Blythe Construction’s Concord asphalt plant on Poplar Tent Road has been selected by the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) as a semi-finalist for the Environmental Leadership Award.
One of the most prestigious sustainability-focused awards of its kind in the US, the Environmental Leadership Award uses a rigorous two-year evaluation process to recognize the highest-performing asphalt plants in the country. Selection of the Concord plant as a semi-finalist reflects Blythe’s ongoing commitment to preserving natural resources in our communities and building a sustainable future.
To qualify for the award, asphalt plants must first receive the Diamond Achievement Commendation from NAPA, which covers operational aspects ranging from plant appearance and safety, to overall regulatory compliance and community relations. Additionally, there is a sustainability component that gauges a facility’s effectiveness at implementing its environmental goals. Only plants which have received a Diamond Achievement Commendation are eligible to be selected for Environmental Leadership Award, and only those that demonstrate exceptional sustainability practices are chosen as semi-finalists.
Selection of the Concord plant as a semi-finalist reflects Blythe’s ongoing commitment to preserving natural resources in our communities and building a sustainable future.
All six Blythe-owned asphalt plants within the Charlotte area currently hold NAPA Diamond Achievement Commendations. Plants Manager Steve Nearhood says that each is exceptionally well run and focused on the environmental concerns, and the Concord plant is especially deserving of being chosen as a semi-finalist.
“Blythe holds all of its asphalt plants to the same strict standards,” he says. “Individually, any one of them could have been chosen. The Concord plant just went above and beyond in terms of its operations.” Nearhood credits Concord Plant Foreman David Fleming and his team for their hard work and their tireless commitment to excellence in every aspect of their operations.
Environmental focus has increasingly become a priority within Blythe’s operational practices. According to Allen Hendricks, Vice President of Asphalt Operations, approximately 35 percent of total paving material used in 2018 was reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP), and Blythe is developing new sustainable practices constantly. Hendricks points to the increased use of Recyflex, a cutting-edge base material consisting of 50 percent RAP material, as further evidence of its environmental commitment. Recyflex is currently being implemented on the shoulders of I-85 in Cabarrus Co., and is produced onsite at the Concord plant.
Additional application materials for the Environmental Leadership Award have been requested and will be submitted to NAPA in the fall of this year. If selected, Blythe Construction will be presented with the award at association’s 2020 Annual Meeting in Maui, Hawaii.
On the evening of May 21st, 2018, Grade Foreman Mike Lyle stood next to a police patrol car on a northbound exit ramp on I-85. The exit was closed to motorists, blocked off at the bottom and top with reflective traffic barrels. As Lyle spoke through the driver’s side window with the officer, blue lights flashed on their darkened surroundings. It was close to midnight, the final half-hour of what had been another routine shift at work.
Then, in the middle of their conversation, a vehicle entered the blocked-off exit ramp at high speed. Turning his head to watch, Lyle started to ask, “What’s that guy—” But before he could finish the sentence, the vehicle collided into the back of the patrol car. The impact struck Lyle, throwing him more than 20 feet into the main traffic lane of I-85.
Suffering numerous bone fractures and massive trauma to his head, Lyle was air-lifted to Charlotte emergency facilities where he spent four days in a coma, followed by two weeks under hospital care. In total, Lyle suffered a fractured tibia below the knee, broken bones in his thumb, wrist, arm, and shoulder on his right side, fractures to his skull in two places, and countless bruises and scrapes. In addition, the impact of his forehead on the pavement severed nerves resulting in hearing loss, and impacting his senses of taste and smell.
Today, almost a full year after the work zone accident that nearly cost him his life, Lyle has returned to work on the same I-85 project where it took place. Asked about the incident and how it effected his outlook on life, work, and safety on the job, he had the following to say:
How is your recovery coming?
I’m doing good, you know. I’m here working again. My body’s healing. Still working on getting my shoulder back to 100 percent, but it’s getting there. I’ve got my last two sessions of physical therapy coming up next week. The hardest part, honestly, is my taste and smell not being right. The damage to my nerves made most food taste so I can’t stomach it. I’m living on eggs and protein shakes. But I’m alive.
