Dixie Construction’s Reputation of Safety and Quality is 50 Years in the Making
The company, which was founded in 1966 as a small paving contractor building church parking lots with 12 employees, now has nearly 400 employees and more than 500 construction assets across three locations in Churchville and Beltsville, Maryland, and Georgetown, Delaware.
Director of Corporate Safety Justin Dixon, whose parents and grandparents founded the company, said Dixie has since transformed itself into a complete site work contractor capable of working on every aspect of a construction project.
“We found that a lot of our customers were looking for one company to deal with from start to finish,” Dixon said. “They were getting tired of bringing in three or four unknown entities to work with. Everybody has such a different style that it was hard for a project owner to reliably count on people to meet deadlines. So what we did was package it all together.”
Dixie Construction can remove trees, perform mass grading and excavation, install underground utilities, lay roadbeds, pave the roads, and turn over a clean slate for a new structure to be raised.
Dixie also performs a lot of work in the Washington, D.C. area for the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and other defense contractors.
“We’re a pretty attractive company for our clients to come to because they’re dealing with one company for all these phases of the project,” Dixon said. “We’re able to give them a package price, as opposed to them dealing with a bunch of different contractors.”
But that’s not all that makes Dixie stand out. So does the company’s approach to safety on the job site and for all employees, which Dixon implemented when he took over the Director of Corporate Safety position a decade ago.
“We were growing very quickly, and I didn’t feel comfortable letting outside companies do our safety for us,” he said. “I felt like it needed to be a little more hands on.”
The company holds mandatory safety meetings both for employees and for clients, and they provide the meeting documentation to the client. They perform Job Hazard Analyses before every project and record near misses on the job to address any safety issues that might indicate a dangerous trend or highlight a need for more training.
“We’re putting our best foot forward in all these different disciplines of training, and we’ve created a safety program and culture here that a lot of our clients are just delighted with,” Dixon said. “We have such a strong safety program that a lot of our clients won’t even look at other companies. We’ve been on an awful lot of projects where we were not the lowest bidder, but our safety program was so robust that they gave us the project.”
Safety and Training Manager James Modafferi said Dixie’s training program consists of 23 chapters of topics from rendering first and to performing accident investigations, all conveyed through iPads in the field that are used for reference and reporting.
Modafferi said the goal is both to make his employees feel safe and be safe.
“When I don’t get that call that someone has gone down or there is some kind of incident, and I can go home and feel good that everyone else went home just like I did, it’s a good day,” he said. “But there’s always that feeling that something could happen. You want to try to stop that, and the best way to do that is to give everybody the tools and the knowledge they need to do their job safely and reiterate how important that is.”
That safety mindset travels throughout the company. Shop Supervisor Jerry Hanks said his idea of a good day matches Modafferi’s.
“The equipment is going to be here the next day,” he said. “But as long as my guys get home safe, that’s really all that I can ask for.”
That mentality is part of what makes Dixie such a great company to work for, according to Mark Dolan, who has been with Dixie for 30 years.
Dolan said the family mindset is what has kept him with Dixie for so long – that, and pride in his work.
“These new developments mean you’re providing homes for people,” he said while standing in a newly developing subdivision. “There is gratification in being able to see a project from start to finish. You come out here and it’s an open field, and at the end of the season it’s homes, developments, houses with people living in them.”
Construction pride is a theme running through Dixie’s workers, both in the office and the field.
Project Manager David Bloxom said construction is all he’s ever known.
“It’s how I feed my kids and put a roof over their heads,” Bloxom said. “We still do ‘something.’ There are a lot of jobs and industries in this country where you don’t now—it’s not hands on. But what we do in the construction industry, when you look out your window, you see it. When you turn on your car, you drive on it. When you turn the faucet on, water comes out.”
Dixie Construction celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, and Dixon said the company’s longevity is due in large part to the family-focused atmosphere his parents and grandparents created when they built the company.
“We consider ourselves very luck to have the employees we do here,” he said. “Some of them have been with us for 40 years. If it weren’t for them, we would not be sitting here today.”
He said treating his employees like family is what makes the large corporation feel like a small contractor.
“In a nutshell, I would say that our employees are probably the most important asset that we have here at Dixie,” Dixon said. “They really are what allows us to be competitive. They will stick with you through thick and thin, they help you get the job done. When times get tough, they hang in there with you, and at the end of the day, that’s what construction is.”
Dixie has created a motto—“Building the Future From the Ground Up”—that employees follow. The motto sums up the company philosophy, and it means several things. First, it means being on the project from the start to the very end. But it also means helping clients—and communities, and employees—build their futures.
“We’re hoping that the customers and clients that we work with feel as though they’re a part of something a little larger working with us,” Dixon said. “We want our legacy to leave the impression that we did the best job we could utilizing all the technologies that were available to us, and we gave our employees and family members a really safe place to come to work every day and take pride in the notion that they could build a future with us.
“This is a hard business to be in, ad you don’t get to 50 years by taking shortcuts,” he continued. “You get to 50 years by working hard, putting in a hard day’s work for an honest day’s pay, and passing along whatever you can to the client in terms of pride in the job and quality of the product. I feel extremely proud to be part of this organization, and I feel like every employee that works here does too.”