IL’s Plote Construction Thrives Offering Diverse Services

Wed June 11, 2003 - Midwest Edition

Offering clients a diverse range of services has been the key to the growth and success of Plote Construction Inc., according to Dan Plote, vice president of the Chicago area-based construction company.

The 40 year old company has four divisions.

“Our Concrete Division specializes in concrete paving, including curb and gutter and sidewalks,” said Plote, whose parents founded the company in 1963.

Plote’s Asphalt Division makes, sells and lays down asphalt, while its Dirt Division is responsible for excavation, utilities, earthmoving and grading.

In addition, Plote Construction also has an Aggregate Division, named Beverly Materials, which produces and supplies aggregates to Plote Construction and to third-party customers.

It also owns four asphalt plants in Des Plaines, Hillside, Bartlett and Huntley.

Plote Construction employs 700 people during the peak construction season.

“We’re strongest in Cook and Kane counties,” Plote explained. “We do a fair amount of work in McHenry as well as occasional projects in DuPage, Lake and Will counties.”

Not too bad for a company that started out with one machine and one truck …

“It was the standard story — one machine and one truck,” said Plote. “My Mom ran the office by herself. They just kept pushing and growing, a little more and a little more.

“They did dirt work for private development — basement foundations, then small shopping centers, then small subdivisions and full-blown mass developments,” Plote said.

To help grow the company, the Plotes bought their first gravel pit, Beverly Materials. Later, in 1978, they added their first asphalt plant.

“After we bought that plant, we started to diversify and move away from the private sector work into public sector work, first for the municipalities and counties and then ultimately for the state and the tollways in the 1980s.”

To help pave the way for the company’s entry into concrete work, Plote Excavating bought an existing company called Milburn Brothers in 1985.

“Its primary work was road work, concrete paving, curb and gutter, and some sewer and water utilities,” Plote noted. “The road paving portion made us fully integrated as a contractor, which propelled us further into the road building and public work.”

With the purchase of Milburn came a partnership called Allied, which gave Plote control of four asphalt plants.

“We continued to grow through the 1980s and into the 1990s as the highway program grew in Illinois, becoming a prime contractor able to do the bonded work,” he continued.

Then in 2001, Plote Inc., the excavating company, merged with Milburn and Allied to become Plote Construction Inc., a single contractor doing all the facets, including underground utilities, earthmoving, asphalt, concrete and aggregates.

Today, while the majority of Plote Construction’s work is in the public sector, the company still does a significant amount of private work.

Founder Ray Plote also established a residential and commercial development firm called Par Development, which another son, Dave manages as vice president.

“We do all the work for Par Development — the dirt moving, streets and utilities. Then they either sell it or build homes or commercial buildings on it, depending on the customer’s needs,” explained Plote.

Plote, like many other second generation owner/operators, has been involved in the business since he was a child and always felt drawn to construction.

“I started running equipment when I was nine years old,” he noted. “I went to college for a couple of years, but always fell back on work during summers and weekends. I also was crop farming, so when I graduated, I had to make a decision to either haul corn and farm fields or haul rocks and move dirt. That’s when I went to full-time construction.”

Plote, who has been working in construction since 1983, started out running a backhoe. He later moved into the shop as equipment superintendent, ran jobs and became a general superintendent.

“Ten to 12 years ago my father experienced some health problems. I was thrown into the deep water and had to sink or swim. The last 10 years or so I’ve been managing the company,” said Plote.

His parents, Ray and Jan Plote, are essentially retired, but they do drop by the office to check and see how things are running.

Plote is in charge of all the operations of the construction aggregates and has a dedicated staff helping him.

“I have four managers in the field leading the different divisions and a small army of project managers, general superintendents and job superintendents,” explained Plote.

Plote’s top four managers include Dick Weber, Excavation Division; Mike Waller, Concrete Division; Dick Rossi, manager of the office portion of the Asphalt Division; and Greg Rohlf, who handles the production and field portion of the Asphalt Division.

One of the largest projects Plote Construction Inc. tackled was a $55-million road reconstruction project on the John F. Kennedy Expressway in the mid-1990s.

“It was a complete removal and replacement of the concrete pavements, bridge and underground utilities on the outbound section of the expressway,” Plote explained.

