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HC Contractors: Right Time, Right Place, Right People

by Apr 1, 2021Construction, Magazine

HC Contractors finished the Richardson Highway MP 18-24 paving project north of Valdez in 2019.

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By the time Bill Hoople founded HC Contractors in 1993, he’d been working in engineering and construction in Alaska for fifteen years.

Educated as an engineer (he earned his PE in 1971 and his master’s in civil engineering in 1982), Hoople moved to Alaska in 1975 to work on a construction project. Following that first project, for several years Hoople alternatively worked as a tradesperson or providing engineering services.

“During the time I was working as an engineer, I received a call from a larger contractor in Alaska that asked me if I would be interested in working for them, so I took the job because I actually prefer construction to design: the outdoors, and the activity, and the change of pace is much more my style,” Hoople says. That was in 1981, a few years before the mid-80s recession in Alaska. During the recession, the company Hoople worked for closed—and he was out of a job.

Hoople’s wife, family, and friends encouraged him to start his own business, but he was hesitant. Instead, he went back to school, taking night classes to study accounting, hoping to build up his skillset to run a business. “I did that for a year or so and then I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just do it.’”

HC Contractors

Hoople launched HC Contractors in 1993 with himself and two employees. “We made it through the first year and we just kept on going,” he says. “Actually it was much easier than I thought—I just wish I had done it sooner. I wasn’t sure I was ready, but everything worked out fine.”

One of the early challenges for any construction company is being bonded. Most project owners require a construction company to be bonded to even bid on a project, which provides a certain amount of liability protection in the event that a contractor is unable to finish a project as contracted. “You have to have the experience behind you and the money behind you to support those bonds, and as you’re starting out you really don’t have that, and it’s hard to come up with the insurance,” Hoople explains.

He addressed the problem by working as a subcontractor for more than five years, performing site work for building construction. “It was at the time when the military was building up and the pipeline was just going on. There was a lot of activity; it was a good time to be starting a business because there was just a lot of work,” he says.

During that period HC Contractors mostly performed work at Eielson Air Force Base and Fort Wainwright, which led to work for the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the state.

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Around that time HC Contractors acquired a property with a concrete batch plant and large gravel pit; the previous owner, who Hoople describes as “as real pioneer,” came to Alaska in the ‘50s and was looking to sell it after a fire on the site.

“I called her and asked if she’d be interested to sell anything, and so we worked out a sale, and that’s how I ended up with that source,” he says. “It was excellent timing… it was close to the military bases and it was a large and very good source, and it also had the concrete batch plant.”

HC Contractors is working on the Wendell Street Bridge Replacement in Fairbanks, with an anticipated completion date of October 15, 2021.

HC Contractors

Shortly after, HC Contractors acquired five mixer trucks, which it shipped up from California, and draglines, which were transported across the country from New Jersey. “After we got set up here, there was more highway work and construction… I had been involved in building a lot of overpasses in Fairbanks, and I wanted to bid on that kind of work,” Hoople says. However, he realized his ability to bid on those kinds of jobs was limited unless he had an asphalt plant, so he bought one in Illinois to ship north.

HC Contractors’ “first big job” was on the Richardson Highway, “which was about six miles or so right outside our ‘office’—or our project location or our property location—we didn’t have much of an office at the time,” Hoople says. “We paved a four-lane highway on our first job. It turned out well and we just went from there.”

Today Hoople says most of HC Contractors’ revenue comes through contracts with the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities doing road and highway work. As of mid-March the company was performing heavy civil work, paving, bridge work, utilities, and road construction.

“Alaska is so big and there are so many kinds of projects out there. I’ve worked construction, I worked in the Bush for a time, I worked on schools, I worked on large utility projects—it’s all been very good experience for me,” Hoople says. “But I’ve used all that experience to focus on the work that I like to do and that’s best for our company. We do 90 percent road paving, utility, and bridge work now.”

The Right People

As HC Contractors has developed as a company over nearly thirty years it has also employed more people, growing from the initial 3 to approximately 230 during the construction season.

“I prefer to hire people locally here that we have some connection to,” Hoople says.

He also looks for people who are passionate about doing good work instead of focusing solely on their technical qualifications. “I’ve found that people who maybe didn’t seem to have all the credentials were some of the best people I’ve had… the amount of work and effort they put into helping has outweighed anything they were lacking as far as experience.

“People can learn—they can learn how to do most anything if they want to.”

