Video: McKinney Construction Celebrates 40 Years of Laying Pipe

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A certified woman-owned enterprise, McKinney Construction is a three-generation family business celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2023.

Samantha Watt’s grandfather Earl J. McKinney founded the company in 1983, establishing a unique model to exclusively bid on water company and municipal projects, earning the company a seat on many private bid lists throughout Southern California.

When Samantha’s father, Michael McKinney, took over the company in 2002, it became quickly apparent that she would one day be part of the business. In the above video, Samantha tells about how she and her husband, Corey, eventually came to own the business and how it has maintained its success for the past 40 years.

Corey and Samantha Watt, owners of McKinney Construction with Mike McKinney, former ownerSamantha Watt and her husband, Corey, at left, are the third-generation owners of the family business, McKinney Construction. They took over ownership from her father, Mike McKinney, at right, in 2018.McKinney Construction"I always admired the family business and thought it would be such an honor to work for my father," she said.

Shortly after graduating college with accounting and business degrees, she joined the family business, serving as office manager and shadowing her father in every aspect of the company from operations to fieldwork. Every Friday, Samantha and her father would venture out to a jobsite.

“I'd put my work boots on and go with him and just learn,” she says.

College may have established a foundation for her, but it was the 10 years of office work and jobsite visits that brought Samantha full circle in learning more about what McKinney Construction does and what makes it unique. 

Samantha, who took over the reins with her husband, Corey, operating in the field in 2018 and were named one of 12 finalists for Equipment World's 2023 Contractor of the Year award.

Learn more about McKinney Construction by clicking here.

To date, the legacy of integrity established in 1983 by Earl McKinney has carried through into her ownership of the company, as seen in the continuing relationships with the area water companies.

"I'm very proud to say that McKinney Construction is known in the industry for doing what is right," she said. "Our customers know, when McKinney Construction is on a job, the work will be done right whether the inspectors are there or not."

McKinney Construction crew on a jobsiteMcKinney Construction is an underground general contractor that works primarily with water companies and municipalities.Equipment WorldSamantha and Corey are interested in growing and evolving McKinney Construction,.

"Ultimately, it's just continuing that legacy as a family and creating somewhere that people would want to work and spend their career and just create a win win, where Corey and I are able to provide for our family, but we're able to create a company that provides for our employees as well, and provide a service in the community that we're proud of,"  she said.


Samantha Watt (00:09):

McKinney Construction was incorporated in 1983 by my grandfather Earl J. McKinney. He developed a company model to exclusively bid on water company and municipality projects. He earned McKinney a seat on many private bid lists throughout Southern California. His son Michael McKinney, officially took over the company in 2002. And in 2018, my husband and I purchased a company from my dad. So three generations.


2023 is an exciting year for us. We're celebrating 40 years of business. We're an underground general contractor, but we exclusively work for the water companies. The core value was always integrity, do it right, even when no one's looking. I think that's what makes us so unique. An inspector will pull up to the job site and he's like, "Oh, it's McKinney? Okay, I can run and go check on so-and-so," and they'll leave because they know whether an inspector's there or not, we're going to do it right.


My grandfather and my dad built this company that is so well respected in the industry. It's a lot of pressure, and it's hard because you don't want to fail. Legacy is a huge core value for us and just carrying forward the company model grandpa set up.


My dad was such a good mentor for me and I just shadowed him on everything. Working with him for 10 years. When it came time that he said, "I'm ready to sell," I felt confident with all the time that he spent with me, that I felt like we could continue the family business. It's shown through in the last few years that as much trust that the water companies have placed in McKinney from my grandpa and my dad, I feel like through Corey and mine's actions, they're able to see they can continue that trust going forward.


Being competitive with the pay and benefits has helped us retain some really skilled, experienced tradesmen that they take pride in their work that they do. It's not just a job to them.

Tony Martin (02:42):

I've been doing this for 24 years underground. I work for 12 different companies, and this one's the only one it's like a family. I mean, it's small, but everybody takes care of each other. They take care of us all the time.

Samantha Watt (02:56):

We want the guys to wake up and want to go to work. We encourage all leadership roles to say, "Hey, good job. I see you. I appreciate what you're doing." Creating that positive work environment, promoting within, we have young people coming in and they know that there's room to grow. You start out as a laborer. In the next five, 10 years, you could be a foreman running your own job. So the sky's the limit as far as where you could go with the company.


Safety is a huge, huge part of the day-to-day in the field. We make sure that safety is not only enforced, but it's encouraged, and it starts at the foreman level, setting that example. I mean, showing up with your hard hat and your vest, it's just non-negotiable.


We typically install mainline pipeline, so we find that a backhoe loader is most efficient. We're able to excavate the trench with the backhoe, and then the loader helps with cleanup and backfill. So it's two in one machine for us. We usually have a CAT 446, CAT 430, depending on the pipe. The main thing is, can the machine lift the pipe? And then we'll rent an excavator if it's something we need. I would say probably 90% of our fleet is CAT. Each job is unique with its needs, but usually, our CAT backhoes are perfect.


With our type of excavation, it's so intricate. We work out in the street around existing utilities. There may be a 40-foot stick of pipe and there could be three utilities crossing our trench. So we've stayed away from automation. We are more comfortable relying on our operators that we've trained in pre-screened, and we know their ability to navigate through those type of situations.


I guess that would be the dream is to have one of my daughters or both come in and take over and maybe they have a partner in the field. That would just be so neat. But ultimately, just continuing that legacy as a family and creating somewhere that people would want to work and spend their career, just create a win-win where Corey and I are able to provide for our family, but we're able to create a company that provides for our employees as well, and provide a service in the community that we're proud of.

Speaker 3 (05:37):

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