“About every 10 years we reinvent ourselves,” Marcia Veidmark, chief executive officer and chairman of the board says of SSC Underground, now in its 53rd year.
Along the way, the Phoenix-based company she and her husband Arvid Veidmark Jr. co-founded in 1969 has transitioned from open-cut excavation to horizontal boring to offering a full slate of trenchless services.
Their son Arvid Veidmark III, who was recently named president, puts the company’s work in simple terms: “You’ve got to like sweating.”
Building a business
SSC (for Specialized Services Company) started out of the entrepreneurial inclinations of Arvid Jr.’s parents, Lois and Arvid Veidmark Sr. The two had secured a U.S. West contract to install telephone lines in Phoenix.
“It turned out that we liked working together and had the skills required,” Marcia says. “We built the company and just grew it all with God's blessings, hard work and grit.” The senior Veidmarks left after four years to pursue another business. Over the years, Marcia and Arvid Jr. worked with all three of their sons in the business. Arvid Jr. retired in 2002 followed by Aaron pursuing new opportunities in 2011 and Abe accepting a position with TT Technologies in 2021.
For the first 20 years, the couple concentrated on installing utilities and site development. But the competition in the open-cut market was intense; and the hunt was on for other opportunities. The trenchless market held appeal. One reason: due to the complexity and capital investment required, there were fewer companies to compete with.
SSC purchased its first horizontal boring machine in 1989 with the couple’s son Arvid Veidmark III directing the effort.
“That was a critical decision for us, a real turning point,” Marcia says.
The company now has revenues of around $9 million and employs around 40 people. It offers a full slate of trenchless services, including vacuum excavation, hydro excavation, tunneling, utility potholing and underground consulting.
Much of this growth stems out of the company’s desire to “take a total turnkey approach to a project,” Marcia says.
To achieve this, SSC started offering vacuum excavation/utility locating and underground consulting, which allowed it to become involved in a project upfront, heading off less-than-desirable conditions and change orders further in.
“We want to really dial in and get a project accurately designed so then we know everything about it,” says Arvid. “There are still going to be unknowns, but we want to be in a position where we’re prepared.”
SSC started promoting their expanded services in a series of “lunch and learns,” with Arvid educating municipalities, engineering, and general contracting firms on the capabilities and considerations of the trenchless technology and vacuum excavation services that the company offers.
It takes patience both to explain the intricacies of underground work and to perform it, Arvid says.
The work demands precision. We’re expected to hit a target the size of a basketball hundreds of feet away, and you only get one chance to get it right” Arvid says. “We don’t move fast; we get it done right. It’s not only got to be right, it’s got to be 100-percent guaranteed that you’re going to accomplish it no matter what you run into.”
That can include instances such as the 42-inch boulder that SSC encountered in a 60-inch tunnel bore. “If it had rolled, it could have broken someone’s leg,” Arvid says. SSC crews carefully used hand breakers to get it out of the tunnel.
Becoming SSC Underground
Previously known as Specialized Services Company, SSC Boring and SSC Global, the company became SSC Underground in 2019, its 50th anniversary.
It has grown along with Phoenix; large water/sewer infrastructure projects are its sweet spot.
“It used to be a big deal to do a 12-inch bore for 100 feet,” Arvid says. “Now everything is 86 or 96 inches at 500 to 600 feet. There’s a lot of creativity that goes into what we do to get from Point A to Point B.”
Michelle and Steve Walker round out SSC’s leadership team. Michelle, a 24-year-veteran of the company, serves as vice president of finance and administration, and Steve, manages the field, fleet and properties for the company.
In addition to her full slate of responsibilities at SSC, Michelle also is a founding member of the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention, serving as the organization’s past chairman and spokesperson, and helping it grow into an industry-wide initiative.
“Our industry has the highest suicide rate of any industry,” Michelle says. “Five times as many construction workers are dying by suicide every year than by safety-related workplace fatalities.
“As a company that prides itself on caring for employees it seemed very wrong to turn a blind eye to that,” she continues, “it just fit to build it into the caring culture that we pride ourselves on having”
Translating SSC’s culture into the company’s values and finding a way to apply them daily lead the leadership team to create the “I AM SSC” slogan, which stands for their core values of Integrity, Attitude, Mutual Respect, Safe, Smart and Committed to Excellence. Monthly “Values Awards” accompanied by hardhat stickers reinforce the living out of these values by recognizing employees when they exemplify them in their daily work.