Had you ever been injured on the job prior to your accident last year?
I’ve worked 20 years in the construction industry, the last five of them at Blythe. All that time I was on heavy construction and road work, and I never had any sort of accident. I tore my thumb pretty bad once. Nothing anywhere close to this. Nothing life-threatening.
How did you think about risk and safety before the accident?
[Laughs] Before the accident, I don’t know…I looked at things differently. I would have performed a lane closure by myself if I had to. Part of it was experience, being accustomed to the environment. I felt confident because I had been around it so long. Working near traffic was second nature. I just thought nothing of it. Now, I mean, that accident completely changed my life.
How has it influenced the way you work now?
I hear brakes screeching somewhere, I about jump out of my skin. Everyday I’m here I see the spot it happened. It is what it is.
Part of what shocked me, was that I did everything by the book that evening: I had the ramp closed off completely, I was wearing all my PPE—even had my halo turned on my hard hat—and I’d called the police in for extra visibility. Even with all that, an accident happened that almost cost my life.
Did you ever consider not coming back to work?
The accident was something that happened. It wasn’t good. But I’m 50 years old now, I’ve done this work most of my life. The whole time that I was home recovering, I felt like I was on house arrest. I had a cast on my arm, my leg. I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t really leave my house. I spent five months in a fog of pain medication that I couldn’t wait to get out of.
I was so broken up that for a while after the accident I was focused on just getting my health back. At some point, though, it’s like, “What do I do? Do I shy away from this?” I’m just not that type of person. And on top of all that, Blythe is like family. That in itself is a big part of why I came back.
Has your accident changed your opinion about work zone awareness? What can be done in your opinion to make work zones safer?
People are just too concerned about where they need to be. The average person—I don’t know if they just don’t get it, or they don’t care. You see people reading the paper, eating, putting on makeup, texting—all while they’re driving! I found out after my accident that traffic was driving around me lying on the side of I-85. That says something about the public’s mindset.
You know, we have signs five miles before our jobsite to alert drivers. Do they even see that? I don’t know. I do know that Blythe does everything within its power to keep employees safe. All kinds of safety training, certification—you name it. All that stuff is important, and it does make a difference. But there’s a limit to what you can prevent. Because safety depends on the public too.
Any words of advice for people getting into the industry?
Beware of your surroundings. Know where you’re at. Watch traffic. Watch equipment. Watch dump trucks. The biggest thing is, don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t know something. You have to communicate, because he traffic’s not going away. And just because you’ve done something 100 times before, don’t take your safety for granted.
by Garrett Simmons
Employee Name: Latoya Moore
Title: Project Coordinator
Years at Blythe: 1.5
After little more than a year working at Blythe, Latoya Moore has found a home in the construction industry. She fulfills an essential role as Project Coordinator at the company’s Winston-Salem field office, and with opportunities for advancement ahead of her, she’s looking forward to remaining in the industry for years to come.
It wasn’t long ago, however, that Latoya saw a much different future for herself. Having worked 12 years in the health care industry—starting at Novant Health, and later becoming lead administrative specialist at Thomasville Medical Center—she’d reached a point at which she more or less ruled out any major career changes.
“I never pictured a world without me working in health care,” she says. “I’d been in the industry so long, I couldn’t imagine ever changing.”
It wasn’t just the twelve years she had spent in health care that made leaving it seem impossible—Latoya had worked extremely hard to get there. She worked full-time at Novant while earning her bachelor’s degree in health care management. And in 2013, after she’d transferred to Thomasville Medical Center, she returned to college for a second degree in business administration. Again, she maintained her full-time job.
“I knew what I wanted to do, but I had to take my time with it,” she explains. “During that time, I became a mother, which affected my priorities. School was something that I wanted, working was something I needed to do. So, I kept at it.”
But in 2016, her plans were derailed by an event which forced her to put long-term goals aside and, for the first time since 2005, look for work outside of health care. Thomasville Medical Center underwent layoffs to its entire staff, including administration.
“The staff agency said it was a predominantly male industry. They didn’t tell me it was 100-percent male.”
