When Bill Houim started the current incarnation of Central Trenching Inc. in 2005, he vowed to keep things small, with only 15 to 20 employees on his payroll. Needless to say, he gets endless grief about that proclamation now that his employee count has soared well past the century mark.
This is actually Houim's second go-round with CTI. He originally started the company in Rugby in 1979 and did a variety of trenching work, laying underground cables for various businesses and utility companies. In 1999 he sold the company to MasTec, a large Florida business that dropped the CTI name and kept Houim on as a supervisor for the next six years.
Houim decided to leave MasTec and came to Minot to build his own business again. In April 2005 he started the second incarnation of Central Trenching Inc. Luckily for him, after MasTec dropped the name in 1999, no one else picked it up so Houim was able to secure it for his new business.
"Same name, different place," Houim said.
CTI does underground utility work for many different applications, although the main ones are telephone, power and cable TV.
"It's mainly the fiber optic systems that really keeps us busy," he said. "Fiber optic placement and splicing, all that type of thing."
Houim said the fiber optic boom started around 1990 or 1991, mainly between cities for long toll lines. For the past five or six years FTTH, or fiber to the home, has been growing in popularity. FTTH is fiber optic cable to residential areas and Houim said it provides much of the work his company does today.
"The capabilities are actually endless in a way. It can carry telephone, broadband, TV, data, whatever you want to do," he said. "That's a new and upcoming thing, that's the way it's going to be in the future."
The oil fields also provide CTI quite a bit of business. Most of that work involved directional boring to lay underground pipes.
"Through roads, sloughs, any hard surface they can't get through with an excavator, we go through," he said.
While Houim doesn't see the oil fields busting anytime soon like they did in the 1980s, he's not overly concerned about how long they will be around because he doesn't rely on them for his business.
"Granted we added on more people for that, which of course with the more work you have, the more people and more machinery," he said. "But if it does slow down, we won't be affected by it really. My primary (job) is still utility work, mainly local utilities."
With all this work in North Dakota, South Dakota and even some in Minnesota, Houim has had to constantly expand to keep up with it all. While expansion has been great for business, it also shot apart Houim's original ideas about how big he wanted the company to get.
"My clients always tease me. When I started this outfit in 2005, I said no more than 15, 20 people. I said no more than that, this is all I want. I came from MasTec and I was over about 70, 80 people there and got sort of tired of it," Houim said. "So right now we're up to about 150.
"In '05 we had about 30 people, then in '06 we went to 65, then in '07 we went to 135, then last year we were at 165. This year we're at about 155, in that area. It fluctuates some, people coming and going."
Houim has been in the trenching business for 31 years, and all his old contacts kept throwing work his way when he started up again in 2005. It was around that time fiber to the home really took off as well, and business just kept blossoming and hasn't faded since.
Houim said all of the communications and utlities have all been awesome to work for and have really helped him succeed beyond his wildest dreams.
After starting out with nothing, one of the biggest challenges Houim's faced has been finding enough room to expand. His original office was a two-stall garage he rented for a year behind Schatz Crossroads Truckstop on the U.S. Highway 2 & 52 Bypass. Five short years later CTI is located down the bypass a mile west of Behm's Truck Stop. The new corporate office is in the building formerly occupied by the Nickel Deuce Bar. It provides 9,600 square feet of space and remodeling was just completed this spring.
Numerous maintenance shops and equipment parking lots are springing up around it. A new fabrication shop and mechanic bay is being built next door that will be 90 feet by 120 feet. This is an addition to the existing 120-by-120-foot mechanic shop and 100-by-40-foot conference room and break room that were built two years ago and have already become cramped.
"I call it growing pains," Houim said. "You get bigger with machinery, then you get more work, then you get more work and you've got to have support for them, then you've got more support and you've got to have places for people to work in, of course."
"Minot's a very fortunate place to be right now," he added. We could be 300 or 400 miles to the east and we wouldn't be this way."
He's already purchased an additional nine acres near the office for more parking for all the big equipment he has. After starting out with nothing, Houim now has around 20 bulldozers, 30 trucks to haul equipment and more than 100 pick-up trucks, along with several directional borers, among other things.
While Houim seems to have started his company just when the perfect storm of utility and oil field work was brewing to ensure his success, he is quick to point out the real reason CTI has done so well.
"Working in Minot's been great, employees have been great, I couldn't have done it without all my good employees. I guess I can't take all the credit, they've done a lot of work, too," he said. "We work dark to dark, they put in a lot of good effort, a lot of good time. They made the company what it is."