Michelle also serves as the company’s internal safety director, partnering with an external third party safety consultant.
“SSC has a phenomenal safety program,” says Brian Carroll, with SSC’s insurance company LeBaron & Carroll Insurance. “Safety is a top-down affair at SSC. Most companies talk about safety but the guys in the field don’t live it. SSC is different—safety matters to all,” he says.
“Someone can only be as safe as they are mentally and emotionally equipped to be,” Michelle says. “We try to use a holistic approach. There’s a lot more to it than getting your OSHA 10 card, your PPE and training.”
Precision and care
“SSC’s large fleet of trucks and heavy machinery are managed with precision and care,” Carroll says. “They have wonderful fleet management policies and programs in place to ensure this.”
SSC’s equipment fleet includes both trenchless and earthmoving machines since their bores require launch and exit pits and spoils removal, along with an extensive fleet for their vacuum excavating operations: eight auger boring machines, six backhoes, six excavators, seven skid steers, nine air vacuum trucks and two hydro excavation trucks.
The company has a select list of equipment brands, including American Augers, Barbco, TT Technologies, VacMasters, TruVac and Caterpillar. “We’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on iron and we’re 100-percent dependent on it working every day,” Arvid says.
With the temperature extremes in the Phoenix area, this equipment gets stretched, Arvid says: “You’ve got to know what you have the parts and service available to fix it rapidly. If we know it works and it’s proven, we’ll stay with it.”
The company buys both new and used, depending on the application, Steve Walker says. The vacuum excavation trucks are bought new; earthmoving equipment, which is more ancillary, is typically bought used. SSC’s comprehensive maintenance program allows it to utilize its equipment for many years and, in the case of its horizontal boring machines, even decades.
Leader in the field
“SSC is a good example of a company that has established themselves as a leader in the field in the eyes of municipal and private project owners and outside stakeholders,” says Debby Anderson with surety broker Insurica Southwest.
While SSC finds a full plate of work in the Phoenix area, it had a unique chance to stretch when an opportunity arose in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2007. SSC accomplished four bores in under four weeks at an oil refinery there, a project that took a year and a half to plan.
“If it’s the right fit, we’ll go where anybody wants us to go,” Arvid says.
The SSC team knows that the just-passed infrastructure bill will ramp up local opportunities in the next few years.
“A lot of that work has got to be done through trenchless because you don’t get to dig up railroads, light rail, canals or freeways,” Arvid says.
In 1972, SSC purchased the first building at its headquarters in north central Phoenix and gradually added adjoining properties. Another property in Phoenix’s exploding West Valley area will give the company the opportunity to build an equipment maintenance facility.
“It will allow us to be more efficient and a bit more aggressive for all the coming West Valley work,” Marcia says. “We can design it from the ground up and make full use of new technology.”
After Arvid Jr. retired, Marcia had a heart-to-heart with their son Arvid: was he really interested in taking SSC forward?
“I’m a pretty direct person,” Marcia says. “It’s so important to get this on the table and talk business. Yes, we’re a family, but we’re planning it and building it together.”
Along the way, her niece Michelle was asked to fill SSC’s vice president position. Later, as Aaron and then Abe moved on to new opportunities, Steve Walker was brought on and his role has advanced over the past decade to now include the full scope of field, fleet and property management.
“My husband and I have the satisfaction of seeing the company continuing to be successful,” Marcia says. “We know they are ready. I get excited for the next generation going forward because we’ve got the foundation laid and we’ve got a wonderful team.”
“This work pays well because we work hard,” Arvid says. “It gives us opportunities to really stretch ourselves and provide answers for our community and customers, and a great career for our team of employees.”
But there are limits.
“I’ve never bought into the thought that you’re either growing or you’re dying,” Arvid continues. “Our foundation is faith, and it doesn’t align with worldly values. It’s a different belief system than what guides much of the world. It’s very important in our market to be strategic about what we go after.”
SSC Underground was Equipment World's 2022 Contractor of the Year. The program recognizes contractors who display the highest standards of business acumen, equipment management expertise, attention to safety and community involvement. Each year, 12 finalists receive an expense-paid trip to Las Vegas to participate in roundtable discussions and an awards ceremony.
The 2023 program will coincide with ConExpo-Con/Agg, North America’s largest construction trade show. The nomination period will open this fall. For more information, visit https://www.equipmentworld.com/contractor-of-the-year.