Rice Construction is in the trenches alongside Masters of Barricades.
You won’t find many news articles or websites or Facebook pages that will tell you so, but everyone knows the name. Rice Construction is one of the most prominent excavation contractors in Southern Nevada — a reputation earned after trenching under Las Vegas for more than 30 years.
For Dave Rice, the story of Rice Construction’s success and his own are the same. It started with a summer job at Beaver Construction and later materialized when he graduated with a business degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) in 1984. And again, by the 1990s, he had solidified their place in Southern Nevada.
One example was the company’s work on the Desert Inn Road (DIR) arterial. Aside from alleviating traffic from one side of Las Vegas Boulevard and Interstate 15 — which included tunneling under Union Pacific Railroad tracks, trenching the Las Vegas Strip, and rising over Industrial Road, Highland Drive, and Interstate 15 — the utility plans called for lines to be rerouted through the DIR arterial.
“It was an exciting day and a very interesting bid because the power and phone lines would use a common ditch but were going to be awarded as two separate jobs,” says Rice. “It was a big day for our company because one bid was awarded at 3 p.m. and the next awarded at 5 p.m. They were big jobs for a company our size.”
Rice says his company owns 15 backhoes, three trenchers, and two excavators. They typically staff more than 40 full-time employees. But he also says it’s never the numbers that matter as much as the people who make them.
“Numbers can be adjusted, but not the culture of your company or the work ethic of your crew,” says Rice. “A company is only as strong as its weakest employee, which is why the construction industry has had some challenges. We’re a bit more fortunate than most because we’re starting to hire second-generation employees — the sons of employees — who learned their work ethic at home like they are supposed to.”
Rice says the same holds true for subcontractors, vendors, and the people who fix your equipment. All of them are an extension of the company. He prefers Masters of Barricades, for example, because they always work so closely with their customers.
“I’ll call them up, and they’ll immediately be able to describe the street as they know it, draw up plans in a day, and help secure the permit within a few days,” says Rice. “They turn the permits around so quickly, which is impressive because everyone knows permit approvals can likely face a log jam. MOB helps us get through it every time.”
The working relationship with MOB is reminiscent of the “old days” when most contracts were sealed with a smile and handshake, he says. For all the advancements that keep it fun — better equipment and improved safety standards — the camaraderie among colleagues, competitors, and capital financers is harder to come by unless you know where to look for it.
“So you won’t find a website, but you might find people talking about our company culture or sharing pictures of our Rebel-themed hearse,” says Rice, who is also a UNLV super fan. “Our tailgate parties at Sam Boyd Stadium were always popular, and we invited anyone in construction to turn out to support the Rebels.”
It wasn’t just the construction industry. His commercial-size grill, made from a leftover bore casing by a Rice Construction mechanic, always attracted a who’s who of Las Vegas — instructors, tailgaters, and fans. They all turned out for a good time; one easily delivered when Rice opened the back of the hearse and turned on the taps.
“The tailgate parties and our Christmas parties originally started because we had a small company culture. Our guys and their families do stuff together,” says Rice. “More than that, we do stuff with the entire industry. We all know each other. We all bid on the same jobs. We all rent each other’s equipment out from time to time. I’ve had plenty of help over the years. We help each other.”
In fact, he says, sometimes the people around him had more faith than he did. In the earliest days, his first employee, Poncho Garcia, used to meet up with Rice after working a different full-time job just to run the backhoe. It didn’t matter if Rice could offer a full day of work on the weekend or three hours after work. Garcia always knew Rice would succeed.
“He just recently retired, my first employee,” says Rice with a wry smile. “Makes me scratch my head a little. He beat me to it.”
He jokes but Rice doesn’t have any intention of retiring. Las Vegas has finally reached an infrastructure that requires continual maintenance and upgrades on power lines, which makes up about 60 percent of Rice Construction’s work. The balance of the work includes trenching, rock removal, residential feeders, storm drains, and box culverts.
“It’s too much fun,” says Rice, who also served a few years as area chapter president for the National Utility Contractors Association, and on the national board. “I still enjoy looking at new equipment and keeping up with all the advancements. The people in our industry are the best. My competitors, suppliers, subcontractors, and customers are all among my closest friends. It’s fantastic.”