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Watterson Construction: maintaining quality relationships.

Watterson Construction has been providing construction services to Alaska since 1981, when it was opened by Watterson Construction President Bill Watterson and his wife, who has since sold her shares in the company. Watterson now shares ownership of the company with five other shareholders.

Employing Alaskans

Many Alaska companies see the wisdom in local hire, and Watterson is no different. Not only does the company focus on hiring Alaskans to do work in Alaska, but it makes an effort to employ people from the region in which the work will be performed. "We've had a job up at Fort Greely for a little over a year now," Watterson says. "We hired about twelve or thirteen people from the Delta area, good quality people. That community has its own culture, and [our employees] that live there love it. Most of the people who go there from somewhere else don't like it at all," he laughs. "But [local hire] is good for us, and it's good for the community."

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As another example, a superintendent and foremen were sent to work on a project in Seward; the remainder of the employees needed for the project were hired out of Seward. One hire stood out: "He's really good; we knew right away," Watterson says. At the initiation of the second part of the project, this employee was promoted to superintendent. Watterson says that employees hired in this fashion can have opportunities to move to other sites, if there's work available and they are interested.

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Watterson also hires locally for their staff positions in their Anchorage headquarters. "Fortunately we have low turnover," Watterson says, but it's inevitable to need some new employees over the years. Watterson's brother Jim is on the advisory board for the Construction Management program at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and so far Watterson has hired five employees from that program, and three employees have come from the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, one of which is Watterson himself.

"We had one gal stop in cold and I interviewed her and twenty minutes later I said: I think we better talk to her a little longer. And so we hired her," he says. Just recently, one of their employees, one of Watterson's site safety personnel, is taking an extended leave for health reasons. To find someone to fill in for him, the company "started calling around and leaving messages and found a former employee that had worked with us until about a year ago, and she said yes, she wants to come back," Watterson says. "I called the current employee to make sure he knew he wasn't going to get laid off, that he would be able to work when he can."

That kind of communication, Watterson says, is one of the important ways that the company maintains quality relationships between all of its employees. The most important thing, he says with a smile, is to have fun. But other things are important: "I always say that everybody needs to work on their vocabulary: they need to learn to say 'we' and 'our' and 'us,' because T don't get the job done," Watterson says. He says he also makes a point of giving employees appropriate credit tor their good work. All of Watterson's 119 employees are now Alaskans, with the company's last out-of-state employee recently selling his shares.

Key Considerations

Watterson does construction in various areas of the state, though not on the North Slope. The company does have an office in North Pole, staffed by four employees, including one shareholder. "He went up there in 1989 for one job," Watterson laughs. "And now he's been there for a long time. We just keep getting more work."

This may be due in part to Watterson's commitment to provide quality on every job for every client. "We like to think that at the end of the job the client thinks they got their money's worth," Watterson says.

Their key considerations are quality and safety. Watterson Construction hasn't had a lost-time accident in nine years, and is the only AK CHASE Gold level participant. (The CHASE program is a partnership between Alaska contractors and Alaska Occupational Safety and Health to reduce construction injuries, illnesses, and fatalities in Alaska.) "We want our clients to know they're going to get a top quality job and nobody gets hurt," Watterson says.

Ongoing Projects

Watterson says 2015 was a record year for the company, but he says in 2016 Watterson may not reach $100 million in work, which has been their approximate revenue for several years. The many projects that Watterson took on are being finished, and nothing new is currently scheduled to start in the spring.

But the company still has ongoing projects. "The one we're doing at Fort Greely is one-of-a-kind," Watterson says. The company is constructing a mechanical and electrical building for the missile field there. "It's got concrete walls twenty-six inches thick; the floors are three feet thick; and the concrete roof is eighteen inches thick."

He says the building needs to be built to withstand the possibility of a missile accidentally exploding, a mishap that actually occurred at the Kodiak Launch Complex in 2014. "The missiles don't have any warheads in them, they're contact missiles," Watterson explains. "What blows up is the propellant."

In addition to the building itself, other modification are necessary for the field to function properly and safely. For example, all of the manholes are fitted with lids that are designed to not come off because of the vacuum created if a missile explodes. Most of the 10,000-square-foot building has steel shielding to protect the controls from radiation.

While this project is particularly interesting, no matter what the project is, Watterson, and his employees, are passionate about the work that Watterson Construction does: "I wouldn't do anything else," Watterson says. "We have a lot of people that think that way."

Tasha Anderson is an Associate Editor at Alaska Business Monthly.
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Title Annotation:2016 CORPORATE 100: COMPANY PROFILE
Comment:Watterson Construction: maintaining quality relationships.(2016 CORPORATE 100: COMPANY PROFILE)
Author:Anderson, Tasha
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Article Type:Company overview
Geographic Code:1U9AK
Date:Apr 1, 2016
Words:996
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