Building from the Ground Up
Precision Excavating & Contracting Proves Determination & Integrity Equal Success
When Blake Swearengin started Precision Excavating & Contracting LLC (Precision), he had $1,200 in his pocket and a dream of running his own company. The company president founded the Princeton, Minnesota-based business on integrity and hard work.
Fast forward two years and he’s seen his business quadruple in both the number of jobs he has completed and in income. He has plans to see it grow even more, as the company became a union shop at the beginning of 2018, allowing it to compete for more commercial projects.
Sunny Skies Ahead
“Joining the Local 49ers (Local No. 49 of the International Union of Operating Engineers) and the Local 563 (a local Minnesota/North Dakota affiliate of the Laborers’ International Union of North America) will mean more opportunities to increase our commercial workload, which ultimately means bigger jobs and larger contracts,” Swearengin says.
The company’s services range from septic systems installation and repair to grading. Precision also does basements and foundations, water and sewer installation, demolition, residential projects, tree removal and temporary driveways.
Now, we are able to do a job from start to finish instead of being there for a day doing one small part like the basement. We work to get into full developments putting sewer and water all throughout the entire project; now [we have jobs that consist of] four or five roads instead of one,” Swearengin explains.
Solar developments top the project list for Precision, Swearengin says, after winning a contract with Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based Strata Solar last summer. Precision will do all the dirt work—from site work and site grading to erosion control, fencing and access roads—for the installation of eight solar pad sites across Minnesota.
“Working with Strata has been the best experience we’ve had,” Swearengin says. “This was a good example of persistence paying off. I reached out multiple times and now we have about two years’ worth of projects with them. We will travel to North Carolina to do work for them over the course of three years and hopefully beyond that.”
Starting from Scratch
When he was a child, Swearengin’s family operated an excavation business, so he grew up learning the industry. His family sold its business in 2008, just before the economic downturn.
“I always knew I wanted to get back into that side of construction and contemplated how to start a business for a while,” he says. “I worked in oil fields and bounced around with a variety of jobs, but this is what I wanted to do; this is where my heart is. I started my company two years ago this spring after working for a few bigger excavating companies.”
Swearengin says the naysayers to his startup served as motivation to get it done and do it right.
“I quit my job and started the business the next day,” Swearengin says. “I started small, renting equipment and doing residential project grading and site work.”
As he started the business, he used lessons he learned while working for others to determine the best practices he could implement at Precision.
“The main philosophy we follow is to be positive,” he says. “I worked for one company where the boss was so rude that no one wanted to work for him. That’s not the way to motivate your employees. I want to be the guy that people come to. I don’t want them to be afraid to come to me. We want to do everything right the first time and take the extra time that is required upon occasion. The employees who aren’t willing to do that should look for another position.”
He continues, “We approach every day as a learning experience and honesty goes a long way on our team. We are growing and getting new projects consistently, so it is important that I keep the staff happy. We gave them Christmas bonuses and that’s honestly key for me. I want to treat them how I want to be treated. I’m working alongside the employees and sometimes sticking around a job site until 3 a.m. to get a project done.”
He also believes in not overextending the company financially. He started off renting an excavator and a Bobcat. He says that was costly, but he later reinvested the money he earned into purchasing equipment.
“We pay off equipment as soon as possible,” he says. “If I can’t afford it, I won’t buy it. We only owe on a couple of pieces of equipment because we don’t want to work on financing.”
Among the equipment in use are two Bobcats, a dozer, two excavators, four work trucks and a semi to haul the equipment. Additionally, he has multiple attachments for erosion control and grading, as well as some lasers used to make sure the ground is level. He’s moving toward having GPS in all his equipment to increase efficiency and ensure more precise grading on projects.
The company has also grown from a one-man operation to five employees, including an experienced foreman whom Swearengin says has been an incredible asset to the team. Swearengin credits a large amount of his company’s success to the hard work and dedication of his late girlfriend, Addy Goor, who passed away last fall.
“She helped me build the business. She was often working into the early morning hours to ensure that we had everything ready to go for projects. I couldn’t have done it all without her,” he says. “Her loss is still felt.”
Swearengin isn’t content to rest on his laurels. He’s spent the winter getting his equipment and staff ready for an uptick in business once the spring weather resumes.
His goal in the next five to 10 years is to grow the company to 40-50 employees as the workload continues to increase. “We are full-out sprinting,” he says. “There’s no crawling or even walking here. The union membership will benefit the company by allowing us to work with union contractors, which are many of the biggest companies across Minnesota. We will keep paying off everything and moving forward. Whenever another economic downturn occurs, we will be strong enough to survive and continue working.”