Business begins with a vision in 1978

By Charles Kocher, Pilot staff writer February 05, 2011 05:00 am

In 1978, there were three guys with three pieces of equipment, and a vision.

That’s what it took to build Tidewater Contractors into a successful business, General Manager Scott Darger told the Business Outlook Conference last week.

“It is difficult for a business to flourish in a small community,” he said. “The ones that do have leaders who have vision. The ownership of Tidewater has had the vision of what’s going to be important.”

Darger told the company’s story in the Industry Showcase session of the all-day conference that drew 150 registrants.

The founders of Tidewater were Jess Fitzhugh (with a D-8 Caterpillar), Steve Salisbury (with a log truck) and Dave Baldwin (who was convinced to buy a loader). Together, they bought out Jim Archibald of Acco Contracting and his site near the head of tide on the Chetco River.

At the time, said Darger, one part of the dream was to do commercial logging and build log homes through a firm called Mountain Pride.

Though Mountain Pride faded, Tidewater Contractors thrived and diversified through the 1980s into road building, paving and concrete.

The vision Darger referred  to involves Tidewater’s acquisition of both rock supplies and equipment, starting with the Wedderburn Ranch on the North Bank of the Rogue River, the firm’s first mobile rock crushing plant, and later mobile asphalt plants.

The expansion into regional projects led to the acquisition of the King Pit quarry near John Day, where Darger said “the rock supply will not be exhausted in my lifetime or my children’s lifetime.”

Other expansions have included Eagle Cap Rentals and the cattle operation at JDS Ranch near John Day.

“The biggest facet is the road building,” Darger said, telling the crowd that no matter how they got to the conference, “every road you traveled, you came over some of our paving.”

Darger began his career with Tidewater on a paving crew.

“It gives you a lot of pride in what you do,” he said. “It’s immediate gratification. The reason we work there is the pride and satisfaction in the work that we do.”

So it’s no surprise, he said, that Fitzhugh and Baldwin are known for getting out of the office and being hands-on with projects. Darger admitted having fun digging through company photos of past projects – from Pelican Bay State Prison to the extension of Fifth Street in Brookings – and seeing the owners at work.

With the pride comes quality and innovation that has brought a number of awards from local, state and federal agencies, Darger said.

And with the projects have come jobs. Tidewater now employs some 250 employees in the peak construction season, Darger said.

“The vast majority of them come from this area,” he said, “and the majority are very good living-wage jobs.”

That, in turn, leads to Tidewater’s commitment and involvement in the community, particularly with sponsorship and aid for athletics. 

“You always see Tidewater on the back of team shirts,” he said.

Turning to the future, Darger said Tidewater sees the economy – and thus projects – as being “somewhat flat.” Of key concern, he added, is the increasing pressure from environmental groups. “We have no problem being good stewards of the land,” he said, “but it’s important that the community gets behind us on aggregate sources.”

The Industry Showcase portion of the Business Outlook Conference was sponsored by C&Kā€ˆMarket, which has itself been a presenter in the showcase in the past.

The conference is a project of the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce.