When Gordon and Rachel Carlson started CLI Construction Inc., their decision was founded on a desire to work close to home. Through partnership, and later incorporation, CLI has developed a strong niche in the Denali-Cantwell region that has benefited an entire community.
“We enjoy working in our backyard and with the people we’ve come to form relationships with,” said Rachel Carlson, CLI president.
Part of that is a being a strong proponent of local hire. Carlson said that every one of the permanent full-time employees who work for the company live in the area. In addition to building the local economy, the Carlsons’ preference for local hire is also based on the very reason they started CLI Construction.
They also actively look throughout the state for jobs within their scope of work and, like many other companies, send employees to job sites, in addition to hiring locals in any community they travel to. In the past, they have experienced companies that come to the Cantwell area and not hire locally, buy their fuel or food elsewhere, bring their travel trailers and leave nothing behind to benefit the community. The Carlsons appreciate when a larger contractor actively seeks out CLI as it pursues a job in their area.
During peak season, CLI employs on average of seven to 10 workers with at least five people handling operations at any given time. Gordon Carlson, CLI vice president, said that services have changed since the company formed in 2002. At first, CLI started as a snow removal and small excavating company, and later ventured into civil work such as building foundations, driveways and commercial septic systems.
Carlson’s 30-plus years of experience in construction and a lifetime in Alaska have led to company growth. They have expanded local gravel pits in the area for material used for federal, state and local projects.
“Over time, we grew from doing our own little projects as other contractors came along,” Gordon Carlson said. “The lack of equipment is not a problem; if we don’t have it we can get whatever we need to complete a project, so growth continues,” he said.
Their most memorable projects include working on the culvert replacement project near Valdez for the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, clearing 160 acres in Anvik for an airport project and an extension project for the power plant at Clear Air Force Station.
“We are always trying to keep a statewide outlook,” Gordon Carlson said. “We look for jobs that highlight our specialties.”
Contractors rely on CLI’s knowledge of the Denali Borough. In addition to unpredictable weather and frequent permafrost areas, working within Denali National Park and Preserve brings its own challenges. High tourist numbers create high traffic areas, though more important are park regulations that protect wildlife within the federal park. For the past decade, several projects have developed along the Parks Highway, and CLI has advised several contractors on the best ways to proceed.
Granite Construction Co. has found CLI’s knowledge of the area invaluable. Matt Hampton, Alaska plants manager for Granite, said Granite’s relationship with CLI goes back nearly a decade. CLI has worked with Granite on several Cantwell-area projects, from loading a train with equipment to providing materials in Denali National Park.
“Their contribution saves us from making a bunch of mistakes,” Hampton said. “They are good people. When they say they will do something, they do it.”
Hampton added that Granite has plans to continue work in the Denali Borough as part of its regular business and will continue to work with CLI whenever possible.
“If I have a job within 50 miles of the area, they are the first people I call.”
In 2011, Dave Cruz of Cruz Construction Inc. started his working relationship with CLI when an F-22 crashed in the Talkeetna Mountains. Cruz called on CLI’s assistance and has continued to work with the company.
“Gordon has a well-rounded background and is easy to work with,” Cruz said. “Things get done within budget and without a bunch of drama or fanfare.”
CLI has been an AGC member since 2005. Gordon Carlson said networking has been the biggest benefit, along with access to classes and Online Plans. He said that AGC allows his company to keep up on certifications and provides an arena to communicate with larger contractors.
“It allows us to plan, and it gives us an idea of what’s going on in Alaska,” Gordon Carlson said. “It also allows us to put our name out there so contractors can contact us when they’re in the area.”
The Carlsons have recently discussed future growth of the company. Both agree that for now they will continue to refine daily operations — working smarter, not harder. Part of that has been incorporating technology that allows them to identify new opportunities and refine the bidding process. Gordon Carlson said most contractors move to Anchorage or Fairbanks to get close to worksites. However, technological advancements in business and banking have allowed a smaller company like CLI to work closer to home and to compete on a level playing field when looking at projects outside Anchorage or Fairbanks.
“A lot of people take that for granted,” he said. “But these types of changes keep operations where we’re at, closer to home.”
Rachael Kvapil is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Fairbanks.