“I could have taken another position at a lower rate,” Latoya says, “but they were phasing out, and I decided to take the severance and devote that year to finishing school. Once I graduated, I planned on returning to Novant.”
In the meantime, Latoya began finding temporary work through a staffing agency. Soon after, she received a call with an offer for a field clerk position. The company was Blythe Construction.
“I was aware that I would be entering a completely different work environment than I was used to,” she admits. “The staff agency said it was a predominantly male industry. They didn’t tell me it was 100-percent male.”
Putting aside her anxiety, Latoya went to interview at the Salem Creek field office, where she met Project Managers Matt Adams and Eric Becker. They would become her supervisors for the final stages of the Salem Creek project, and Adams would eventually become her mentor in the construction industry.
“I immediately liked them both,” she says. “I just got a great feeling from them. And once I started working for Matt, I realized that it would be very difficult to stop working for him.”
As luck would have it, the call Latoya had been waiting for from Novant came through within days after she started working at Blythe. The health care position she’d hoped for had come through. But by then, she says, it was too late.
“I had just started. They needed me, and my gut instinct just told me I couldn’t leave Matt hanging. That’s initially what got me hooked.”
“Everybody faces the same challenges. I didn’t have to develop any different character traits to succeed as a woman. I just had to get better at my job.”
Today, Latoya says, she is amazed by how much she has progressed in the relatively brief time she’s worked at Blythe. Parts of her job which presented the greatest challenge starting out have clicked solidly into place. “It was a struggle at first to just learn the language of construction. Now it’s like, ‘Wow, look where I came from, look where I am. Look what I’m able to do.’ ”
Asked about the possibilities for women like her in the construction industry, Latoya says the future is wide open for those who are willing to consider it. “It’s not that women are overlooked in the industry,” she says. “It’s that the available positions are being overlooked by women. But really, the possibilities are endless.”
Congratulations to Blythe’s own Ruby DuBay, Group Director of Safety & Health and Human Resources, who was chosen as one of Charlotte Business Journal’s 2019 Women in Business! The Women in Business Award is given every year to 25 women who are “making a difference in their workplace and blazing trails for other women.”
Read the full story published in the February 15th issue of the journal: https://emea01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fbizj.us%2F1ptdhv&data=02%7C01%7C%7Ccabadb74b91d453258c808d6975aa9dd%7C04490cb5d061415280748fc96c47255c%7C0%7C0%7C636862813057552120&sdata=Dn5qJj6kILCwU%2FPe8YLxMRWfRRsll%2FGmfp3A%2FGWZ14Q%3D&reserved=0
Blythe Construction is partnering with its European parent company, Eurovia-VINCI, to create a global operations system for use in 15 countries throughout the world. The project, which has been in the works for years, will finally begin this spring in Paris, France. Employees from all 15 countries and every major division of company operations will be involved. The total design of the system is expected to take no less than one year. Once completed, it will allow companies within the Eurovia network to connect in ways never before possible.
In Charlotte, NC, one of Blythe’s tenured Project Managers, Ted Dietz, has accepted the assignment of moving overseas to assist with designing the program. He is finalizing plans to leave in March of this year to begin the early design phases. An employee whose position relies heavily on the current system, known as Kheops, Dietz understands its many benefits as well as its limitations. It’s those limitations which he and the rest of the design team are going to France to fix.
“The system that’s in place now does a decent job,” Dietz explains, “but there are many important processes that simply can’t be performed inside the program.” Monthly cost reporting, for example, and project analysis. “Our goal is to create a successor to Kheops that is capable of everything that we need it to do. We’re going back to the drawing board.”
Designing a comprehensive operations system is a major challenge for any company, not least of all one with as many divisions as Eurovia-VINCI, of which Blythe Construction is just one. There are language barriers, for starters. Plus, there are as many, if not more, operational differences based on country-by-country construction regulations. All of which, according to Dietz, makes Eurovia’s inclusive approach to creating the new system so innovative.
“It’s an ambitious plan,” he says, “and a testament to Eurovia’s commitment to its employees. Because they could’ve just brought in an IT team and redesigned the system and said, ‘Here it is, now go use it.’ Instead, they chose to involve the employees who actually use the system on regular basis to do their jobs. They chose to build something that actually works.”
