Build­ing a legacy

Con­struc­tion firm cel­e­brates 30 years of fam­ily busi­ness

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­

Dave McMichael’s con­struc­tion firm has laid foun­da­tions for some of Six Flags’ most pop­u­lar roller coast­ers, cleared land on moun­tain­tops for cell­phone tow­ers and built as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­i­ties, big-box stores and churches.

While the New­ton County com­pany is hav­ing as much suc­cess as it ever has, em­ploy­ing 19 and gross­ing around $14 mil­lion in an­nual rev­enue, and is cel­e­brat­ing its 30th an­niver­sary in Septem­ber, McMichael re­mem­bers days when the work was drain­ing, hours long and money short.

Lay­ing a foun­da­tion

When McMichael restarted his fa­ther’s old con­struc­tion com­pany af­ter sev­eral years of dor­mancy, he thought he had it all fig­ured out. Con­struc­tion he knew, but run­ning and mar­ket­ing a busi­ness turned out to be a crash course.

McMichael grad­u­ated from Auburn Univer­sity in 1976 with a de­gree in build­ing con­struc­tion and spent the next sev­eral years learn­ing on the job with two dif­fer­ent At­lanta-based firms, as a cost es­ti­ma­tor, su­per­in­ten­dent and pro­ject man­ager.

He over­saw the con­struc­tion

and was thrown into the mid­dle of an­other pro­ject as a fairly new em­ployee, hav­ing to straighten out an 84,000-square-foot re­tail build­ing pro­ject that was hav­ing is­sues.

McMichael’s fa­ther, J.D. “Peedie” McMichael, had been in the home-build­ing busi­ness for years, orig­i­nally form­ing McMichael’s Con­struc­tion in 1950 in Litho­nia. He re­tired in 1970, and the com­pany was dor­mant un­til McMichael de­cided to ven­ture out on his own and as­sume his fa­ther’s com­pany in 1983.

“I thought, ‘I’ve es­ti­mated, su­per­in­tended, done some de­sign-build projects, done pro­ject man­age­ment; I should be ready to go work for my­self.’ I gave no cre­dence or im­por­tance to sell­ing – that was a big mis­take,” McMichael said.

Some of his first jobs were in­stalling the 8-foot tall steel pipes that pro­tect the cor­ners of build­ings and build­ing a small tire barn for Penske Truck Leas­ing to hide the tires it re­ceived from pub­lic view. Over time the projects got big­ger, but life wasn’t easy.

“When I started out, I didn’t draw a salary for sev­eral months. I lived off of my sav­ings,” McMichael said. “My wife was an un­paid em­ployee.”

His wife and mother proved to be an im­por­tant sup­port team.

“Es­ti­mat­ing the (cost of the) work, go­ing out and run­ning the work, see­ing that peo­ple got paid, putting in bills, writ­ing sub­con­tracts … there was a lot of ef­fort on my fam­ily’s part to help me,” he said. Build­ing a legacy

McMichael’s Con­struc­tion has been lo­cated in Litho­nia, where McMichael was raised, and Cony­ers and now calls New­ton County’s Al­mon Road home. The com­pany’s of­fice is tucked away just off the exit 88, I-20 in­ter­change, the first road head­ing north past the Chevron gas sta­tion.

“My daddy was from here; I’ve got fam­ily buried here,” McMichael said, ex­plain­ing why he moved his of­fice to New­ton County in 2004. “I live just down the Yel­low River.”

Over the years, the con­struc­tion com­pany has led the build­ing and ren­o­va­tion ef­forts for hun­dreds of fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing in­dus­trial ware­houses and dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ters, gro­cery stores, re­tail stores, truck­wash­ing fa­cil­i­ties, Boys and Girls Clubs, schools, churches and, more re­cently, as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­i­ties. McMichael said the com­pany tries to keep six to eight projects go­ing at all times and com­pletes 15 to 25 a year.

“We had some hard is­sues early on, and our sur­vival is due to the things I men­tioned. The longevity I’ve had with clients is due to the con­sis­tency of our work,” McMichael said.

The com­pany is li­censed to work in eight states: Ge­or­gia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Vir­ginia, Ten­nessee, Alabama and Mis­sis­sippi.

Projects in New­ton County have been limited to an of­fice for Rock­dale Med­i­cal Cen­ter, the Af­ford­able Den­tures of­fice, and the Save-a-Lot re­mod­el­ing in the Cov­ing­ton Cor­ners shop­ping cen­ter at the in­ter­sec­tion of Al­covy Road and U.S. 278.

As a gen­eral con­trac­tor, the com­pany has seven con­struc­tion su­per­in­ten­dents, four pro­ject man­agers, as well as sev­eral other skilled staffers, to whom McMichael gives credit for his suc­cess.

“There has been some work done by my em­ploy­ees where they put max­i­mum ef­fort in th­ese hard times. I’m just re­ally, re­ally proud of them. They all have their own ex­per­tise; the fact is we have peo­ple strong in wood fram­ing, some are strong in con­crete work, some strong in struc­tural steel, some strong in pre-en­gi­neer­ing, and we have not been pi- geon­holed in one lit­tle slice,” McMichael said.

“We have been able to be di­verse in what we do, and our di­ver­sity has been a large part of our be­ing able to over­come th­ese hard times.”

Al­though McMichael and his fam­ily were the en­tire com­pany in the early days, he’s had to learn to de­pend more on his staff.

“When you get 30 years in and you grow your com­pany, it be­comes not so much about you; it be­comes about them. When you see what they have done and what they all ac­com­plish, it makes you proud,” he said. “When they have their suc­cesses, it’s a re­ally good feel­ing to see them suc­ceed. And when the clients say nice things about your peo­ple, that’s a won­der­ful thing.” The roller coast­ers

One of the com­pany’s most prom­i­nent achieve­ments was lay­ing the foun­da­tions and build­ing the sta­tions and ride plat­forms for 17 dif­fer­ent roller coast­ers and rides at Six Flags Over Ge­or­gia, in­clud­ing the Ninja, Bat­man, Ge­or­gia Scorcher, Su­per­man, Go­liath and Dare Devil Dive roller coast­ers.

While the me­tal col­umns and tracks are in­stalled by other com­pa­nies, the con­crete foun­da­tions, which are much more com­plex than tra­di­tional projects, are in­stalled by McMichael’s Con­struc­tion.

Each con­crete pier – the vis­i­ble part – has a dif­fer­ent in­ter­nal com­po­si­tion, and each must be built in a very spe­cific lo­ca­tion at the right height and at the right an­gle, so the ac­tual roller coaster can be built on top. The jobs orig­i­nally came dur­ing a tough time in the 1990s, when McMichael’s Con­struc­tion reached out to Six Flags.

“We were the suc­cess­ful bid­der. We did the job, did a good job and did it for the price we said we’d do it and, quite hon­estly, beat the heck out of the com­pe­ti­tion,” McMichael said. “It’s been an ex­cel­lent place to work.”

Sub­mit­ted photo/the Cov­ing­ton News

Dave McMichael and his con­struc­tion firm has built fa­cil­i­ties such as a Church of Lat­ter-Day Saints, and the foun­da­tion of roller coast­ers like the NInja in Six Flags over Ge­or­gia.

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