Leader in Deep Foundation Systems Reveals Road to Success
Matt Conte, of Conte Co. LLC, a company that provides deep foundation system design and installation services throughout New England and New York, and his brothers have developed a unique philosophical business strategy—to be different. Now, they don’t do this by going to extremes and extravagancies. Rather, the family-owned company, now headed by the third generation of Conte men, stands out for its family-centered values, adaptability, diversification, innovation and customer service.
Conte Co., at just shy of 70 years in business, has a strong established reputation for creating custom pile driving solutions primarily for clients in the New England area. That reputation comes from hard work and each generation’s ability to build off the strong base created by the founder, Anthony F. Conte.
“We all grew up doing construction work because we were genuinely interested in it. I think that shows in our work; we understand what our guys in the field are doing because we once did it. We understand every trade we perform, and that is of great value to our customers,” Matt says.
Introducing the Contes
Based in Norwalk, Conn., the family operates from the same building that Anthony F. built in the 1940s. Like that building, services have expanded greatly since Anthony F. emigrated from Italy and started a residential construction company. James Conte, the son who took over from Anthony F., initiated company growth by navigating the vast changes in construction during the 1960s and 1970s, and by earning an architecture degree from Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y. This is not a typical move for a general contractor, but James could tell the construction climate was shifting. To stay a dominant player, James proactively sought other opportunities.
“My father, James, had the vision of connecting the design with the execution,” Matt notes. “He also saw the writing on the wall that the industry was going to gear toward paperwork, contracts and legal issues. He learned construction law and became an arbitrator, as well. While building schools, retail centers and other commercial structures, he met an owner of a specialty chemical company. That company needed very intricate construction performed with safety, the environment and insurance regulations in the forefront of the planning phase. My father created a construction plan that is still being carried out to this day—that is over 40 years of work.”
James remains involved in some aspects of the business with three sons now at the helm—Matt, who manages foundations and underpinning; Anthony, who is responsible for site work activities; and Michael, who covers accounting and financial responsibilities.
Just as James expanded what his father did into more commercial work, these three brothers have created a new division, focused on concrete/geotechnical work and specialty site work. Conte Co. once again has been reinvented, and it now is one of the few commercial-based companies that specializes in helical piles.
Matt says: “With the three of us gaining our respective knowledge bases, we have changed the direction of the company over the past 15 years. When larger construction managers became more prevalent, the classic general contractor became less hands on, self-performing much less work. Since we have always self-performed work, including a lot of specialty work, we didn’t want to go the route of streamlining our labor and equipment. If we are good at performing certain work, why just focus on project management? With this, we grew our fleet and labor force, kept our premium insurance and continued to pursue specialty work.”
Specializing in Helical Piles
The trajectory for Conte Co. changed dramatically when Matt graduated from Syracuse University with civil engineering and construction management degrees and a firsthand education in helical piles. One of his professors was a helical pile pioneer, having developed the design and engineering for the system, and Matt was eager to offer these services to Conte Co. clients.
Since doing so for the first time in 2007, Conte Co. has become the largest installer in New England of CHANCE Helical Piles manufactured by Hubbell Power Systems Inc. (HPS). Helical piles are considered some of the most reliable, budget-friendly, deep foundation options available. They lend themselves to a wide range of applications and can be installed rapidly with smaller machinery, making them a great alternative to drilled piles, driven piles or augercast systems. A properly designed and correctly installed helical pile foundation system will help support large buildings, bridges, platforms and infrastructure projects.
Helical piles are screwed into the soil using a motorized auger torque driver, attached to a piece of construction equipment. It is the screwing method that eliminates vibration and aggressive impact, making installation less disruptive. In addition, some older structures are so unstable that any vibration could cause damage. Helical piles can be used to underpin these structures without disturbing the current conditions.
Another benefit is that relatively small equipment can be used, so helical piles can get inside buildings and into basements, through landscaping, beneath lifted houses, around high-voltage lines and through tight locations. The low emissions of smaller equipment help to minimize environmental impacts.
After a few years of performing work for a handful of Connecticut clients, the company took its services to neighboring states and opened a second office in Naugatuck, Conn., to be more centrally located. Conte Co. applied for a patent on shallow helical foundations to support lighter structures in 2014 and one on a large-diameter grouted pile in 2016, which speaks to Conte Co.’s commitment to helping move the industry forward. Both of these products now are manufactured by HPS. Conte Co. also has invented and fabricated custom parts, adapters and methods in all aspects of the pile driving field, from testing to installation to specific project needs.
“The pile driving industry had the opportunity to grow, and we are proud to have been a major player in dramatic industry changes,” Matt says. “We are currently helping HPS test the new CHANCE DRIVECAST product in several markets in New York City.”
Conte Co.’s work can be seen at Logan International Airport, Winthrop, Mass., for JetBlue; a U.S. Navy base in Groton, Conn.; NSTAR Electric Co. (now known as Eversource Energy); Keolis Commuter Services; The Dow Chemical Co.; national grids around New England; and several other highly sensitive project sites.
Keeping the Edge
There is a belief that word of mouth can only get you so far. For Conte Co., a reputation of ingenuity, diversification and expertise has brought 68 years of success in two locations with thousands of jobs in many states. The company has remained relatively small, with 30 employees, and true to its family roots. This operating style has allowed the Contes to be selective.
“Anyone can bid a box,” Matt believes. “We like to find the work that no one wants because they didn’t take the time to think and problem-solve. This gives us the ability to work closely with our clients and adapt our abilities to meet their needs. With our commitment to technology evident, clearly we are ready to problem-solve, and if some aspect of a technology doesn’t quite work, we are going to work to create a better one.”
Being visionaries and always adapting, always thinking how else to be different—that is the Contes.