Dietz is one of dozens of Eurovia employees who will spend the next year or more doing just that—designing the new system, and making sure it works. The group will represent not only 15 countries but also multiple departments within the company, from accounting to equipment, HR to project management. Together the entire team and their families will be based near Eurovia headquarters a few miles outside of Paris. Over the course of the next year they will meet, exchange ideas, discuss possibilities, and collaborate to achieve their goal of unveiling the system in April 2020 in Canada.
Asked about the challenges of such a large-scale undertaking, Dietz says they are far outweighed by the potential benefits. “It’s an opportunity for idea sharing and exposure to new ways of thinking,” he says. “If we can get this right, we’ll have accomplished something unique that’s of real value to our company’s operations.”
Blythe Construction Helps Turn Military Manufacturing Site into Charlotte’s Next Commercial Hotspot
By Garrett Simmons
For years it stood vacant and unused behind a chain-link fence. But prior to 1973 the warehouse at 1701 N. Graham Street was full of activity. Built in the 1920s, it originally produced Ford Model Ts before being used by the U.S. Army as a quartermaster depot, then later as a missile assembly plant. Most notably in its history, however, is the late 1960s and early 70s, when it was the production site of its unusual namesake: a six-wheeled semi-amphibious military transport vehicle called the Gama Goat.
Now after years of neglect the historic warehouse is being repurposed once again. It’s part of a 75+ acre commercial complex known as Camp North End. Once finished, the Gama Goat Building will house office and retail spaces that cater to creative businesses like those already established in other Camp North End facilities, including: Hex Coffee, Black Market, Silver Eye Studios, Goodyear Arts and others.
The creative focus of the Camp North End complex, combined with the history of the Gama Goat building, has generated a fair amount of public interest in the project. Factor in the site’s proximity to Uptown Charlotte—less than one mile from the city center—and it’s easy to understand the excitement surrounding the work that’s being done.
For Blythe Construction, Gama Goat is an opportunity to be involved in a project that’s unique to Charlotte’s history, as well as expand its presence in the private market.
“During the last few years, we’ve gradually taken on more projects in the private sector,” says Mick Hartz, Construction Engineer at Blythe. “Gama Goat stands out because of its history, and the long-term plan for Camp North End.”
For its part, Blythe is responsible for completing all curb and concrete work, drainage, grading, and dirt work, as well as paving all parking areas. The project marks the first in which Blythe has worked for general contractor Graycor of Charlotte, a partnership that has been a positive experience from day one, according to Blythe Superintendent Mark Spradling.
“The work that we’ve done so far is fairly straightforward,” he says. “The only real challenge we’ve encountered has been coordinating our work with crews working inside the building so that we all stay on schedule. It’s a little bit tight, but so far everything has gone smoothly.”
Spradling, who remembers seeing actual Gama Goats during his time in the Army, says learning the history of the jobsite has made the experience of working on it more enjoyable. “It’s interesting, not just because of what was made here, but because of what it’s being turned into. There’s some pretty cool stuff going on here,” he says, pointing out some of the businesses established elsewhere on the Camp North End property. “We couldn’t be happier to be part of it.”
Blythe crews are scheduled to complete the contract in early summer of this year, at which time the Gama Goat building will welcome its first tenants.
Project: Salem Creek Connector
Awarded: January 26th, 2019
On January 26th of this year, Blythe Construction received the Carolinas AGC 2018 Pinnacle Award for Best Highway Project over $5 Million. The ceremony, which took place in Charleston, SC, was part of the CAGC’s 98th Annual Convention to honor projects that both advance the construction industry and enhance regional communities. This year’s Pinnacle Award marks the third in Blythe’s company history, and much like the previous two, it’s a bit of hard-earned recognition for a project with many challenges.
Completed in December of 2017, the Salem Creek Connector was more complex than any previous design-build project undertaken by Blythe Construction for the North Carolina DOT. The project consisted of railroad components, eight bridges, and multiple aesthetic features including the Winston-Salem Gateway Arch. In total, nearly five years of continuous work by Blythe Construction crews went into finishing the project, whose contract value exceeded $88 million.
