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Sparks construction company finds its niche
by Dan Eckles
May 08, 2013 | 3159 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by Dan Eckles -- SNC owners Kevin Robertson, left, and Craig Holt
Tribune photo by Dan Eckles -- SNC owners Kevin Robertson, left, and Craig Holt
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When Y2K hit, Kevin Robertson and Craig Holt were working at Granite Construction. They were getting by, but they wanted more. They wanted their own company.

So in 2001, the two granite employees partnered up and bought Sierra Nevada Construction (SNC). Despite some peaks and valleys, 12 years later, the company is still going strong.

“We had each worked at Granite Construction about 10 years and we wanted to get a smaller-type company, one we had some ownership in and could grow the way we wanted it to grow,” Holt said.

“We are happy with that decision. There has been a lot of change over the past 12 years, but we’re happy with where we where. I like the freedom of owning your own business. I like the way you can change culture. You can run it the way you want. You have more control over people and how you want the company to feel in terms of culture.”

Holt called SNC a mid-sized company, pointing out it does between $50-$100 million in business yearly. He said the company has found its niche and is looking to maximize productivity while staying the same size.

“We want to try and stay in Nevada and northern California,” he said. “That’s our goal. We’re not looking to grow much. We have done that over the last 12 years. We’re at a size we like. It’s manageable and allows us to have freedom to still do other things.”

SNC knows its niche. It doesn’t try to build skyscrapers or housing developments. Road work is the company’s main point of emphasis.

“Our specialty in construction is rehab-type projects between $500,000 to $5 million. That’s our bread and butter. We’re partners with Q&D (Construction) with our own asphalt plant at Mustang. It’s nice being able to supply your own materials as far as timing and sometimes it gives you a pricing advantage.”

SNC is currently working on a street rehabilitation project here in Sparks. It is gearing up to handle a water line project in Austin. Holt said SNC is working on a handful of bids right now and is also leading the way in many slurry seal and chip sealing projects in the Truckee Meadows.

When the local economy started to crash five years ago and then fell deeper into an economic hole in the following years, local contractors were hit hard. SNC has lived to see 2013, but there were hard times.

“Back in 2009, we really downsized and cut the company in half,” Holt said. “We were a $140 million company. Cutting in half from that was hard. We had to get rid of some people and sell off equipment. The last two years, we’ve been able to pick some people back up, but it’s still unhealthy. We are largely a public works contractor and then there’s not a lot of private business. We’re not seeing the housing market come back as fast as we’d like.

“I think the peak of the depression was in 2009-10. The construction business is a little healthier than we were then but our company is still forced to go out of state and work in Colorado and Idaho, places we don’t really want to go but we’re forced to. It’s healthier than in 2009-10 but it’s still very unhealthy. I’d say we’re on a slow rebound over the next five years. Certainly the highway funds are a concern. There’s not much money there and what is the governor has taken to the general fund.”

Holt, who graduated from Aptos High School near Santa Cruz, Calif. before attending and graduating from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, knows the fast economic growth of a decade ago created a lot of work and had lots of people feeling good, but admitted it’s not what he believes is best.

So how does Holt believe the economy can help the construction business?

“I’d like to see us have some real slow sustained growth on the housing side,” Holt said. “I don’t like it crazy like it was. Some real manageable slow growth is good for business. You don’t want peaks and valleys. If we see slow growth in the housing market, that will help. Then we’ll see commercial and private money freed up.”

Even with the challenges of tough economic times, SNC has done its best to give back to the community. Holt, who is the varsity girls basketball coach at Bishop Manogue High School, believes giving back is very important when it comes to being accepted and making the community a better place.

“What comes around goes around,” he said. “We give to many local Little League teams in town and sports associations that our employees are involved in. We just gave quite a bit of money to the Boys and Girls Club. This is a small community and giving back to community will reward you in the long run.”

SNC is headquartered in southeast Sparks off of Greg Street.
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