By Jason Fryer
Damage Prevention Liaison
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the leadership team at Portland Utilities Construction Company (PUCC) in Portland, Tennessee. I spoke with founder and president Ernie Woodcock, vice president Mike Woodcock and contract and project manager Tracy Weaver. The company started out doing open cuts to install new sewer lines, but now rehabilitation is their niche. PUCC was nominated to be featured in this edition of Contractor Spotlight by Chuck Rowsey, the assistant general manager at Lexington Utilities.
History & Leadership
Ernie Woodcock has been in the construction business since 1965 and previously worked as a utility contractor for Memphis Construction out of Memphis, New York. In 1991, Ernie founded PUCC in Portland, Tennessee. The company has grown from its original six employees to 95 employees working out of three offices across the country: Knoxville, TN; Portland, TN; and Houston, TX. “When we first started, we had to work a six-day week to survive,” Ernie says. “As the company grew,” he continues, “we cut out Saturdays and most of our guys work 45-50 hours a week.” When I asked Ernie what he fills his time with these days, he said, “We all wear multiple hats for the company and titles are not the most important thing. Now I primarily help with bids and estimating projects, but whatever the company needs, that’s what I do.”
Mike, Ernie’s son, has worked for PUCC for 24 years. He started out estimating jobs and calling in locate requests for the company. Now the crews in the field call in the locate requests, but Mike works closely with his project managers to make sure each job stays on track. “We sort of plot out where we are going to bid, what we are going to bid and how aggressively we are going to bid those projects. It’s a strategy of how we are going to keep everyone busy, what type of work we are going to do and where that work is going to be performed. We have a pretty good footprint – we have worked in 17 different states and even the District of Columbia.” Mike says, “The enjoyable part for me is deciding which markets we are going to pursue.” Mike’s strength as a strategic and critical thinker has launched the company into trenchless technology via pipe bursting.
Tracy, Ernie’s daughter, is the contract and project manager. She started working for her father during college and then full-time in February of 1996. Tracy says, “I’ve probably worked in every department of the company.” She has spent time in safety, fleet management, insurance claims and more. Her strong aptitude for problem solving helped in creation of the company’s policy and procedure manual. Mike says, “Tracy has brought a standardized process to things that now PUCC reaps the benefits of.” Tracy modestly attributes the company’s success to employees’ combined years of experience in the field, but says she’s thankful for the opportunities she’s had to further her education and skillset through different groups like the Tennessee Safety and Health Congress and the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA), where she currently serves on the board of the Middle Tennessee Chapter.
Knowing firsthand that PUCC places importance on the continued education and growth of their team, Tracy helped organize to send employees through an eight-week Dale Carnegie Leadership Course in 2018. Ernie completed the course back in 1978, so he quickly got behind the idea and the opportunity was made available to the company’s laborers in the field just as it was open to management and office staff. At the end of the course, 14 PUCC employees graduated from the program.
Ernie, Mike and Tracy value the contributions of their entire team and wanted to make sure to show their appreciation for a few of the other key players who we didn’t get to interview but are vital to the company’s success:
- Gary Testa, General Manager, 25 years with PUCC
- Rick Hamm, Superintendent, 25 years with PUCC
- Stacy Martin, Superintendent, 15 years with PUCC
- Greg Woodcock, Foreman, 24 years with PUCC
- John Keck, Controller, 19 years with PUCC
- Leslie Woodcock, Safety and Claims Manager, 17 years with PUCC
PUCC operates according to a list of company values that all begin with respect. Here’s the list from their website:
- Respect for the Customer
We recognize our customers are the reason we exist as a business. Furthermore, we recognize our customers have customers—the residents and taxpayers. We regard our customers’ customers as our customers too and we give them our full respect, attention and consideration at all times.
- Respect for People
We recognize and value each person in the company. Each of us is a unique person with skills, knowledge and personality. We recognize the individual value of each person and treat each other with dignity and respect. We interact with others with honesty and integrity, and we conduct ourselves with professionalism, even in the most difficult situations.
- Respect for the Work
We take pride in our work. PUCC is dedicated to completing our work to the highest standards of quality, efficiency and safety. We go the extra mile to make certain our work is the best.
- Respect for the Team
We are a committed team made up of talented individuals who each bring value to the company. We can only succeed as a team, and each of us is accountable for the work we do. We are committed to improving the team and making the team stronger as we grow.
- Respect for the Company
We are proud of PUCC. We are a leader in infrastructure rehabilitation and use our years of experience to every job. We do outstanding work, provide outstanding service and deliver outstanding value to our customers.
Damage Prevention Steps & Successful Business Practices
PUCC’s strong leadership and company values are reflected in their work in the field. Here are some of the precautions they take on every jobsite to ensure employee safety and to prevent damage to buried utilities:
- Locate requests are submitted for every jobsite, even when the plan is to use a pipe bursting technique.
- Potholing, or similar techniques, are used to pinpoint the location of buried lines when a crew needs to get close to existing infrastructure or when pipe bursting perpendicular to existing utilities.
- Safety training is regularly offered to employees.
- White paint (or other white markings) are used on every jobsite to show the intended area of excavation.
Chuck Rowsey, the assistant general manager for Lexington Utilities, offered his perspective on PUCC. Chuck has been with Lexington Utilities for 11 years and said, “I was very pleased with the work PUCC did for us back in 2016. I would definitely have them back to do more work for us – they were very professional, they put a priority on safety and their use of trenchless technology was impressive.” Chuck says, “We were in need of a wastewater line improvement and they did a great job!”
My interviews confirmed that PUCC understands the importance of doing quality work and working in a professional manner with other stakeholders like locators and utilities. Employee safety and damage prevention are priorities for the company and there’s a reason that PUCC is asked to come back and do projects for past clients. When I asked Ernie for his closing thoughts on the root of his company’s success, he was quick to say, “God and Jesus Christ. Also,” he said, “The company’s success comes from the people who work for this company. As we grew, they grew.”
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