Contractor of the Year Finalist
| January 01, 2011
Alan, Alan II and Brian Lucas
A family with deep construction roots in NYw york has replicated its success on the front range.
By Marcia Gruver Doyle
Elk Valley Development
Year started: 1997 (went from LLC to corporation in 2005)
Annual volume: $3 to $5 million
Markets served: Commercial retail buildings and site development
There’s an easy camaraderie among Alan Lucas, 58, and his two sons, Alan Lucas II, 35, and Brian Lucas, 29. The father grins when the question comes up about how his sons got into construction. “They didn’t have any choice,” he says.
And there’s some truth in that. Alan II and Brian have five generations of contractors on their paternal side and three generations of contractors on their maternal side. “I always swore I wasn’t going to get sucked in,” Brian laughs, “but now I love it.”
Although the three have such a deep construction legacy, they are relatively new to the Pueblo area. For years, Alan ran a commercial construction firm in New York, a firm that at one time had more than 140 pieces of equipment and 100 employees. Being big was fine, but when the family gradually made the move west, it took with it several lessons learned from the New York company.
“In the late 1970s and early 1980s when we were doing well, we doubled and tripled up on our equipment payments while some of our competitors were buying helicopters,” Alan says. “That approach helped us in the downtimes.” And so one of the company’s mantras to this day is to avoid large debt.
“He preaches about not having the overhead,” says Alan II. “He’ll tell us, ‘You know, you have to pay for that brand new pickup.’” The father may preach, but the sons also hear. Although both drive nice pickups, they’re paid for.
So it’s not surprising that the company tends to buy most of its fleet used. Machines now in Elk Valley’s equipment roster include two backhoes, three tractors, three dozers, a skid steer, two water trucks, a compactor and assorted trailers.
“They have good cash management, which gives them the ability go on in down times,” says Mike Cattalino with supplier Foxworth Galbraith Lumber. “They’re professional, top notch and a leader in the marketplace.”
Go west, Lucas family
Alan says he followed his kids west. Alan II, prompted by his love of hunting, went to the University of Wyoming. His sister, Jackie, started going to the University of Southern Colorado-Pueblo. As another illustration of how deep construction runs in the Lucas family, Alan encouraged his daughter to build a spec house during her sophomore year, which she accomplished with help from her brother and father – and made a profit on.
“My wife and I came out for a three-week vacation and never went back,” Alan now says. The Pueblo area held several attractions for the family, including climate and quality of life. And Alan also saw opportunity: “There are few places near civilization on the front range of the Rocky Mountains with affordable land and water,” he says.
The family actually is involved in two corporations: Elk Valley Development, which deals with the commercial side, and Elk Valley Construction, which builds upscale homes, the family’s initial venture into construction in the area.
Alan jokes that Elk Valley flies under the radar, looking for niches, and “staying out of the way of the big fish in the little pond,” as he puts it. When he first arrived, he noticed there were larger rural lots for sell that held attraction for out-of-state buyers who wanted to move to the mountains. “When Brian created our website, it came in handy because it allowed us to communicate with these people,” he says. The company ran each house construction like a commercial job, doing site investigations for the proper placement of septic tanks and water wells.
It then started doing small commercial jobs, which prompted some equipment purchases. “I always want to see a good portion of the equipment paid for on the job for which you bought it,” Alan says.
Brian’s degree in mass communications has come in handy. “I kind of made a job for myself,” Brian says. He deals primarily with the office and Alan II is in the field. “But we have flexibility because either of us can pick up where the other left off,” says Alan II. In addition to being an all-around mentor, their father now concentrates on getting new work.
Busy in the downturn
It helps that as construction goes through this deep downturn, Elk Valley Development is busy. The company is now involved with the largest project it has had to date in Pueblo, the 19-lot Pinion Ridge Commercial Center just north of town.
The local economy never took the hit experienced by other areas, partly because the area’s business/industrial base is so diversified. The vicinity also has a strong green outlook, which prompted Alan II to become an accredited Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design professional. “It’s a good tool,” says Alan II. “We already had an environmentally friendly approach, but this gives us an outside, independent stamp.”
Now the firm is building a LEED-certified four-story, 17,000-square-foot commercial office on the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo. The $2.5 million downtown project – which is also owned by Alex II and Brian – is expected to be completed next May. “The site has given us a number of challenges because it’s a small lot with virtually zero access,” Brian says. “Because of this, we’ve completely taken over the safety aspect of the project.” (For more on the firm’s approach to safety, see the sidebar at right.)
Elk Valley found it really doesn’t have to sell its environmental approach. For example, it’s done a number of Insulated Concrete Form houses, and found that most of the people came looking for them. “By the time we see them, they already understand the concept, and they’re just looking for someone who can do it,” Alan says.
Smoothing the way
Another area of expertise is the company’s ability to get the right to build. “We don’t bid jobs,” Alan says. “We either design-build or negotiate, putting the pieces together to develop the project and budgets.” The company than turns these numbers into lump sum contracts, using fixed numbers and scopes.
“Both of the boys have a real sense of business,” says Lloyd Ward with Black Meadow Construction, Chester, New York, “and their father is a man of his word.”
Alan jokes, but you know he means it when he says, “I’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars making some of the mistakes I’ve made, so why shouldn’t the company learn from them?” EW
Safety is its own reward
On the Pinion Ridge Commercial Center job, Elk Valley and its subs have installed pipes going more than 24 feet deep. Don Kroll, who worked with a mining company’s safety program for 18 years, is the company’s lead safety person, but Alan Lucas makes it clear everyone on site is responsible for safety. “If you’re too dumb to want to save your own life, or that of the guy next to you, we’re going to do it for you,” he says. The company’s approach:
• Subs understand they are required to participate “enthusiastically” with any Elk Valley safety program.
• Keep on preaching; complacency is dangerous.
• Make the safety topics pertinent to the work at hand. If you going in and out of trench boxes that day, review the proper procedures in your tool box talk.
• Update anyone who has been absent and reacquaint them with job safety requirements.
• Control the site. Fence it in and require anyone within the fence follow your safety procedures.
• Safety is its own reward. The alternative can be termination.
Finally, encourage two-way communication in safety meetings, which can be especially valuable if someone has a near-miss experience that underlines the topic at hand. “We had someone jump on a machine to catch a ride the other day,” Don says, “so I related my experience at the mine, where a guy jumped a ride on a forklift, and it hit a rock and the forklift fell on both the rider and the operator. Now, neither of them can walk correctly.”