The Salem Creek Connector was designed to better connect downtown Winston-Salem with the Research Triangle Corridor. The majority of the work was conducted in the historic Happy Hills neighborhood, within an area of approximately four square miles centered on US Hwy 52. The confined workspace was just one obstacle in a project characterized by challenges, not least of which was coordinating traffic in one of the most heavily travelled areas of the city. The NCDOT contract stipulated that traffic on Hwy 52 be maintained during every phase of construction. To accomplish this, Blythe implemented a complex traffic control plan that included numerous lane shifts and temporary diversions.
To complicate operations even further, not only was vehicular traffic maintained, but daily railroad activity of Winston-Salem’s Southbound trains couldn’t be interfered with either. The Salem Creek project included replacing two railroad bridges that were travelled twice daily by trains. In order to maintain the rail schedule, Blythe constructed temporary tracks to divert train activity during replacement of the primary tracks.
Since its completion, the project has garnered a fair amount attention. Prior to receiving the CAGC Pinnacle Award, Blythe Construction received the ACEC Engineering Excellence Award for the same project on November 8th, 2018. Brian Webb, Senior Vice President at Blythe Construction, is appreciative of the recognition but says the Pinnacle Award is a special honor because of who gives it.
“The committee consists entirely of previous Pinnacle Award winners,” he explains. “It’s an award given to us by our peers in the construction industry, who understand the challenges of the project. They know better than anyone what we have accomplished, so it is a great honor and a compliment to be recognized in this way.”
Webb says that while the CAGC and the ACEC awards are encouraging, Blythe’s approach moving forward will remain focused on what the company does best. “We are typically very selective about the contracts we pursue,” he says, “especially design-build projects like the Salem Creek Connector, because they carry a substantial amount of risk. They are not occasions to experiment. You have to know what you’re capable of.”
In fact, he says, Blythe would not have considered the Salem Creek project if it hadn’t been capable of performing all the work itself. “As a contractor, we know what we do well—that happens to be this kind of high-traffic, complex project. With Salem Creek, we knew that we would perform most everything ourselves without having to subcontract large portions of the work. This allowed us to control our destiny, so to speak.”
Special congratulations to Project Manager Eric Becker and the Blythe Construction crew members who made the Salem Creek Connector project a success.
By: Garrett Simmons
Employee Name: Jason Mauney
Title: Operational Equipment Manager
Years at Blythe: 17
Operational Equipment Manager Jason Mauney has no trouble remembering the exact year he was hired to work at Blythe Construction. In fact, he is unlikely to ever forget it. Not because it marked the beginning of a long and fruitful career with the company—although it did—but because of the many other life-changing events that took place during that same year, events which challenged him deeply at the time but which, looking back seventeen years later, he can almost appreciate.
At the start of 2001, Mauney was employed as a Dock Supervisor for Southeastern Freight Lines in Charlotte, NC. A self-proclaimed “company man,” he had every intension of keeping his job there. But family tragedy that summer disrupted Mauney’s sense of permanence and stability, and in early September he was fired from his position at Southeastern Freight—or as he jokingly puts it, “I was made available to the industry.”
In his early twenties at the time, Mauney spent a long weekend regrouping. The following Tuesday, as he gathered a stack of resumes to hit the streets of Charlotte, news broke on TV that terrorists were attacking the World Trade Center.
“I’ll always remember it for that reason,” he says. “The timeline is clear in my mind because of that.”
Another month would pass before one day, out of the blue, an old coworker who had found a job with Blythe called Mauney to tell him the company was hiring. Again, the timing was memorable. “I was literally packing a bag to go work in Savannah,” he recalls. His plan was to work six days in Georgia and drive back every seventh day to spend time with his then girlfriend, soon to become his wife. Thrilled by the prospect of remaining close to her, he abandoned his plans for Savannah on the spot and drove to Blythe’s Graham Street office to put in his application.
There, Mauney interviewed with Blythe’s Division Equipment Manager, Steve Burleyson, who hired him that afternoon. On March 10th, one month and three days after he had been fired, he went to work at Blythe Construction as a Heavy Haul Dispatcher.
