A quarter of a century ago, a New Hampshire-based entrepreneur named Jeremy Hiltz used his strong foundation in the construction industry to launch his own company. “I grew up in the excavating business with my family and went out on my own in 1996 and started the company from nothing,” Hiltz says.
The Jeremy Hiltz Excavating team specializes in large-scale commercial excavation work. Typical projects include jobs for the state of New Hampshire, hospitals, and schools. The company enjoys an ongoing relationship with many clients, including Southern New Hampshire University. “We started there,” Mr. Hiltz remembers. “The second job I ever had was at Southern New Hampshire University, and we’ve been working there almost every year since.”
In fact, the company recently finished an engineering facility for the university and, prior to that, the team completed a large athletic complex for the school, several dormitories and maintenance buildings, and parking lots.
Why do clients like Southern New Hampshire University keep going back to Jeremy Hiltz Excavating? “Our attention to detail and focus on delivering a product on time and on budget has been predominantly the reason our clientele uses us time and time again,” Hiltz says. “We never miss a deadline; we’ll work as many hours in a week as we have to, to maintain a schedule for a client. We adhere to the old standards and it’s welcomed and has paid dividends for us to maintain that.”
The team’s commitment to equipment maintenance is just one example that highlights the company’s high standards and attention to detail. “Our equipment is maintained at a level that’s not common in the industry,” says Hiltz. The team waxes the excavators once a week, they clean the cabs and polish them with Armor All® every night, and they wash the trucks at the end of each day. “And that same level of commitment and pride we carry into the work we deliver to our clients. That [disseminates] through the whole company, that every employee here is very proud of our situation.”
The industry has taken notice of the company’s outstanding commitment. Equipment World named Jeremy Hiltz Excavating Contractor of the Year in 2014. “It was quite an honor just to be nominated,” Hiltz says. “I think it’s a selection of over 80,000 contractors and it comes down to a dozen finalists.” Caterpillar sponsored the 12 finalists’ travel to Las Vegas for the final interview process, through which Jeremy HIltz Excavating won the coveted national title. In addition to being a significant honor, the award opened up new opportunities for networking and collaboration. A handful of Contractor of the Year winners and finalists have joined together to support one another. “We meet twice a year and we open up our books,” Hiltz shares. “We go over everything transparently – because we’re not competitors, it’s folks all across North America – and try to help each other make our companies better and make the industry better.”
Another way the company works to make the industry better is by promoting the benefits of a career in construction. “We go to a lot of job fairs,” Hiltz says. “We do Touch-a-Truck, we try to reach out to the schools. We’re doing everything possible to let people know we’re looking for help, we’re willing to invest in you and train you, and also that it’s not a shameful thing to be part of the trades and have dirt under your fingernails. You too can be successful and have quite a career and a nice lifestyle.”
The company is fighting “ten or fifteen years” of messaging “that it’s shameful to work with your hands,” says Hiltz. “We’re trying to knock that stigma away and we’ve had some success – but not nearly enough.”
Recruiting into the construction industry may not be easy, but once the company manages to snag employees, they are on board for the long run. The business still employs many original staff members who have been with the Hiltz family since before Jeremy Hiltz Excavating was even formed. More than 20 people are “what we call alumni folks, who worked for my family back in the day and they all work here for us now,” Hiltz says. “It’s a very tight-knit organization.”
Even with newcomers, the turnover rate is “little to none. This company is built on great people. Without them there’d be nothing, so once they are part of the fold we do all we can to take care of them. We involve their family as much as we can. If there is something on the home front somebody needs a hand with, we step right [up to help] them. They’re secure here; they know they’re not just a number, that their lives are as important to us as our own.”
Employee satisfaction is so high that many staff members bring family on board to work alongside them. Multiple fathers have recruited their sons to join the company; one family has five relatives all working together for the business. “We’re able to draw the whole family in as part of our recruiting process,” Hiltz says. Some employees become such a part of the company that they choose to stay on well after most people retire. “Karen Nichols worked with me at my father’s company. She and I have worked together since 1986. She’s still here.” Leo Robitaille worked as Truck Boss until he reached retirement age and needed to slow down, whereupon Mr. Hiltz created a position better suited for his situation. “We bought him a little van and he runs parts.” Today, at 80 years old, Mr. Robitaille still works for the company. “We look out for those who looked out for us along the way and make sure there’s a home for them,” says Hiltz.
This commitment to people extends beyond the company’s workforce, as Jeremy Hiltz Excavating is active throughout the broader community. Each year the team co-sponsors a fundraising event for First Star Tonight, a local charity for terminally and chronically ill children. “We typically raise over $20,000 annually for them,” Hiltz says. “They put it to great use for the community.” The team is always on the lookout for opportunities to lend a hand to surrounding towns. If a rec center or other public property that benefits local youth is in need, the company volunteers their time and attention. “If they need some loam delivered, or need a small project done, we just go do it. Anything for the kids is our policy. We also support our veterans at any chance we can. There aren’t too many requests that come in that we say no to if it is a good cause.”
After planting solid roots in New Hampshire, Hiltz plans to continue cultivating local relationships and supporting local communities. “We have no aspirations to leave the state,” he says. “We’ve always limited ourselves border to border. We’ll cover the whole state, but we don’t leave the state. We’re fortunate enough to stay busy enough here.”
He already has a promising succession plan in place to keep the company prospering throughout the Granite State. His eighteen-year-old son is studying construction engineering at the University of Akron in Ohio and works for the family business during school breaks. General Manager Will Hess has been with the company six years and is learning all the ropes. “My hope is that the two of them will take this company over in, say, ten years,” Hiltz says. That’s good news for New Hampshire. The state can look forward to another generation of reliable work from Jeremy Hiltz Excavating.