In ancient times, monarchs handed the throne down to their children, passing on the wealth and power they had acquired over their lifetimes, but also passing down considerable responsibility.
Today’s children don’t inherit jewel-encrusted crowns, but sometimes they inherit construction businesses. Like crowns, these companies come with both significant advantages and significant responsibilities.
“The construction business has been in our family for three generations,” said Ken Jacobsen, secretary and treasurer of Nordic Contracting Company Inc. in Ledgewood, N.J. “We love it, each day is a new challenge.”
Jacobsen’s grandfather, Olav Olsen, started Olsen and Lawson Construction Company 46 years ago. Olsen and Lawson was primarily a concrete contractor. Nordic was established as an offshoot. Today, Nordic is still a concrete contractor but also is performing site development and some general contracting for select repeat clients.
Ken Jacobsen’s brother, John Jacobsen is president of Nordic, and a partner, Ted Vitcusky, serves as vice president.
One of Jacobsen’s favorite parts of his job is purchasing equipment — and he has a lot of it. Nordic has approximately 60 pieces of equipment and tries to keep its fleet current. This year, Nordic acquired two new Cat 328 and two new Cat 321 zero turn radius excavators for work in confined areas.
“Zero turn radius machines are shorter and the counterweight stays inside the tracks, which lets us make full radius turns without worrying about the counterweight swinging and damaging an adjacent structure,” he explained.
Damaging structures can make contractors unpopular with project owners as well as causing damage to the equipment.
“We are finding the zero turns to be a great tool, because they have a larger lifting capacity,” Jacobsen said. “They allow us a little more flexibility with less damage to the equipment, which, if you look at the cost of repairs on equipment, it grows very quickly.”
Nordic doesn’t wait for its equipment to die of exhaustion before replacing it.
“We try to change our inventory after approximately seven years or, for excavators, 6,000 to 7,000 hours,” Jacobsen said.
There are two problems with replacing equipment regularly — selling it and getting a fair price.
“The construction market is cyclical and based on timing, interest rates and the general health of the market, you may or may not get a fair return on the equipment,” Jacobsen said.
Fortunately Nordic has a good relationship with its dealer, Foley Inc. in Piscataway, N.J., which recently helped Nordic turn over a large inventory of machines.
“As far as relationships with equipment suppliers, Foley Inc. has been excellent to work with,” Jacobsen said. “This is their fiftieth year in business, they are getting into their third generation as we are.”
Foley Inc. also has helped Nordic with repairs and warranties. “Whenever we’ve had a problem, they’ve always been there,” Jacobsen said.
Most of Nordic’s jobs involve construction of commercial buildings for Fortune 500 companies and pharmaceutical companies. One of the projects that Nordic is currently involved in is the construction of 77 Hudson, Jersey City, N.J.
The site was previously occupied by a Colgate Palmolive plant, and there are many underground utilities getting in the contractors’ way. Before the foundation can be set, Nordic must remove these obstructions.
“There’s a lot of excavator work. We have to use hammers and shears, to remove underground obstructions. Then piles are driven and we place pile caps and foundations.”
When completed, 77 Hudson will be the largest residential building in Jersey City and will have a view of downtown Manhattan.
When asked what advice he would give to someone running a similar business, Jacobsen said, “There are two things. The first is to be as service-oriented as you can be. We strive to be as service-oriented as we can be. The second one is to find new, innovative ways to be competitive.”
With its new Cat 328s and its three generations of experience, Nordic Contracting Company Inc. hopes to be competitive long into the future.