Pond Builder Becomes One of Biggest Fish in Charlotte Area

Thu February 15, 2007 - Southeast Edition
Jeff Cronin

The contractor that is handling some of western North Carolina’s largest developments got its start with fishponds.

In 1953, Daniel I. Hoopaugh and a partner purchased a Caterpillar D6 bulldozer for $13,500.

“I’m sure it was completely financed,” said his son, Larry, who now runs Hoopaugh Grading.

But Daniel found early success. Within six months, he bought out his partner’s share of the business.

The owner/operator would create the ponds with the bulldozer — a task more easily completed with other types of machinery. But still, his clients were pleased with the results. Jobs kept coming in and, soon, Daniel was able to buy a pull pan and a second dozer.

Larry started helping out his father in his youth by picking up roots at the job site. But it wasn’t all work for the young Larry. “I would always find the biggest hill to roll down.”

Plus, he always found a way to man the bulldozer.

“I would have to use both hands, but I found a way to steer it,” he said.

The company’s success continued and, within 15 years, its equipment fleet grew to 15.

Larry’s interests turned away from the family business as he grew up. He went off to college at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, where he earned a business degree. But then he was bitten by the NASCAR bug.

While still helping out with the contracting business, Larry was finding success on the racetrack. He eventually worked his way up to the Busch Series. As he got better, racing began eating up time from other parts of his life. Eventually, the time came for Larry to choose his path.

The family business was booming, so much so that its staff was having trouble keeping up with the work. But, more importantly, he learned that his wife was pregnant with their first child.

Larry was about to have a child to care for and he didn’t want to take any more risks on the racetrack. Within a half-hour on one day in 1984, he said he chose to retire from racing and focus his career solely on construction.

Being around the construction industry at such a young age proved beneficial.

“There’s not a piece of equipment that I own that I can’t operate proficiently,” Larry said.

Most of Larry’s industry education came on the job site, so he only has a working knowledge of civil engineering. That’s why he places most of the engineering responsibilities with his business partner, Brian McManus.

Brian joined the company nearly five years ago and took partial ownership approximately three years ago at the age of 27.

He holds a deep gratitude toward Larry for trusting in his abilities and “allowing me to come in as young as I am and allowing me to show what I can do.”

Brian plays a role in nearly every aspect of the company’s operation, including bidding, project management, equipment purchasing and dealing with clients.

While Brian has brought fresh ideas to Hoopaugh Grading, he said he strives to “continue to maintain the quality of the past 50 years.”

The company is about to enter a new era as it prepares to move into a new facility. With 5,000-sq.-ft. of office space and an 8,500-sq.-ft. shop, the new facility drastically increases its capacity.

Even with the new building, the owners of Hoopaugh Grading don’t expect to increase the company’s workload. Larry expected to maintain a fleet of 70 pieces of equipment and a staff of 80. This past year, Hoopaugh crews completed more than $20 million worth of projects.

Its equipment includes Komatsu and John Deere trackhoes; and Caterpillar scapers, dozers, rollers, skid steers and graders.

The company’s staff includes nine foremen and two superintendents. Last year, Hoopaugh hired a CPA/controller to monitor the company’s costs. Larry expected to add one or two project managers, as well as an equipment manager.

The contractor is one of the few in the Charlotte area to have GPS systems installed on some of its machinery. It also uses the technology to design its own site models.

Hoopaugh crews primarily work on residential job sites, but can be found on commercial developments 20 percent of the time. One of the biggest developments on which it is currently working is Marvin Creek, a $16 million project covering 200 acres (81 ha).

While Larry and Brian both said they are proud of everything they’ve built, Larry points to the Snyder Trucking facility along Interstate 85 as one of his company’s biggest accomplishments.

The challenges of a1995 job were varied. The 30-acre (12 ha) site was wrought with 1.5-to-1 slopes and had to be covered with 10 to 12 in. (25 to 30 cm) of ABC stone. Larry said it rained or snowed almost every other day, severely limiting the amount of work its crews could accomplish. But Larry came up with the idea of stockpiling the stone on site so it was readily available to the workers as soon as the weather conditions improved. So he gathered 65 trucks in one day to move 10,000 tons (9,072 t) of stone to the site.

Larry and Brian don’t have aspirations of becoming a gigantic contractor, but they take pride in offering “big company benefits” to their employees. All staffers are guaranteed 35-hour work weeks and Saturday hours are paid time-and-a-half. It has a 401(k) plan, covers 100 percent of employee’s health insurance and offers year-end bonuses.

Larry said all of that translates into a more loyal staff and a lot less turnover. CEG

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