Efficiency driving growth at Tapani Inc.

Vancouver entrepreneur Eric LaBrant

Highway to business

Tapani’s highway work has been its most visible – and profitable – work in recent years, particularly after residential and commercial construction took a nose dive in 2008. Recent work includes construction of an overpass at the SR-500/St. Johns Boulevard interchange – a $27 million contract with the Washington State Department of Transportation. The company also recently worked on Highway 35 in Oregon, the road which connects Hood River and Portland.

Since its beginning, the company has been a privately-held, family-run business. Edward Tapani now serves as company chairman, while his son Leigh is president. Six other sons, including vice presidents Kevin and Shane Tapani, also work for the firm. Another son runs his own company in the Tri-Cities area.

One of Tapani’s specialties is work on environmentally sensitive projects. For instance, the work on the SR-500 overpass also included bypassing a creek and adding wetland storm water management. Other projects have included a stream channel relocation for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and a city of Portland project involving the floodplain along John Creek.

“We have been really, really busy the last few years [with public transportation projects],” Kevin remarked.

Safety first

As a company that utilizes some 200 pieces of sophisticated heavy construction equipment, worker safety is both a concern and a source of company pride. Tapani employs a full-time risk manager and safety officer. Before any project gets underway the company performs a job hazard analysis and a detailed site specific safety plan which identifies and communicates potential hazards to project and field teams. Employees who are accident free for a year get a sticker for their hard hat. Each employee is also given a $350 “bonus” each year. For every write up from Oregon OSHA or the Washington Department of Labor and Industries, everyone loses $25.

That method seems to be working. Tapani has reduced the number of on-the-job accidents and injuries to an all-time low, according to the company website. In addition, the company was given a Commitment to Safety award from the city of Portland.

Building for the future

Though recent years have been tough overall for the construction industry, Leigh Tapani said the company has thrived though its range of expertise and emphasis on efficiency. Equipment is kept on the newer side and run by experienced operators. Also, each piece of equipment is outfitted with GPS technology and the company does 3D modeling of the site before a project commences.

Now poised for more growth, particularly as residential and commercial construction recovers, the company is carefully taking it one step at a time.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for growth” said Leigh, adding that after years of challenging economics the firm will move ahead cautiously with the same emphasis on service and quality that their dad taught them. 

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