Summer 2002 found Plote crews working for the Illinois Tollway Authority rehabilitating “a big portion of the Northwest Tollway that included asphalt grind, patch and overlay work,” said Plote. “That was $25-million worth of work for our two sections from Arlington Heights all the way to the Tri-State Tollway in both directions.”

Plote Construction crews are currently working on two huge high-profile projects at O’Hare International Airport. “We have a large retention basin — a million and a half cubic yards — for flood control that we’re in the midst of now,” explained Plote. “It’s a 60-foot deep retention pond. The dirt stays on site. It’s a $25-million job for the city of Chicago and the Department of Aviation.”

The second project, also for the city and the aviation department, is a second, $15-million retention pond. “It’s a million yards, all of which is trucked dirt,” noted Plote. “Every load has to be moved by truck to the other side of the airport.” Weather permitting, Plote Construction hopes to complete both projects by next year.

Other current projects include a $10-million Illinois Department of Transportation job removing a two-lane pavement and putting back four lanes of finished concrete on Route 14 in Palatine, and a $28-million job in Schaumburg on Higgins and Golf Road to remove four lanes of existing concrete and put in six lanes of new concrete.

Plote said that one of the reasons for his success is his reliance on McAllister Equipment.

“My father started buying rubber-tired loaders from McAllister when we had the sand and gravel pits. Those were Michigan loaders, which is now Volvo. We still have one of those big Michigan 480 loaders from the mid-1980s.”

Plote Construction currently has six Volvo A35D articulated haulers from McAllister in its fleet and purchased a new Volvo G780 VHP motor grader this past spring with the help of Area Manager Mike McNamara.

“We use the Volvo motorgrader to maintain the haul roads for the Volvo articulated trucks. It also does finish work,” Plote explained. “We put a GPS system on the machine, so as we get close to grade, the motorgrader polishes the building pads off and then the fills as needed.”

The GPS technology “is a big investment financially, but in theory, productivity is going to go up with the machine,” noted Plote. “It will hopefully eliminate some labor, grade checking and things like that, because as the machine makes one pass, it’s on the nut, instead of having to make three passes.”

Plote Construction also is renting a Volvo EC460B excavator from McAllister to load the Volvo articulated haulers at the airport retention basin jobs at O’Hare. “It has a five-yard bucket that we’re top-loading those A35s with,” noted Plote.

“The Volvos have been extremely reliable,” he stated. “The trucks handle tougher conditions better than scrapers. They’re pretty fuel efficient. They’re operator friendly, too, with all the creature comforts. And they are pretty long-lived.”

He said he also is pleased with McAllister’s follow-up service.

“They answer the phone when we call and respond when we need service. We also rent some equipment from them when we need it to complement our existing fleet.”

Plote Construction has three shops to take care of its 90 end-dump trucks as well as other equipment.

“One is just for trucks, one for equipment, and one for welding, fabricating and heavy repairs,” said Plote. “We do all preventive maintenance ourselves. We have a large group of skilled mechanics, and we’ll try to fix everything other than engines and transmissions.”

Although Plote credits his staff and McAllister with helping fuel the company’s growth, he puts a lot of emphasis on the founder’s foresight in diversifying the company.

“It was always my father’s ultimate goal to have diversification, so we would not be solely controlled by one business if there were downturns,” Plote said. “To me, being diversified means you can do more things in-house, which means you can control your schedule, your destiny. Doing the dirt and the paving and the underground means you’re not waiting for a subcontractor who might hold you up. It makes a complete package for the customer.”

Plote believes Chicago’s vibrant economy lends stability to the construction market.

“We’re quite fortunate to be in kind of a metropolitan bubble,” he stated. “As we have our ups and downs in the country, I like to think that our spikes and valleys are a little bit less here because we’re more stable. There’s more foundation, there’s a good job pool here. There’s always activity, there’s always growth, and with that obviously comes work for the construction industry.”

Plote though, is not looking for much more growth in his company’s future.

“We’re comfortable with what we do now. More growth means spreading out geographically. I don’t know that I want to travel to get big work elsewhere, which is probably the only way we’re going to grow.

“The Chicago area is a very competitive market, but we do get a fair share of the work. We have our niche and we’re happy with it. You don’t need to do it all. You just need to do some of it, and do it very well,” he said.

(This article appears courtesy of “Equipment News.”)