Kemp West Inc.
Tim Davison founded Kemp West Inc. (KWI) in 1982 to provide land-clearing services for power line construction and road building. For more than 30 years, the business has grown significantly and now employs 70 people. KWI continues to serve the needs of utility companies, as well as property owners and managers throughout the region from its new headquarters in Snohomish, Wash.
Kari Hakso, president of KWI, and wife Ruth Ann purchased the business from Davison in 1996. “I have been with the business for over 20 years,” says Hakso. “I started at a low level, and for the next six years worked my way up in the company, eventually purchasing the business from Davison, who wished to move on to other opportunities.”
Today the business remains on a steady path of growth, serving a number of repeat customers. Hakso’s crews have earned a reputation for safety and efficiency, even when working under unusual and dangerous circumstances.
Standout Company Culture
“We work in the state of Washington for various utility and construction companies,” Hakso explains. “We have a culture that is unique in our industry. We have extremely low employee turnover, resulting in many long-term employees. We have enjoyed a steady work flow and growth over the years performing line clearance and tree trimming for utility companies, municipalities and other customers. We value our team and have a mission our people believe in: to provide unparalleled customer service at the lowest cost per mile to the utility.”
While much of the company’s business is regular vegetation maintenance work, the crew also responds to storm damage; KWI is on call for utility companies when weather patterns take out lines and trees.
“Sometimes these projects can go on for weeks,” Hakso notes. “We have to have crews on call constantly for this type of work.” In the event of a storm causing the disruption of power, the company’s storm response services allow utility companies to restore power quickly, keeping homes warm and businesses up and running.
KWI’s power line clearance maintenance services are primarily aimed at pruning and removing trees to help maintain reliable power. “Because we do power line clearance work, most of our jobs are pretty similar,” Hakso continues. “But due to weather conditions, overgrown vegetation on power lines, and hard to access right of ways, each job still has its own set of challenges.”
To overcome these challenges, KWI has built a heavy arsenal of vegetation management equipment that is well-suited for the industry. Included in the mix is the Spyder, an all-terrain, walking legged excavator, specifically designed to navigate tough spaces and difficult terrain. Interchangeable attachments allow the crew to use the Spyder for multiple purposes. The machine attaches to brush mulchers, digging buckets, 360-degree rotation grapple buckets and swamp pads, meaning accessibility and flexibility in even the toughest conditions.
KWI has built a reputation for quality, efficient performance and value when it comes to utility right of way clearing. The company’s management works closely with owners and clients alike to formulate a plan that meets the strategic and functional needs of each project.
The team has it down to a science, but still, vegetation management can be dangerous work. While KWI utilizes industry-leading technology to plan and execute each contract, the industry is inherently risky. Working around energized power lines requires awareness and extensive training in order to function in a manner that is safe for everyone on the job, as well as bystanders.
“I think in our industry, safety can be the biggest challenge,” Hakso explains. “It seems we are exposed to every danger possible: high voltages, heights, traffic, saws, falling debris and all of the weather elements. We believe that the safety of our crews is closely tied to our company’s ongoing safety training, low employee turnover and a positive, productive workplace culture.”
Rolling with the Changes
While the recent economic downturn affected many businesses, KWI has remained steady. “The recession slowed growth in many sectors, which could be impacting growth for communications businesses, electrical companies and related contractors,” Hakso says. However, KWI’s services have remained in constant demand, with little sway resulting from construction trends.
“For the next few years, we are looking at stable and slow growth,” Hakso estimates. “Our largest concern for the continuation of this pattern is management of that growth. We need to make sure that while we are growing, we continue to serve our existing customers in the same manner that has earned us the reputation that we have. We refuse to grow beyond what we can manage well and are committed to continuing to deliver the highest level of service and value to our customers.”
The numbers at KWI are increasing, but Hakso explains that revenue is not the only part of the company that counts. “We have a really positive and respectful company culture,” he elaborates. “Within this organization, our people are choosing to have long careers with us. They refer their friends to apply to our organization. We have a great team.”
As the staff grows physically and professionally, Hakso’s team supports the continued efforts of Kemp West Inc. to provide safe and efficient vegetation management services to clients in the Pacific Northwest.