Out of the Mud & Into Groundwork — Central Oregon Style


(Photo courtesy courtesy of K3 Construction)

What’s the difference between running a construction company in Madras and running the same excavating operation in the valley?

In a word, mud.

“It’s really nice to be over here, out of the mud,” said Phil Kauffman, founder/CEO of K3 Construction in Madras. “It’s not just cleaner… The outlook over here is so much brighter. Even though every job site is solid rock, it’s really good for morale. When we were in the valley it was a lot tougher to keep the spirits up, especially through the winter.”

K3 stands for three Kauffmans. In 2018 Phil Kauffman, along with his two sons, Dustin and Matt, plus nephew Jeremy Swartzendruber, moved their excavation and paving company to dry and dusty Central Oregon. Even though it took a bit to break into the market, Phil believes it was the best business move he’s ever made.

“It’s been five years now, and we’ve exceeded all our expectations for growth,” Kauffman said. “We’ve been getting much bigger projects, and we’ve teamed up with some of the largest construction companies in Oregon, including Skanska and Kirby Nagelhout.

K3 specializes in what they call “groundwork.” That is, excavation, site prep, utility work and paving.

It’s everything that’s done under or on the ground. For instance, they recently completed all site prep work and paving for the new Jefferson County Medical Services building in Madras, a new grade school in Condon, a Dollar General store in Burns and a 54-lot subdivision in Prineville.

K3 is the first subcontractor on any construction site, and the work they do sets the tone for the whole project.

“I know how important it is for us to get projects started on the right foot,” Kauffman says. “So we run a pretty tight ship based on a solid foundation of Christian ideals and good old-fashioned, handshake service. Our haircuts kind of give us away. It’s probably the only construction company around where you’ll hear a lot of “yes sirs” and “thank you ma’am’s.”

Surprisingly, Kauffman hasn’t had any issues with the labor market here. “Our first local employee is a friendly, extroverted kinda guy, so he helped us a lot. Ever since we got our culture known around town, and started getting some good word-of-mouth, there have been plenty of guys wanting to work for us,” Kaffman said. “We’re pretty picky about who we hire, so I end up screening a lot. And when I find someone who’s a good fit I scoop them up even if I don’t need them right away.”

It’s not the cheapest way to go, but Kauffman believes in the long run it saves money by reducing turnover and building morale. “I have a pretty good sense for who’s going to be a good fit,” he said.

Phil Kauffman grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. He inherited a farmer’s work ethic from his father, and his father’s father, but he didn’t share their passion for cows. So in 1995 he moved to Oregon and started working for a construction company in the small town of Halsey, Oregon.

Before long he was managing the business, expanding the company’s services and nurturing growth. In 2007 Kauffman bought the company outright and eventually moved to Madras.

Phil isn’t the type to sing — or even hum — his own praises, so if you ask him about K3’s success he always attributes it to his team. He says everyone is willing to listen, learn, and go the extra mile.

“Working with some of those big contractors has taught us some handy tricks of the trade. It’s been really good, in terms of our processes and our communication. We have almost zero callbacks, even though there are a lot of hoops they make us jump through. We’ve become more efficient, more detail-oriented, and more safety aware.”

That awareness comes in handy when Kauffman’s managing his other business, Rock-n-Road Quarry, which he purchased in 2020. Explosions are standard procedure in the rock business around here.

Aggregate, and rock of all kinds, is a main ingredient of K3’s groundwork operation. So it made sense to integrate a quarry into their family of family-run businesses. “Rock is a pretty big piece of our puzzle, and we had a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Kauffman said. “After two years of discussion and planning with the previous quarry owner we decided to buy it.”

Rock-n-Road Quarry provides all kinds of rock, from giant landscaping boulders to standard ¾ minus gravel and even topsoil and sand.

Now, after five years of rapid growth, Kauffman is focused on shoring up the gravel operation and maximizing efficiency across the board.

“We expanded the main quarry office and added a dispatcher who also handles logistics, financial management and record keeping. We have plans to grow more methodically in the foreseeable future, but you know how it goes… opportunities pop up. We just want to make sure that what we have is managed to its full potential before we make any big moves.”

Full potential, and no mud to contend with.



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Founded in 1994 by the late Pamela Hulse Andrews, Cascade Business News (CBN) became Central Oregon’s premier business publication. CascadeBusNews.com • CBN@CascadeBusNews.com

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