Known as one of the Midwest’s premier specialty contractors, J. Pettiecord, Inc. handles large-scale land clearing, environmental remediation, demolition, wood waste grinding, railroad services, underground storage tank removal, snow removal, dump trucking, and heavy haul trucking. With 70 full-time employees at the ready, the Bondurant, Iowa-based business is well prepared for whatever short-term, long-term, or emergency project comes its way.
Jeff Pettiecord founded the company in 1981 armed with little more than a dump truck, tractor, backhoe, and a vision to succeed against the odds. This vision remains core to the company today. “Jeff’s work ethic has really carried us,” says Chief Operating Officer Nick Wylie. “He’s in his sixties now and he still works every day out in the field and is very active.”
As co-owner of the company, Wylie also splits his time between the field and the administrative side of the business, overseeing operations. As a result, leadership maintains a keen understanding of what’s going on at all levels of the company. “We’re basically founded just on hard work and that persists with everybody in our office and our administrative staff spending time in the field, working to make sure everything goes well,” he says.
The company’s core values break down into four specific guidelines. Number one is “be your best,” a foundational belief that governs all the rest. The second is to make the customer experience as smooth as possible. “We are the customer’s easy button,” Wylie says. “We’re usually the first ones into a site to work, and we make ourselves the low-maintenance, easy to work with subcontractors. That’s what we specialize in.”
The company’s third core value is to “be flexible,” while number four is to “be there for others.” When combined, these four values form a solid foundation that has governed the business for over 40 years and facilitated lasting success.
In addition, the team is committed to green solutions. The company’s environmental remediation division has successfully completed a wide range of projects to restore contaminated sites to a healthy environmental state, from fuel storage tank removal and contaminated soil removal to demolition or a combination of multiple solutions.
The company’s environmental division is “very focused on recycling and finding solutions for waste,” says Wylie. “We’re taking in waste from the ag industries around Iowa, because agriculture is a very big industry in this state.” The team makes compost from that waste, creating an in-demand product. “We sell a lot of compost,” he shares.
This commitment to reuse is seen across multiple divisions. After clearing a new development, the team creates mulch from the felled trees. “We literally can sell it back to the landscape people who are putting the finishing touches on a landscape of a new building or new development or new highway that we cleared the trees from. So we bring the recycling side of it full-circle.”
The company’s high-quality mulch can also be used for child safety. “We also take those trees that we’re clearing from these developments and process them a certain way to make them into certified playground mulch that we can sell to cities and school districts for their playgrounds. We put a lot of time and effort into making sure that material is just right. And IPEMA certifies it so that all the school districts and parks departments know they’re getting a quality product.”
IPEMA, short for International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association, is the voice of the public playground industry, assuring that any product with their certification meets rigorous standards. “IPEMA is very involved with the certification process for the mulch to make sure they’re getting a good product,” Wylie says. “And they do a lot of advocacy for us, letting cities and school districts know that this is a quality material that kids won’t get hurt on. We’ve all been places where it looks like they just grind up pallets and throw them in playgrounds. I’ve got two sons, ten and six, and I don’t want them falling off and landing on a bunch of junk material that somebody just ground up and put in a park. IPEMA is very involved in educating people on what product is needed so kids can play safely.”
When it comes to current challenges, J. Pettiecord was fortunate enough to avoid most of the difficulties the global pandemic brought. “COVID really didn’t affect us all that much because we were a necessary service and we never really shut down,” Wylie explains. Instead, the company’s major concern has been the workforce shortage that predated the pandemic. “One of the biggest challenges we face is an aging workforce and that not as many younger people want to go into contracting businesses like this. So finding younger help is really a top priority that we have.”
The workforce shortage highlights the importance of promoting the trades. “I’ve been a big fan of kids going to trade school,” Wylie says. “I’m in my early forties and when I was in high school, [the attitude] was you’re going to college, period.” He wants today’s youth to recognize that there are viable options other than a college degree to find a well-paid, satisfying career. He is actively working “to show them a different path, that the trades can be very fulfilling and, if you want to, you can spend your days doing more than shuffling paper across a desk.”
To promote the trades to the younger generation, Wylie takes an active part in career fairs and speaks at high schools about career opportunities. “I’m very passionate about it,” he says. And not just when it comes to his own sector. “The world needs plumbers, the world needs electricians, the world needs heavy equipment operators, the world needs truck drivers. So I try to stress how important it is to have more people in the trades and that there’s a really good living to be made being in the trades.” In addition, he points out that young people who choose the trades can graduate from trade school without taking on the student loans that are burdening many college graduates today.
“We are very passionate about getting younger people into the trades and we love having the younger generations come in and work with us,” Wylie summarizes. “We want to show that it’s a great place to work and a place where you can grow a career.”
Looking ahead, the team is eager to keep on the tried and true path they have set out on.
“We’d like to continue providing great service to our customers and continue to grow,” Wylie says. “We’re doing work all over Iowa and have started to do more and more in Nebraska. So we’d like to expand the geographic location of where we’re working and provide our customers with great service.”
With four decades of success behind them, this team’s plans for ongoing expansion are sure to play out as planned.