Mauney’s freight experience translated perfectly to the tasks of his new position: arranging loads for delivery, processing order payments, and billing jobsites. As a result, he often completed his dispatch duties early. “I figured there just wasn’t enough work for me,” he recalls thinking. As the equipment department gradually began thinning out, either through senior employees retiring or less competent employees being fired, Mauney took on greater responsibilities.
Over the next fifteen years, Mauney ascended within the company to become Equipment Manager, adapting his leadership style to what he describes as Blythe’s production-focused culture at the time. “I was a jerk. Or maybe that’s how some people took me,” he says. “I can just be very direct in my communication. Especially when something’s not working.”
Then in 2016, chest pains following a trip to Atlanta landed Mauney in the E.R. Doctors identified several blocked arteries to his heart and arranged for immediate triple-bypass surgery. Recalling his response to the news, Mauney says it was a shock, but explains, “You realize this isn’t an elective, it’s required. Just accept it and move forward.”
Under doctors’ orders, Mauney spent more three months at home recovering. During that time, he says, he discovered how central his employer had become in his life, and how personally valued he had become. “People from Blythe checked in on me,” he says, including the company President and CEO. “Cahill called me every week. How many company presidents would do that? Not many, I’m willing to bet.”
Two years later and fully recovered from his surgery, Mauney says the experience has given him new perspective on what’s important in life, as well as in work.
“I’m sappier now,” he admits. “I take things to heart more. My family is more important to me.” Although Mauney and his wife do not have children, he has a large family of nieces and nephews in the Charlotte area, many of whom have children of their own. “That’s right,” he says with a laugh. “I’m that old.” One of them, his nephew Josh, has even joined the Blythe family as a Construction Engineer.
In an interesting way, says Mauney, he and Blythe have evolved along a similar trajectory. “Around here, the mentality used to be push, push, push, get it done. There has been a shift over the last few years, putting a major emphasis on safety,” he says. “The focus now is guaranteeing everyone goes home in one piece at the end of the day.”
That doesn’t mean Mauney doesn’t still get stressed out. “It’s my nature,” he explains. “How I do my job is how I’m perceived, so it’s important to me to work hard. But that’s put in the perspective of also wanting to take care of my family and be good to those I care about.”
At last, he and Blythe have reached a stage where they can do both.
By Garrett Simmons
Employee Name: Adam Snelson
Title: Asphalt Division Project Manager
Years at Blythe: 14
Adam Snelson isn’t one to sit around waiting for opportunity to present itself. As a core member of the team responsible for rebuilding Blythe’s private-sector paving operations after the 2008 recession, he’s had to go searching for every contract he’s landed. Hard work and personal initiative have helped him advance steadily within the company throughout his 14-year career, but as Snelson admits, he wasn’t always so driven to create his own luck. His first promotion, in fact, was purely accidental.
Snelson recalls, “My first day of work on the asphalt crew, the guy running the paver had a heart attack and was sent to the hospital. My supervisor basically turned to me and said, ‘You’re up, take his place.’ I didn’t know how to operate a paver. That was the first skill I learned on the jobsite.”
19 years old at the time, Snelson’s prior work history consisted mostly of restaurant jobs: washing dishes at T-Bones on Lake Wylie, and serving tables for three years at the Eagle’s Nest in Clover, SC. His plan had never been to remain in the restaurant industry, but that doesn’t mean paving was necessarily his dream job either. Instead, says Snelson, he chose to work at Blythe because he needed a steadier income, and because his father worked there and had been successful himself.
“Growing up, I’d seen how well the company took care of my dad and our family. I had also witnessed his loyalty to Blythe,” he says of his father, who relocated from Asheville to Charlotte to work for the company in the early 1990s. “It seemed like a solid option for me, too.”
Despite the family connection, Snelson didn’t expect preferential treatment, and he gives credit to Blythe’s internal culture for not showing him any. “I am fortunate to work for a company that rewards dedication, knowledge and experience—and not who you know or happen to be related to,” he says. After that first day on the job, Snelson operated the paver for three months until the employee who’d suffered the heart attack recovered and took back his place on the crew, knocking Snelson down to where he’d originally been hired to start: the very bottom.
