Wisconsin concrete contractor lays solid foundation for success – Equipment World

Amanda Kurt established a foundation in the concrete industry before she was even born.

Equipment WorldHer father, John Kurt, started a landscape company in 1985 that eventually branched out into the concrete industry and became the base for Kurk Inc. in Union Grove, Wisconsin, in 1989.

Visiting McDonald’s on the way home from jobsites may have driven her toward the construction industry as a youngster, but it wasn’t really on her radar to formally join her dad’s business.

“I thought I would go to school, become a structural engineer and design skyscrapers,” says Amanda.

She did work at Kurk Inc. during high school and then attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering to earn her degree with dreams of designing tall buildings. Coming out of college during an economic slump in 2011 changed her future to driving the steel and concrete into the ground, rather than skyward.

Committing to learning more about the concrete business, Amanda took an open office position at Kurk. With the knowledge she gained from high school and college, she quickly took on site layouts, project planning, material ordering and project management. Within a couple years, a transition occurred in which John took over the company from his partner, and Amanda became a partner instead of just an employee.

According to John, it is at this time that Kurk started to grow into what it is today. 

The company was recently recognized as one of 12 finalists for Equipment World’s 2023 Contractor of the Year program.

Currently, Amanda serves as vice president and managing partner, and her responsibilities include a lot of different things: commercial bidding, management of the foundation crews, employee engagement and community outreach.

Kurk Inc. of Union Grove, Wisconsin, was one of 12 finalists for Equipment World’s 2023 Contractor of the Year. The contest recognizes contractors that display the highest standards of business acumen, equipment management expertise, attention to safety, and community involvement.Equipment World

Community driven

For Kurk, community means far more than just the 100-square-mile radius that the company services in Southeast Wisconsin. It means the 35 employees of Kurk Concrete, its suppliers and their customers.

“It’s developing those relationships because they’re important,” Amanda says. “Maybe it’s your customer relationships, but it’s also your mentor relationships, those you can look to when you’re having problems and that can help you grow and get through the challenges. I think those relationships are important.”

For Kurk, the key is ensuring that everyone in the process is successful. “I think that’s one of our strongest things as a business,” Amanda says. 

She says the bread and butter of Kurk’s $8 million to $ 10 million business is pouring walls and the flatwork touching it. There is no estimating team. All that work falls on Amanda and John through a hybrid approach. She uses PlanSwift, an estimating takeoff software, and John calculates the labor and equipment on a yellow notepad.

“We’ve generally worked very well that way,” John says. “She’s twice as fast as I am coming up with the takeoff, and I’m twice as fast coming up with the labor and equipment.”

On most projects, Kurk serves as a concrete subcontractor, doing some excavation and site utility work but never serving as a prime contractor. Nearly 75% of the company’s business is multifamily residential. The other 25% is single-family homes. And then there’s a mix of commercial, a little bit of retail, warehouses, industrial.

A staff of approximately 35 makes up five crews and support personnel. That includes two flatwork crews, two foundation crews, an earthwork crew, support staff, mechanics and truck drivers. 

“We really have a great team,” Amanda says, noting that in an average week there are 10 to 15 different projects on the schedule. “It’s just really cool to see our people prosper and our communities prosper because of the work we do.”

She says Kurk crews work to provide a successful project from start to finish. “If that means working with unique situations or trying to find a new solution, we’ll do it.”

Kurk’s culture is to do the work right the first time.

“We don’t make excuses why we didn’t meet the schedule, and if that means more labor, another piece of equipment, we’re there to get the job done and get it done correctly,” Amanda says.

Amanda Kurt serves as vice president and managing partner of Kurk Inc. and her responsibilities include a lot of different things from commercial bidding, management of the foundation crews, employee engagement, and community outreach.Equipment World

Rock solid

As concrete contractors, one thing that sets Kurk apart from its competitors is all its employees have good benefits, including time off, health insurance and a retirement plan.

In addition, Amanda says, everyone can grow within the ranks.

“You can come in as a laborer with no experience, gain a lot of knowledge on the jobsite, and maybe in the future, you’re what we would call kind of the right hand or second lead on the project and eventually are able to become a foreman or superintendent,” she says. “The opportunity is there if you want to take that opportunity.”

On-the-job training occurs, and Kurk has a variety of educational opportunities through its partners, such as Associated General Contractors of America, Concrete Foundations Association and Crew Collaborative, in safety, blueprint reading, leadership development and more.

In addition to career advancement, employees are  provided a safe working environment. All jobsites require high-visibility vests, hard hats and safety glasses.

“We want it done quickly and correctly, but ultimately, we want it done safely,” Amanda says. “We want you to go home at the end of every day exactly how you came. That’s just one step in building a safety culture.”

“We have a structured return to work program so that if you do get injured, we bring you back to work within your restrictions at your full pay for however long you need to recover,” Amanda adds. “The number one goal is to keep you working and allow you to keep providing for your family.”

Seeing the future

Through the years, Kurk has invested heavily in its fleet to help reduce wear and tear on the labor force. 

“We pump all of our concrete,” Amanda says. “In the last decade, we purchased a boom pump, and we’ve used a laser screed on larger flat floors instead of having crews do it. That kind of technology or investment is worker related, and that was the goal.”

Investment in the fleet does not always mean a new dump truck or skid steer. Instead, it might be a GPS system for an excavator or a dozer. 

“I think in the future, we will continue to add technology to our fleet,” Amanda says.

One of her main goals is to recruit the next generation, not only benefiting Kurk but bringing new labor to the construction industry.

“Some of our initiatives are just outreach with the high schools and helping mentor students,” she says, noting that companies can have youth apprentices in Wisconsin and give those 16- to 18-year-old students the opportunity to see what construction is like.

“Maybe it’s a ‘yes,’ and that’s a win, but maybe it’s like, ‘Whoa, I don’t want to do that, I want to take another path.’ And really, that’s a win too, because it helps those students kind of determine what their path looks like. It’s hard to tell an 18-year-old that working in the mud is the dream life, but I will say, the pay is good. The benefits are good. The work is steady, and you can definitely build your way into a career that’s less physical in nature.”

As for Kurk, the future is moving toward a succession plan. 

“The ultimate goal is for me to buy more of the company slowly and for my dad to kind of phase out of the company so it’s not real abrupt, and we can kind of plan to have a solid succession plan and ideally continue to prosper after he leaves the business,” she says.

Located in Union Grove, Wisconsin, Kurk Inc. has established itself as a community partner through its efforts in workforce development.Equipment World