Versatile, small-town contractor finds defense is the best offense
Wayne Grayson | September 10, 2019

A lot happened with Mike Jackson in 12 years. He filed for bankruptcy on his farm and ranch. He moved his family to California to pursue a new life. And he quickly built a successful career as an equipment manager in Los Angeles.

Then he got tired. Tired of bad bosses. Tired of always traveling. Tired of not seeing his kids as often as he would have liked.

“I didn’t like living in L.A.,” Jackson recalls. “I was a farm kid, and L.A. had just too many people. I was only happy to be there because I was making a lot of money. But the kids were getting older, and I wanted more of a rural environment.”

Eventually, he found himself back in his hometown of Deming, New Mexico, and in the office of the banker who gave him his first loan to buy cattle when he was 11 years old.

“This town needs a good backhoe operator,” the banker told Jackson.

Jackson mulled it over. He had other options and more than a few ideas of what he might want to do.

“That was about the time the internet was getting started, and I realized really quick that with the internet, you could be anywhere in the United States and be a manufacturer or a supplier,” he says.

Ultimately, the desire to return to a simpler life and be his own boss won out, and Jackson returned to give his hometown the type of excavation company it deserved.

“I don’t care if I don’t make a lot of money,” he recalls thinking at the time. “I just want to be able to go fishing when I want to.”

Things, however, didn’t quite pan out the way Jackson wanted them to. Deming Excavating has grown into one of the largest private employers in its community. “The fishing lasted only a couple of years,” Jackson says with a smile.

He started out with a 1992 backhoe, a 1976 dump truck and a trailer, performing small excavation jobs, installing septic tanks and crafting building pads. Though it was his first time as a construction company owner, Jackson’s experience with farming gave him a clear vision of how to run his new business.

“What stuck in my mind was (with the farm), I trusted a lot of people that I shouldn’t have from the financial side of it. I trusted people that I thought would allow me to make a mistake and catch me. They didn’t,” Jackson says. “That one situation really imprinted in my mind how you run a business. I wouldn’t let myself be put in a position where anyone could take my feet out from under me.”

By the 2000s, Deming Excavating was deep into subdivision work with about 80 percent of its revenue coming from that market, Jackson says.

 

From 150 housing pads to two

Then the recession hit. In the early 2000s, the company was preparing 100 to 150 house pads a year. By 2010, it was down to just two. “We had six active subdivisions in Deming in 2008, and there is not a single one left,” Jackson says.

However, the company wasn’t taken by surprise.

“I saw it coming, not that I’m a genius,” Jackson says. “You can’t build that many houses in a town of 12,000 and have the growth stay. The economy got fluttery and too busy, and they were just throwing money at everything. It wasn’t about the cost of the project; it was about when it could be finished.”

With the economic downturn setting in and the company facing the threat of desperate competition from outside their hometown, Jackson knew it was time to transform or watch the company be eaten alive.

Jackson and his sons – Jason, company vice president, and Tyler, superintendent – decided it would also be paramount to lock down their home turf. Doing so would require offering a complete site-prep package.

“This market is not like a standard market,” says Jason Jackson. “We’re literally on an island out here. All of our asphalt comes from two and a half hours away. Our community is fixed-income retirees. Those conditions drove the diversity we needed to expand from dirt work and paving to concrete and utilities and being more competitive in the local market.”

“There was little industrial-commercial back then,” Mike Jackson adds. “But as soon as the housing market went away, the commercial came in and we started pursuing it more, and we were able to replace the bulk of the residential with commercial.”

 

‘Everybody in charge was named Jackson’

In 2010, just as the company’s residential business was drying up, Deming Excavating landed a bid on a new veterans’ hospital and a football field for a local detention center. A waste treatment plant followed, along with a lot of work for local schools. The company has also established a good relationship with local municipalities and has found steady work performing maintenance and rehabilitation projects.

“What allowed us to transition in large part is that everybody in charge was named Jackson,” Mike Jackson says.

“You always knew your best interest was in mind out in the field,” Jason Jackson adds.

Running as many as 45 employees, depending on the peak of the season, Deming brought in $4 million in revenue in 2018 with the majority of that coming from commercial and public works jobs. Jason’s wife, Jami Jackson, helps handle all the paperwork hoops as office manager and secretary.

“They have about 20 employees who live in this community, and they’re generational in this county,” says Herb Borden, construction management director for Deming City Schools. “They went to these schools; their kids went to these schools. They’re locked in and have true ownership of what happens. Some of their employees’ kids and spouses work for us, and they take it a step above most contractors. They live in this community, and I have worked with hundreds of subs and GCs, and the greatest thing in the world is that they are true Deming Wildcats (the school mascots), and they take pride in that.”

“Jason is a call away for face-to-face meetings,” says Jim Massengill, public works director for the City of Deming. “I use him to determine if the project method or design is buildable and how we can circumvent issues after notice to proceed. He has been, and continues to be, easy to approach and ready to provide input for our projects in design and sometimes before we start design.”

 

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