From there, Snelson began learning the paving industry one skill at a time, gradually working his way up from a ground laborer to various machinery operator positions. Although he was advancing within his crew, Snelson admits that for the first couple of years his efforts rarely did more than meet basic expectations. Then, somewhere along the way, things began to click. “I started getting serious, learning everything I could,” he says. “I started looking for opportunities to increase my skills.”
He found plenty of them during the winter off-season, when paving is required to be shut down for three months in North Carolina. He began taking certification classes in safety and CPR, OSHA regulations, Traffic Control and Flagging. Eventually, he became qualified enough to start instructing those same classes, and after four years of ground labor work, Snelson was promoted to Traffic Control Supervisor—a role which granted him the unofficial nickname “Mr. Safety” among fellow members of his crew.
“The irony of the name,” he explains, “what made the joke funny, was that I started out at Blythe not really caring about safety.” During his early days, for example, his phone-checking habit directly brought about the paving division’s no-phone policy that’s still in effect today. But as Snelson puts it, by the time the new nickname was given to him, his outlook had changed. He was in a different place. “I’d realized at some point that I was only going to get back as much or as little effort as I put into this work,” he says. “I was starting to see the big picture of how these smaller parts come together to make the company successful.”
Motivated by the realization, Snelson threw himself into becoming a Safety Engineer within the company. But as it turned out, one of his supervisors saw potential for a different, more comprehensive, path. In 2012, Asphalt Superintendent Shane Clark offered Snelson an entry estimator position. The role brought Snelson indoors from the jobsite for the first time in his career. More importantly, it brought together the varied skills he had developed throughout his eight years of experience.
Never one to sit still, Snelson has since expanded his role to include managing all of Blythe’s private-sector paving bids. Under his leadership, the Charlotte division has rebounded from its near-total devastation in 2008, earning an annual average of $20 million for the past three years.
Of his current position, Snelson says he’s exactly where he should be. He also points out that the success he’s had at Blythe is actually more common than not within the company. In fact, he says, that’s the whole point.
“It’s in Blythe’s interest to help its employees succeed, because if you think about it, that’s good for the company overall.” Snelson says that for the newer generation of employees like him, who will eventually fill leadership positions, the major benefit is having veteran employees to call on for guidance. “Blythe structures itself to form a kind of safety net of experienced team members,” he explains. “Everybody makes mistakes, that’s how you learn. But at Blythe there’s a support network of seasoned employees who are available for council.”
Now 34 years old, Snelson is still relatively young in his career. But with 14 years of experience under his belt, he recognizes that he now has wisdom to offer those who are just entering the field. His advice? “Slow down, work hard. Don’t let yourself be driven by the thought of money or promotion. Instead, focus on learning everything you can about your trade. The rest will take care of itself,” he says. “You might not think anyone notices the work you’re doing, but trust me. In this place, they are.”
By Garrett Simmons
In the business of large-scale construction, perspective is everything. Like the old saying about forests and trees, only with interstates and heavy machinery, the details often obscure the big picture. In order to move forward, engineers and project managers must look ahead while simultaneously focusing on the present stage of construction. And when those unexpected challenges inevitably arise, the simplest—and most effective—solution can be stepping back to get a broader view.
But sometimes a single step isn’t far enough back to take it all in. Sometimes to dig deeper into ground-level operations you have to go way, way up.
This summer, Blythe Construction, Inc. has increased its capacity for collecting and interpreting jobsite data by replacing traditional surveying methods with cutting-edge drone technology. The change is part of a joint contract with Blythe’s sister company, Hubbard Construction, and Pennsylvania-based supplier Identified Technologies. With an increasing number of companies transitioning to drone surveillance as well, it represents an important investment in Blythe’s continued relevance in the Carolinas and the construction industry at large.
Surveyor Department Manager Steve Brumbelow is leading the drone operations at Blythe. He played a central role in the decision to switch from traditional aircraft photography surveying, which has been the industry standard for the past twenty years, to the new remote-controlled mapping technology. The decision was not made overnight. “We did a lot of research, and discussed making the change for more than two years before ultimately signing the contract with Identified Technologies,” says Brumbelow. He describes an overall reluctance within the construction industry to embrace the machines, based on the common perception of them as toys, rather than tools. “Initially, drones were viewed by many as a fad. But the benefits of using drones are undeniable.”
