Seven decades later, contractor’s dedicated workforce keeps breaking new ground
Swalling Construction celebrated 71 years in business this year. The Anchorage-based contractor has gone through many transitions, from its early days as a remodeling/boat construction and repair/dock work company to a company known for building Anchorage’s first high-rise buildings to, more recently, a company known for building docks, bridges and highways.
Mike Swalling, president of Swalling Construction, said that, in the past 40 years or so,
he’s shifted the company more toward structural and civil jobs. It’s where his heart is, he said.
“It’s a different kind of work. It takes a different kind of planning and relationships. It allows you to be somewhat creative in how you do them,” he said.
Buildings generally go up as designed no matter what company is doing the building, he explained. But with bridges and other civil jobs, significant obstacles often crop up and it’s up to the general contractor to find a way to work around them.
PND Engineers has designed many of the infrastructure projects that Swalling crews have built. The two companies have been working together for more than 30 years, said Doug Kenley, a vice president with PND.
Kenley said that Swalling does good work and excels when it comes to handling unexpected situations.
“They’re very adept at evaluating the situation, assessing what changes will work best and conveying those to the designers,” he said. “We really appreciate when contractors look at the situation and help us understand what might be a best approach for them and for the owner.”
Swalling Construction is a midsize general contractor, Swalling said. The company does a mix of municipal, state, federal and private jobs — it just depends on the year.
“You take the jobs you can get; it’s very competitive out there,” he said.
Having a solid reputation and a team of dedicated employees helps. Steve Geraghty, a vice president at Great Northwest Inc. in Fairbanks, said it’s reassuring to arrive on a jobsite and see the same craftsmen and professionals he worked with previously.
“You know you’ve got a good team coming in to do the work with you,” he said. “They value their employees, they treat them right. They’ve instilled some loyalty, and they have a pretty good core group of craftsmen that go from job to job and keep that experience in house. It’s hard to do that.”
Geraghty worked for Swalling Construction in the 1980s, he said, and after moving on to Great Northwest, the company has worked with Swalling both as a subcontractor and a prime contractor.
“On the projects I’ve been involved with, Swalling has always been a responsive and reliable contractor. They understand the work and have always performed well for us,” he said.
Swalling said he’s especially proud of the work his company has done over the years with Alyeska Pipeline, replacing the loading arms at the Valdez Terminal about once every 10 years since 1988. It’s not an easy project, but Swalling said all the work has been completed on time and with no incidents or lost-time accidents.
“Alyeska has been a pleasure to work for, and I look forward to working with them again,” he said.
This year, Swalling Construction will be wrapping up work on the New Seward, Dimond Boulevard to Dowling Road project in Anchorage, a job on which QAP is the primary contractor. They will also be working with primary contractor Granite Construction to build a bridge across the East Fork of the Moose River, as part of the Sterling Highway MP 58-79 rehabilitation project.
Adept and adaptable
Swalling Construction’s longevity gives the company a boost in other ways, too. The company is knowledgeable about the conditions one can expect in marine and civil environments. In his experience, working in the water can be much more challenging, Geraghty said, but he has found Swalling to be “nimble and proactive when they can be.”
“They understand the owner’s perspective in getting the project done properly and safely,” he explained.
Swalling Construction has also proven adept at nimbly incorporating new technology into its work process. Keeping abreast of technological changes is important in the construction field, where clients expect companies to keep lines of communication open and bids are delivered electronically.
“The sophistication of the industry has gotten so much better in the last few years. The industry has evolved into more of a profession,” Swalling said.
For example, the University of Alaska Anchorage has a program in which students can obtain a degree in construction management, something that wasn’t available just a few years ago.
“These kids are so bright and talented, it is really a pleasure to work with them,” Swalling said.
Swalling Construction has set up internships to UAA students in the past, he said, and Swalling serves on the UAA Construction, Design & Safety Advisory Committee, which consults with division leadership to ensure training is relevant and aligned with industry standards.
A voice for Alaska
Swalling Construction founder Albert Swalling was a founding member of Associated General Contractors of Alaska, and the company has been a member of the organization since 1948.
Mike Swalling, Albert Swalling’s son, said earlier organizers of AGC saw that Alaska-based contractors needed a way to share their ideas closer to home.
“Prior to that, Seattle was where all the decisions were made for Alaska,” he said. Local contractors banded together to have a voice in negotiating contracts and to ensure Alaskans were part of the discussion on projects happening in the state. Albert Swalling held several
positions with AGC of Alaska and AGC of America. Mike Swalling has continued that tradition, serving as a Life Member on AGC’s board of directors.
“It’s been fun, it’s been very informative; the relationships you form and the people you meet and the companies you work with — they’re usually a delight to work with,” he said. “It’s a small state, and you work with everybody at some point.”
Rindi White is editor of The Alaska Contractor.