was followed by a stint in the National Guard, time enough for Harms to save a little money for more equipment.

“In late 1962 I bought my first Cat, a used 933 loader,” he said.

By the end of 1963, Harms had already hired his first full-time employee.

Today, George Harms Construction Company Inc., headquartered in Farmingdale, N.J., employs 250 people and produces up to $85 million in annual revenues. The company ranks among the Top 400 construction firms in the United States, according to The Engineering News Record. Among current projects, Harms Construction is building the Route 1 & 9 St. Paul’s Avenue Bridge in Jersey City, N.J. — the largest single contract ever awarded in NJDOT history at $200 million.

People First

How did Harms Construction come so far in 50 years? By keeping its priorities straight, said Harms.

“People have always come first. We could not build roads and bridges without our hardworking, dedicated team of unbelievably talented employees. A lot of good people have only ever worked here, and retired here, going back 50 years.

“Two things we expect from every member in our organization: hard work and honesty,” said Harms, adding that he expects the same from suppliers, vendors and equipment providers. For decades, he has relied on Foley Inc. for his Cat equipment purchases.

“Our relationship with Foley goes all the way back to 1963 and Ed Foley,” said Harms. “With Kim, Jamie and Ryan Foley, our relationship has only grown closer.”

Over the years, Harms Construction has purchased hundreds of pieces of equipment from Foley, with more than 80 pieces — mostly rollers, excavators, loaders, dumps and dozers — on the roster today.

“Harms Construction is one of Foley’s longest and most valued customers,” said Jeff Merle, Foley’s vice president of machinery sales. “They’re innovators and developers of new methods of construction, and we’re proud to be affiliated with them.”

Stepping Up

Bidding and winning high profile construction projects often means having the right people and equipment in place. In 1990, for example, Harms Construction was awarded a big NJDOT project connecting 1-195 and I-295.

“It was a $93 million job through wetlands, and part of our job was preserving those wetlands,” said Harms. “It was a difficult task because it included some things we had never done before, and it gave us the chance to prove our capabilities. Without an unbelievable team already assembled, and state-of-the-art equipment, we would never have been able to do it.”

As projects got bigger — and challenges more complex — Harms Construction embraced every opportunity as another step in growing the company into a world-class organization.

More Milestones

By 2005, the company had completed work on another milestone project, the Rt. 35 Victory Bridge over the Raritan River. The first bridge in New Jersey to utilize precast concrete segmental construction, the $115 million project involved building twin bridges side-byside, each 3,970-ft. (1210 m) long with 120 ft. (36.5 m) clearance above the river. Each structure is made of two cast-in-place abutments and 22 precast piers.

“A big challenge on that project was going through 32 feet of rock with very large diameter caissons,” said Harms.

The bridge’s land piers are supported by 24-in. (61 cm) diameter, concrete-filled steel pipe piles, while the river piers are supported by 72-in. or 96-in. (183 or 244 cm) diameter steel shafts measuring up to 120-ft. (36.5 m) long, with rock sockets up to 24-ft. (7.3 m) deep. The main span has 440 ft. (134 m) of horizontal clearance — the largest horizontal clearance for this type of bridge construction in the United States at the time it was built in 2005.

Over the decades, each major project has presented significant technological challenges that have had to be overcome. In February 2010, Harms Construction completed the $141 million Rt. 52 Contract A1 project.

The first of two projects to replace the existing roadway and bridges between Ocean City and Somers Point, N.J., it is by far the largest project in Southern New Jersey history. Spanning over two bodies of water and several islands in a very difficult marine environment, the project included four bridges with 54 concrete piers supported on square 30- in. (76 cm) pre-stressed concrete piles between 60 and 110 ft. (18 and 33.5 m) long. Pre-stressed concrete girders support precast deck panels. In all, 243 girders were installed, each 140 ft. (42.6 m) long and weighing over 85 tons (77 t).

Right Equipment, Right Cat Dealer

To complete these giant bridge and highway projects, George Harms Construction Company has amassed a wide assortment of big equipment, mammoth cranes and floating construction barges.

“But it isn’t always about big,” insisted Harms. “Right now, we’re doing stuff with what I call back scratchers, equipment that holds little more than three or four shovels. That’s important in tight construction areas, like when there’s one lane in the middle of the highway to work in. The Cat 304, for example, lets us put the right equipment where the work is.”

Vice president of operations Rob Harms said the company depends on Foley today more than ever before.

“We use Foley for more than just equipment purchases,” he said. “We rent equipment from Foley whenever we’re in need of a machine and don’t have one readily available. One quick call and Foley takes care of us. For financing, we take advantage of their zero financing. And for rebuilds, just recently Foley has rebuilt two of our 245s. Cat and Foley have been great partners for us. We get terrific value with the equipment and it’s been an indispensible relationship for a very long time.”

This story was reprinted, with permission, courtesy of Paydirt Magazine, Summer 2010 issue.

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