“We love Komatsu machines”
Labeling Southland Construction, Inc. is no easy task. The organization calls itself a “horizontal and vertical contractor,” but that doesn’t quite describe the various services the Apopka, Fla., company offers. Southland’s project list features dozens of McDonald’s fast-food restaurants as well as the interstates that people can take to get there.
“We handle roads, bridges and utilities; and we also construct buildings like restaurants and tolling facilities,” explained Vice President/ General Manager Joe Raucci. “We’re involved in a lot of everything. I guess it would be fair to call us multifaceted.”
Founder and President Dan Carr started Southland Construction in 1977 as a building contractor focusing on smaller jobs, typically banks, hospitals and schools. In the late 1980s, the firm began its relationship with McDonald’s and has built or renovated more than 1,000 restaurants to date. In the early 1990s, the company made the jump to heavy-highway construction, a move that helped it flourish.
“We were doing well with site development, but when we got that first road project, we really began to blossom,” recalled Raucci. “Today, we’re a major player. Some people may think we’re a small fry – but that is OK with us.”
The company’s growth from when it opened 40 years ago to today is undeniable – it currently has 220 employees. Raucci estimates that roadwork comprises nearly 75 percent of Southland’s work annually, and since 2007 that percentage has increasingly involved bridge construction.
“Many design-build road projects include bridges, and we had difficulty competing. We realized that we needed to find a company with more bridge experience to pair with to win bids,” noted Raucci. “Eventually, we wanted more control, so we hired some people with a lot of experience in that area, which helped raise our game.”
Putting together a top-notch staff has always been a priority for Southland Construction, and Raucci, who joined the business in 1988, lists it as one of the main reasons for the firm’s success.
“We have many long-time employees who are truly invested in this company, which makes a huge difference,” said Raucci. “That attitude starts at the top. Dan (Carr) is committed to his staff, and it shows. People stay because they really like it here.”
Southland’s foray into bridge work yielded its largest job ever in 2016. The company began tackling an $80 million contract for the Central Florida Expressway Authority. The two-year project will see Southland move 2.7 million yards of dirt and complete construction of eight bridges, including the largest and most complex the company has ever built.
“This assignment will feature a multi-lane, three-quarter mile, post-tensioned, curved haunch girder, concrete bridge,” explained Raucci. “It’s serious construction. We started in January 2016, and we are still about a year from completion. There are a lot of moving pieces, but we’re pleased with the orchestration so far. It’s a challenge, but we’re happy to have it.”
Southland took a couple of measures to help improve its dirt-moving operation. The first step was renting a fleet of 14 Komatsu HM400 articulated trucks from Linder Industrial Machinery Company and Sales Rep Nick Georgi.
“We needed those trucks for this project because it’s so big, and the trucks have been awesome,” said Raucci. “They can really move with a full load on them. We actually had to tell our operators to lighten their loads for maximum fuel efficiency. Our sweet spot is 44,000 pounds, and the trucks can just fly.
“To further improve efficiency, we constructed a temporary clay road for our trucks to use from the borrow pit to project the site,” he added. “This way they aren’t slogging through loose, granular fills, which saves time and fuel. It also reduces wear and tear on the machines.”
In another effort aimed at improvement, Southland installed a laser scanner on each truck to automatically measure the loads. The technology scans each bed after it’s filled and provides a deferential measurement that is highly accurate.
“We’re one of the few companies with a radio-frequency ID setup like this, and it’s a valuable system,” Raucci offered. “This saves us twice. First, we know exactly how much material we are moving so we can only charge and be invoiced for precisely what we have purchased, eliminating any questions about volumes that tend to plague our industry. Secondly, our operators know the specific sizes of their loads in real time, allowing them to carry the most efficient size and provide for real-time productivity measurements.”
Raucci lauds the crew at the site for its dedication and commitment to the interstate bridge work.
“Project Manager Tom Crittenden is the best there is, and his crew is the reason we’ve succeeded on this job,” noted Raucci. “There is a lot going on, but they are on top of it.”
Southland also turns to Linder and Georgi to help build the rest of its fleet, which includes nearly 50 Komatsu dozers, excavators and wheel loaders. Its latest addition was a Komatsu intelligent Machine Control D51PXi dozer, and the results have impressed.
“Within the last two years, we have made a commitment to GPS machine-control Topcon systems on our dozers and excavators,” reported Raucci. “The results have been great for us. Because of that, we decided to take the next step and get a D51PXi, and it has been amazing. The operator who runs it is old-school, but he is thrilled with it. He told me never to send a surveyor to his site because he can do it all with the dozer.”
Southland also has several standard Komatsu dozers and excavators.
“We love Komatsu machines,” shared Raucci. “The dozers have a great footprint and maneuverability, and the visibility is unrivaled. We’ve moved some serious dirt with them. The excavators have excellent breakout power, and the hydraulics are bulletproof. Dollar-for-dollar, Komatsu machines are the best on the market.”
In addition to dependable equipment, Southland appreciates the service and support it receives from Linder and Georgi.
“Linder is our go-to vendor,” said Raucci. “They give it to us straight, which we appreciate. We’ve had a long relationship with Linder and Nick. We walk hand-in-hand; our plan is their plan.”
Diversification is an important element for Southland Construction. That theme also carries over to the heartbeat of the company, its employees.
“We’re a motley group of people, and we wouldn’t have it any other way,” shared Raucci. “We have men and women from all over the world in positions throughout our company. Although we come from different backgrounds, somehow we make it all fit.”
Keeping employees busy and happy has been a key to success for Southland Construction, and Raucci says that the company takes steps to ensure that it stays that way.
“Without our employees, we wouldn’t be where we are. We certainly appreciate all they do, and we try to give back to them. We offer great benefits and a safe workplace. We do things like safety bingo where people can win money for being safe. It isn’t a lot, but little things like that can go a long way. I think our future is strong, and our employees are the main reason why.”