“My operators love Komatsu machines for their power and comfort, and I like that they’re reliable”
Ryan McDonald helped at his dad’s company, McDonald Excavating, while growing up in the southwestern Washington town of Washougal, near Portland, Oregon. After graduating from Washington State University with a construction management degree, he worked for some vertical building contractors before rejoining his dad fulltime at McDonald Excavating in 2005. At the time, the company was about a 10-person firm. Today, employment fluctuates between 35 and 50.
“We’ve had good growth, even during the really tough years of 2008 and 2009,” reported McDonald, who became majority Owner and President of McDonald Excavating this year. “The recession was challenging – we saw a lot of contractors go down – but for me, failure wasn’t an option. I didn’t have a fallback plan. I’d come back to this, and it’s what I wanted to do, so we hunkered down and made it happen.”
McDonald Excavating is an earthwork/ utility contracting firm that focuses primarily on public works jobs – highways, streets and heavy civil work – for DOTs and municipalities in the area. The company serves as a general contractor on some jobs, but also often works as a sub on very large projects, such as Portland Light Rail.
“The light rail project was our saving grace during the recession,” recalled McDonald. “Stacy & Witbeck, the GC on the project, hired us as a sub and basically treated us as part of its crew. We did a lot of jobs for them through the years, and won an award from them in 2010. Prior to that, we had completed quite a bit of residential work, but this got us into the public arena, and we found our niche there.”
In addition to Portland Light Rail, McDonald Excavating has been involved in many other signature jobs. They include the Portland East Side Combined Sewer Overflow project, Vancouver Rail West 39th Street Bridge and the upcoming Knight Cancer Research Building at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.
“We’re proud of all our jobs, especially those big ones, but my personal favorites are in Camas and Washougal,” McDonald shared. “That’s where I was born and raised, my wife works for the City of Camas, and we have a lot of friends there. I like it when people I know can see what we do.”
McDonald credits employees, such as Superintendent Tom Kennon, for McDonald Excavating’s excellent industry reputation for doing quality work and completing it on time.
“We have good, experienced, honest people. Our crews are professional. We pay our guys well and provide benefits, and as a result, they tend to stay with us. Our goal is to do every job right the first time. If there is an issue and it’s our fault, we own up to it, and we fix it.
“Because many of our jobs are in the public arena, we do our best to work with residents to head off any potential problems before they arise. For example, we’re doing a sewer upgrade for the City of Camas in the middle of a neighborhood. Before starting the job, our foreman held a meeting with all the homeowners to let them know who we are, what we’ll be doing and how long it will take. We also answered any questions and gave the homeowners our names and numbers. If there’s an issue, rather than call the city to complain, we hope that they’ll call us first so we can address it.”
Komatsu machines and Modern Machinery service
For equipment, McDonald turns to Modern Machinery and Portland Sales Rep Dan Kipp. The company has three tight-tail-swing Komatsu excavators (a PC308USLC-3E0, a PC228USLC-8 and a PC138USLC-10), two Komatsu dozers (a D61PX-23 and a D37EX-22), a Komatsu WA320-7 wheel loader and a Hamm 3412 roller.
“The tight-tail-swing excavators are great because they provide us with maximum versatility,” said McDonald. “Why buy a conventional machine when a tight-tail-swing has nearly the same capacity but can work in traffic and narrow alleys?
“My operators love Komatsu machines for their power and comfort, and I like that they’re reliable,” he added. “We’ve had very few issues. We put in the keys, turn them on and go to work. I’ve also found that KOMTRAX is a great way to make sure that our maintenance gets done on time.”
Beyond the quality of the equipment, McDonald says it’s the support from Modern Machinery that makes him loyal to Komatsu.
“Dan and Modern care about us – how we’re doing and what they can do to help. When we need a service tech, they get one out to us in short order. Several of our machines are under Komatsu CARE, so Modern takes care of our service intervals, which is an added benefit. We also really enjoy working with Komatsu Financial. Their ability to be flexible and work out deals is a huge plus for us.”
“We appreciate that Ryan has given us a chance to show what we can do for McDonald Excavating,” said Modern Machinery President Brian Sheridan. “We look forward to working with him for many years to come.”
McDonald says he’s very pleased with where McDonald Excavating is today, and he expects continued growth moving forward.
“The Portland area is growing rapidly. We have more work than we’ve had at any time in the past. I expect to continue to grow the company for the foreseeable future. As long as we keep doing what got us here – a good work ethic, fair prices and a commitment to our customers – I’m very optimistic about our future.”