“I’ve found that people who maybe didn’t seem to have all the credentials were some of the best people I’ve had… the amount of work and effort they put into helping has outweighed anything they were lacking as far as experience.

People can learn—they can learn how to do most anything if they want to.

—Bill Hoople, Owner, HC Contractors

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He seeks out employees who are talented and invested in a job and like the work they’re performing. “We talk a lot about that, putting people in the right place… something that they want to do and not putting them in a position just as a job.”

Once the right people are in the right place, Hoople prefers to lead his employees by working with them.

“I involve everybody in the work,” he says. “People tell me that they like to work here because they like to be able to talk to the owner and work with the owner and not be in a large corporation where there are too many layers and they feel detached from the company.”

He also doesn’t hesitate to ask his employees to do what needs to be done. “I put a lot on their plate, and I push them, but I think they respond better and grow better and they become more capable,” he says. “I give them more responsibility and more trust as I see they can take
on more.”

Bill Hoople

HC Contractors

Hoople deliberately reinvests in the company in ways that are visible to his employees. “We’ve built a large, 10,000-square-foot shop for our mechanics to take care of equipment; we’ve added to our offices and put in new concrete plants; bought new concrete trucks and increased our fleet of equipment; and bought new equipment for the operators,” he says. “I think all that goes a long way. It’s an investment in the company, but it’s an investment in the people as well.”

Beyond that, Hoople believes in treating people well across the board. “We treat everyone with respect… and people have learned that I put a lot of emphasis on those sorts of things, on establishing good relationships and being professional.

“There’s a lot of parts to a business, and employees are a large part of it. Rewarding them is important to me as well as having the business be successful because that’s how our company has been successful.”

He has two specific examples: years ago HC Contractors was working on a large road project in Fairbanks. A man saw how the project was being managed, came to Hoople and said, “After I saw that project, I decided I want to work for you.”

That was Greg Barker, who today is HC Contractors’ environmental, health, and safety manager. “He has extensive experience in that field… and one of the things he’s done for us is improve our safety culture and our safety,” Hoople says. “He’s reduced our experience modifier to one of the best in the industry now, and our insurance rates have fallen dramatically. It’s a huge savings to have a good safety record, and not only that, it’s so much better for employees to be safe. We don’t want anybody hurt.”

And it was Travis Malin, the project manager, who directed work in such a way that it caught Barker’s eye. “Travis is young but took on responsibility from the start and has made a difference in acquiring people like Greg and making improvements,” Hoople says. The effect just builds.

“We treat our owners and the people we work with all the same. Integrity is a big part of it. We do what we say, and we always do what’s right. It’s important to be honest, but you also have to be humble. Listening is an important quality of leadership, and so people need to listen to others, and I find that that’s got me farther than anything. If I just don’t know the best way to solve a tough situation, I ask. Those are important things to do to be successful.”

—Bill Hoople, Owner, HC Contractors

Hoople also credits Malin with leading HC Contractors to utilize the latest technology in its operations.

“We’re improving the technology aspects of the equipment—the GPS and UTS and machine controls that we use now—it all improves our operations and efficiencies, and I think it just makes a good place for people to work.”

For Hoople, having a positive impact on his employees and community is a priority, and he knows their buy-in is essential for HC Contractors to continue providing quality work in the future. “Everybody says how people are so important, but it’s true. I can’t do it by myself, employees are the key and their attitude is important.”

HC Contractors completed the Illinois Street Reconstruction in Fairbanks in 2013.

HC Contractors

He continues, “We provide a service and we want to do quality work for everybody so, when they see it, they want us to come back and do other work for them.”

For Hoople success comes down to a few critical values: integrity, honesty, humility, and a willingness to listen.

“We treat our owners and the people we work with all the same. Integrity is a big part of it. We do what we say, and we always do what’s right. It’s important to be honest, but you also have to be humble. Listening is an important quality of leadership, and so people need to listen to others, and I find that that’s got me farther than anything. If I just don’t know the best way to solve a tough situation, I ask. Those are important things to do to be successful.”

“Alaska is so big and there are so many kinds of projects out there. I’ve worked construction, I worked in the Bush for a time, I worked on schools, I worked on large utility projects—it’s all been very good experience for me. But I’ve used all that experience to focus on the work that I like to do and that’s best for our company.

—Bill Hoople, Owner, HC Contractors

Enjoy this story? Check out other in-depth articles in our April 2021 Digital Edition.

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