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Nov. 12, 2018
This paid piece is sponsored by SDN Communications.
Engbarth Directional Drilling overcame a nearly catastrophic start in business 19 years ago to become a prominent provider of underground construction services.
Brad Engbarth had a few years of experience in the utility construction business when he started his own business in 1999. He bought a new boring machine, hired a couple of employees and took off late one winter night to work on a project in Florida.
Engbarth was in a pickup, following the semi that was hauling the boring machine on a trailer. But in the Omaha area, a car pulled in front of the semi, prompting the driver to swerve to avoid a collision. The chain holding the boring machine broke, and the big piece of equipment fell off the trailer.
“It didn’t hit anybody, luckily,” Engbarth said. “I always say ‘they don’t build equipment like they used to’ because the machine slid down the highway, but it was a very well-built machine.”
They got it reloaded and headed to Lincoln, Neb., where he bought it. A mechanic met them at 5 a.m., made the repairs, and the crew continued their drive to Florida. They spent the next four months working there and flew back to Sioux Falls once a month for visits.
“In the early years of my company, I traveled all over the county. I worked in a lot of states,” said Engbarth, president and owner of Engbarth Directional Drilling LLC, or E.D.D.
Now, the company works mostly in South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska and occasionally in North Dakota. Based in Canistota, the respected firm is now a regular vendor of SDN Communications and its member companies. SDN provides broadband internet to businesses throughout Sioux Falls and across the region. The E.D.D. crews put the fiber in the ground to make it possible.
Engbarth employs 20 to 25 people during the busy season and has 15 to 18 substantially sized pieces of equipment. While the crews provide a wide range of construction-related services, installing and repairing fiber optic lines has become their specialty.
Engbarth, 45, grew up on a farm in southwest Minnesota. He connected with SDN about 15 years ago after working for TrioTel Communications, an SDN member company in Salem.
He said after traveling around the country for work, connecting with SDN and its members was a “breath of fresh air.”
“One of the great things about SDN is they include us from the start to finish. They ask our opinion. They involve us in the meetings. It helps with our scheduling. We know in advance, a lot of times, some of the bigger projects that are coming. It’s been a great relationship,” Engbarth said. “They are by far the best people in the industry that I’ve ever worked with in all my years of doing this.”
Engbarth takes pride in doing high-quality work and not overpromising how quickly a project can be completed.
“I’m very conscious about not taking on more work than what we can handle,” he said.
Typically, there are multiple E.D.D. crews working throughout the region. The company grows a little every year, but Engbarth takes a cautious approach to expanding.
“In today’s construction environment, it’s very hard to hire qualified employees. It’s an ongoing problem for companies our size,” Engbarth said.
Construction-related work slows during the winter months, and his workforce shrinks. But Engbarth doesn’t let go of any employees who don’t want the time off. He keeps them busy, maintaining equipment that, like employees, work long, hard days throughout the construction season. Off-season crew members also respond to emergency work such as fiber cuts.
The company has a strong family feel to it. Engbarth’s wife, Malinda, is the office manager. His brothers, Justin and Nathan, and a son-in-law, Jake Raymon, also play key roles in the business. The company is deeply involved in the community too. Engbarth is the chief of Canistota’s Volunteer Fire Department, and Justin is the town’s mayor.
The company’s close, family nature is evident, said Chris Haiar, senior outside plant engineer at SDN. In his 13 years of working with E.D.D., the company has earned a solid reputation.
“No matter what we give him, he will always get it done, and he will get it done on time.”
As for Engbarth’s character, for Haiar, words such as desire, integrity and hardworking come to mind.
“But it’s more than that. The work he does for SDN comes from the heart,” Haiar said. “The way he treats others is the way he’d like to be treated. That’s why he’s so successful.”
The best business relationships are built on foundations like this one.