Riding a roller coaster is easy, except for the faint of heart.
And building a roller coaster isn’t for the faint of heart either, says Dave McMichael, owner of McMichael’s Construction Co., which has anchored nine roller coasters at Six Flags and several towering slides at White Water.
His Covington-based company doesn’t design and construct the loop the loops. Rather, it uses engineering and GPS to place and build the foundations in precisely the right area. The company, a general contracting firm, also builds churches, assisted-living facilities, schools, medical and industrial buildings, and telecommunications towers, among other things.
McMichael has been in construction since graduating from Auburn, buying the company founded by his father in 1983 after working for other contractors for 7 years.
Q: What does you roller coaster business entail?
A: We have performed the general contractor services for the Ninja, Viper, Batman, Scorcher, Deja-Vu, Superman, Wile E. Coyote, Goliath and Dare Devil Dive. Most of these projects entail demolition, relocation of utilities, grading, new utilities, entrances and exists, a new station building, foundation work and grouting of base plates after the coaster is erected.
What it does not entail is the erecting of the actual roller coaster.
Q: What goes into building a huge roller coaster?
A: Essentially, we build the things that make the coasters safe. If you were supporting a column that has upward forces, you need to resist the pullout forces. Obviously, logistics and precision are key.
We have been the general contractor on nine of these projects and three water slides — projects outside the general contracting norm but very exciting work. It’s just a lot more exact requirements of layout than you ever had to have in other buildings — several notches up in exactness.
Q: What are some buildings you’ve built?
A: We have renovated, expanded or built-out approximately 100 grocery stores in five southeastern states. We just completed our second 64 unit assisted-living facility in Fayetteville.
Currently, we have two 11,000 plus square foot church projects and four 8,000 plus square foot retail facilities. These six projects are in Georgia and Alabama.
Q: I know you’re a private company but could you give some revenue numbers?
A: We’ll do about $14 million in business this year. That’s the highest in a number of years. We were rocking along at a $12 million per year pace until the recession came along. At one point we were down to less than 50 percent of that, but now we are back up.
Q: What was the first uh-oh moment when you felt the economy was about to take a tumble?
A: Private bid lists dried up when banks weren’t loaning money, which coincided with small businesses closing up left and right. Architects had nothing to draw and no backlog. Thankfully, our diverse abilities allowed us to continue working in markets less affected, such as the case with grocery store remodels.
Q: How do you see the economy now?
A: The entire economy is not hitting on all cylinders, but it is getting closer.
Q: How many full-time employees do you have?
A: 18 at this time.
Q: Who owns the company?
A: At present, my son owns 4 percent of the stock and I own the other 96 percent.
Q: Do you have to get financing from banks?
A: No, we don’t use it, although we have it in place if we were to need it.
Q: Where do you focus your work?
A: We are licensed in eight southeastern states, mostly working in Georgia and Alabama, with a half a dozen projects in Florida in the last six to eight years.
Q: What made you think you were ready for owning your own business?
A: I had worked for other contractors as an estimator, superintendent and project manager, all of which had been in retail or industrial projects.
I thought I had touched on the most important facets, but I was ill-prepared for sales. At times, I thought about a partner to help with sales and the monetary contribution, but never found the right fit. So I made do with perseverance, hard work, help from family members and pinching pennies.
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MEET DAVE MCMICHAEL
Job: Owner of McMichael’s Construction Co.
Family: Wife and three children
Education: Auburn University, BS in building construction
Reading: “The Glass Rainbow,” by James Lee Burke