Chief among those benefits are efficiency and cost. Until now, using the traditional surveillance method, Blythe contracted piloted aircraft to fly over its six asphalt plants once per year, at a cost of $35,000. A typical flight, per plant, ran half a day. Processing the photos captured during the flight took Brumbelow and his team upwards of one week. By contrast, a recent test survey of Blythe’s 16-acre office facility in Charlotte was completed using the drones in approximately 7 minutes, at a rate of two acres per minute. The total processing time of all data from the flight? Two hours.
“Those are real, clear numbers in terms of time saving and efficiency,” says Brumbelow, who along with the rest of the company faces one of the busiest peak construction seasons to date.
As for cost, the contract with Identified Technologies represents a substantial value increase. For roughly the same expense as the traditional method ($38,000), Brumbelow and his team will be able to conduct an infinitely greater number of drone flights. The contract with Identified Technologies, which divides its total value evenly between Blythe and Hubbard, affords each company an unlimited number of surveillance flights for 20 registered jobsites. Brumbelow says that for Blythe, surveyed sites will include all six of its asphalt plant locations and 14 regular construction sites yet to be determined. Additionally, the contract includes an unlimited number of pre-bid, or recon, flights to aid the bidding process and determine what potential construction projects might entail.
Of course, saving time and money were essential factors in deciding to use drones. From a pure business standpoint, streamlining operations and increasing investment value are fundamental objectives. But as Brumbelow points out, the product itself is what finally convinced Blythe to make the switch. “It’s superior to all other technology,” he says. “The data these machines are capable of providing is as accurate as you can get, down to something as slight as a street curb. It captures almost everything.”
Although drone imaging is advanced beyond anything else currently on the market, the mapping software used by Identified Technologies is actually built upon a fundamental surveying practice. Photogrammetry is the science of making physical measurements from photographs, and has been in practice for roughly as long as modern photography, starting sometime in the mid-19th century. In its most basic version, photogrammetry uses a known measurement, like the height of one building, to scale objects included in a photograph, like other buildings. Today’s surveillance drones, like the DJI brand Inspire 2.0 that will be used for Blythe’s projects, utilize a vastly more complicated technique. Taking numerous photos from preprogrammed airspace positions, the drones formulate a 3-D representative image. The mathematics behind the software incorporate data including the drone’s GPS location, elevation, drone movement, natural shadows, even electromagnetic readings. The result is an interactive digital model capable of determining jobsite topography that is accurate to within a couple of inches.
All of which will enable Blythe’s surveying department to perform their work at an even higher level of quality. The benefits of increased mapping and surveillance capabilities will extend to every stage of construction, from bid to finish. Brumbelow is currently preparing to train select members of his team to fly the drones, with GPS Machine Control Technician Kenny Myott chosen to become the primary flyer. “Our goal is to have put together a full team of ground control engineers in the next two years,” says Brumbelow. “Right now we’re mainly focused on getting ready to start flying the drones in July.”
Besides training how to actually operate the drones, preparations for implementing them include basic familiarization with the Identified Technologies software. The drone’s increased efficiency means that data retrieved during flights can be utilized by supervisors working in the field far more rapidly than the previous time schedule, changing the way information is used across construction divisions. Employees will have access to data uploaded in real time to cloud storage, where it will remain accessible for five years. That means that images of past jobsites can be retrieved by designated personnel for quick reference, potentially streamlining construction operations. And as Brumbelow points out, the data storage can also be referenced in the event of a claim, as documentation to verify Blythe’s activity.
“Use of the drones will increase accountability for everyone involved, whether it’s Blythe or the DOT or a private contractor,” he says. “Identified Technologies is technically an objective third party, so any information gathered by the drones will have no bias. That protects us in instances where there is less on-site material than promised, for example. But that protects who we work for, too. As surveyors, that’s exactly the kind of clarity we’re looking for.”