(L-R) are Cindy, Ann and Rick Mixson.
When Rick Mixson, vice-president of Landmark Construction Company first took a look at the Volvo plant project near Charleston, S.C., he figured the company would need to bid about $35 million to do the site preparation for the 726-acre project. That was quite a jump for a company accustomed to taking on projects generally in the $10 to $15 million range. So Mixson had a conversation with their bond company.
Mixson said, “We can do this. There's no reason we can't handle this.' They said, 'Sure fine, go for it.'”
But that $35 million bid soon turned to $50 million and then $60 million and on the day of the bid, $69 million. It was an exciting, scary time, but as it turned out a company out of Atlanta had the low bid, with Landmark coming in second.
And that might have been that, but the story wasn't over yet.
Pretty much ever since he can remember, Mixson has been involved with the business started by his father 50 years ago.
“Ever since I could probably walk, I pretty much followed my dad around,” he said. “I was really close to my father and he always carried me around. In the summer, once I was old enough to start doing some of the work, he'd put me with a crew and I would work all summer. And so I learned the hard way, pulling string lines, running the shovel, doing all that good stuff. I had to fight to get on the equipment. The guys really didn't want me on the equipment. I was a kid. They wanted to run the equipment. While they were eating lunch, I'd jump on the equipment and learn to run it. That's pretty much how I learned.”
There was a lot to learn and respect to be earned, neither of which necessarily came easily.
“One of the jobs that is most vivid to me was years ago, we were digging a big pond for the Robert Bosch Corporation,” Mixson said. “It was during the summer months and I was actually running the project. The guy we were working for with Bosch would come out and he wouldn't even speak to me because he felt like I was a kid and I didn't know what I was doing. It took him about two weeks to come around and figure out I was running the job. I was probably about 15. He was like, 'Wow, this kid does know what he's doing.'”
And Mixson did. But even all those years of experience couldn't shield him from the effects of the recession.
In 2009, he saw his employees dwindle from 180 to 40. It was right about then that Landmark was chosen to do the site work for the new 1.1-million sq. ft. (102,193 sq m) Tire Kingdom in Charleston.
“It was probably $15 million worth of work for us,” Mixson said. “When you're used to doing smaller jobs and you get something like that, wow. We moved probably about 1.5 million cubic yards of dirt. We were used to moving 50,000, 60,000, 100,000 cubic yards of dirt. One million yards, that is pretty substantial. But we did it. We got it in on budget and it was a fantastic job.”
Mixson learned about the Volvo project by staying in touch with those in the know.
“We try to get to know all the engineers in town, all the people designing the stuff we do so we can get a heads up when things are coming,” he said. “Hopefully, that way we get some advance notice and we dedicate enough time to estimating it, knowing the quantities, knowing the site, soil conditions, so when it's time to bid it we're ready, we've done our due diligence.”
But even with that due diligence, Landmark was close, but not close enough. Or so it appeared early on. Until the county realized the low bidder had qualified its bid — a no-no with a public bid.
“So once the county realized they had qualified their bid, they said we have to throw the bid out and next thing I know we're getting phone calls and we got the job. It was exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. It's a huge job. It's contractor's dream job.”
It also had the potential to be a nightmare. Last year was the wettest year on record with rainfall in Charleston measuring a record-breaking 70 inches. Still, crews finished phase one on time. How?
“Part of our contingency in our bid was to cement stabilize,” Mixson said. “There's not a unit price in our contract to do that, but in order to meet the schedule and keep the job moving we figured we'd do a lot of cement stabilization, so we included in our numbers bringing in cement and doing soil stabilization. That's where you add cement and you go in and spread 70 pounds per square yard across the surface you are working on. You have a soil stabilizer — it's like a big tiller that goes down 18 inches and mixes cement into the soil and takes enough moisture out so you can get to optimum moisture and you can get compaction. It will take questionable dirt that you would never be able to dry out this time of year and you can dry it out and get it compacted to where you can do your next lift or fine-grade something and get rock on it.”
Crews are now working on the other four phases of the project, with work about 90 percent complete on phase two, 70 percent on phase three, 10 percent on phase four and phase five soon to get under way.
“We're using a lot of Volvo machines on the job,” Mixson said. “Our off road trucks are all A 40s. We have mostly Volvo excavators, from a 480 to 340s, 350s. We just recently added 380s to the fleet. We're using some Caterpillar equipment, including a grader we have out there right now. We've had two soil stabilizers working pretty much full-time, a Cat and Wirtgen. We're using a combination of Komatsu bulldozers and Cat bulldozers on the site, some Volvo rollers, Cat rollers, and we're running lots of big tractors, so we can pull disc and box blades behind them to keep haul roads for the trucks leveled up and keep ruts out.
“We went with the Volvo off-road trucks because honestly, my experience with them is they are the best trucks on the marketplace. And ASC, our dealer, does a fantastic job of taking care of us. They are always very competitive, if not more competitive than some of their competitors. If there is an issue, they take care of it and we move on. They are just a pleasure to deal with.”
And that's how Mixson likes people to think of Landmark, too. Professional, honest and on time.“We're not perfect,” Mixson said. “We make mistakes. The biggest thing with our company, if we make a mistake and we know it's our mistake, we fix it. If you tell someone you are going to do it, you do it. It's all about the people. The main thing at Landmark is the team. We really have a good team and that's what makes us successful.”