Lou-Con’s Development Acumen Proves Prosperous

Wed September 29, 2004 - Southeast Edition

Having spent years working in housing and commercial development, both Shay Baird and Louis Matthews recognized one thing: the industry was in need of a contractor that understood the development business.

“I think contractors in the past didn’t understand the importance of timing and the schedule and what it means for closings,” said Baird.

So in April 2000, the pair started Charlotte, NC-based Lou-Con Development, a contracting company that is now dedicated to providing turnkey site development solutions for developers in the Carolinas. The idea has proved prosperous, with the number of employees increasing from “just a handful” to more than 100 in a little over four years.

“It’s one of the challenges we faced — growth management,” said Baird, noting that the rapid expansion has forced the company to put in place a new level of management. “ When we first started, Louis and I managed all the work.... and over time it became obvious we couldn’t visit each of the job sites. That was the fundamental change — realizing we couldn’t do it all and delegating those responsibilities to competent people who could tackle the project management for us.”

With much of Lou-Con’s business being repeated, this fundamental decision helped the four-year-old firm earn the respect of the communities in which it works.

Earlier this year, Lou-Con began a $1.2 million site preparation contract for Hendrick Motor Sports’ T5/25 race shop, located a few miles away from the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Crews are moving approximately 150,000 cu. yds. (114,683 cu m) of dirt in preparation for the shop as well as a pit crew change area, where audiences will be able to watch pit crew practice changes from stadium seating.

This race shop is for the 5 and 25 cars and will be where race team crews test the cars as well as build motors and do diagnostic work.

Right outside the shop is where crews are building a pit change area that looks similar to a double-headed cul-de-sac.

On this track, pit crews will get a car up to 55 mph and plan on pulling it into the test area. They then time themselves on tire changes and fill ups.

In addition to preparing the land for the new race shop, Lou-Con’s crews are installing a couple thousand feet of storm drain pipe as well as 20,000 ft. (6.1 m) of water and sewer line and will top it off with fine grading.

When Lou-Con took the job, it was deemed unclassified, meaning there were unsuitable soils on the site.

“We had to take some calculated risks on how much unsuitables were there,” explained Baird. “We had to test dig … and we found we had the presence of some subsurface water and some rock we had to deal with.”

Baird said his crews were fairly well prepared, both with the information from the property owner and the exploration work. “Although the job was unclassified, which in most cases would make it special, we narrowed down what we thought were the variables and made it manageable and biddable.

Currently, Lou-Con also is working in Gastonia, NC, on a subdivision called Long Creek, which will offer 1,300- to 1,600-sq.-ft. single-family homes. Seventy percent of the company’s business is residential work.

The $2-million contract requires moving more than 225,000 cu. yds. (172,024 cu m) of dirt and installing 10,000 ft. (3,048 m) of sewer and water pipe. Crews also are placing the storm drain. Within the subdivision, there will be approximately 10,000 linear ft. (3,048 m) of street. Baird is subcontracting out the curb and paving work.

“We’ll set up the stone and then hire a paver to come in and topcoat for us,” said Baird.

Once again, this job involved unexpected subsurface water that presented some problems for Lou-Con crews.

“We had to get the engineers involved to determine a draining system to allow the subsurface water to run off the site,” explained Baird. “That job was not unclassified.”

Currently installing underground utilities, Lou-Con crews are anticipating an October partial completion date. The job began in April.

Baird noted that significant changes he has witnessed in the development industry fall mostly in residential construction.

“The level of detail that our owners are requiring us to deliver the product to has changed many times over,” he explained. “Especially when it comes to the spec tolerances for delivering pad elevations and pad grades for residential products. It used to be we graded the roads only. We’d go through and clear the road and a builder would come in and clear the lots.”

Now, said Baird, national production builders want to know exactly what it will cost to build a house on a particular lot. He said they often require their developers, who Lou-Con works for, to mass grade the sites and deliver padded lots to plus or minus .10 ft. (.03 m).

“A subdivision that has 200 lots in it may have 200 different elevations that have to be graded to plus or minus a tenth of a foot,” he explained. “In commercial work you might have one whole building at an elevation and a parking lot with some changed grades. A subdivision has constantly changing street elevations and pad grades.”

To help accommodate some of the developer’s demands, Baird is using GPS technology.

“Where I see the future for both our company and industry wide, if you don’t get on the GPS bandwagon and have equipment in a system that can deal with varying grade changes, you’ll be left behind.”

Lou-Con is using AgTek 3-D for its dirt take-off program. AgTek gives Baird and his staff a three-dimensional view of the projects, which can be printed in color and used as a tool for project management.

“They can see the job in 3-D in addition to having the plan that shows the contours,” said Baird. “That gives them a mental picture of what it looks like.”

The next step for Lou-Con is to have two GPS systems in which the firm downloads the AgTek 3-D view into the system that is on a piece of equipment, showing the operator the same view the staff sees in the office.

“It’s almost like a video game,” Baird noted. “The operator runs the machine based on what the instruments tell him — you need to cut two inches here. You need to fill there. It eliminates the need for multiple survey stakes.”

Helping Lou-Con’s crews tackle its various projects is a mixed fleet of equipment that includes a number of new Case machines, including a 330 articulated hauler and a number of dozers, excavators and backhoes.

“We’re very excited about the new Case line that Briggs Equipment has made available to us,” said Baird. “We just feel from both their sales side and service side that the equipment Case is putting out is a match for us. …The manufacturer is able to provide a good, competitive environment.”

Baird explained that Lou-Con measured their Case equipment’s fuel consumption and compared it to other manufacturers.

“Their fuel consumption is superior,” he said. “It’s a very good truck. We’re definitely open to purchasing Case equipment in the future. They stack up well to other manufacturers.”