It all started in May 2018, when the city of Pella, Iowa, created a telecommunications utility, called Pella Fiber. In April 2020, the Pella City Council chose Excel Utility Contractors to help build a fiberoptic network that would connect the entire city by the end of 2021.
Here’s what you need to know about Pella: it’s no ordinary Iowa town. It’s been home to Vermeer headquarters since the company started back in 1948. What began as Gary Vermeer’s one-man job shop grew into the company that it is today: a manufacturing powerhouse that could be recognized around the world. But even though Vermeer has grown in size and impact, its Pella roots remain strong.
Pella and its Dutch heritage are special to Vermeer, and Excel Utility Contractors got to experience the charm and appeal of Pella themselves.
“What really stands out is how willing the city and the people are to work with us,” said Keith Record, president of Excel. “You don’t find that very often, and it absolutely makes this job a lot better.”
Excelling in the utility industry
Excel started in 2008 in St. James, Missouri, with a group of 10 people. They began by working on infrastructure upgrades to many military bases across the country, and from there have worked with AT&T, Facebook, and Pioneer Telephone Company. In the 12 years they’ve been in business, they’ve done fiber and infrastructure work in the south, on the east coast and in the Midwest. Now they’ve grown to a team of 80 people and are still growing their business.
Recently, Excel has been doing a lot of fiber installations to residential homes. For example, they built the fiber infrastructure for another Iowa city very similar to Pella in size and scope. The city of Pella heard about Excel’s work, reached out to them and encouraged them to submit a bid. Excel was ultimately chosen. Their track record for efficiently installing fiber is paying off and creating even more opportunities for them in the future.
Overcoming challenges and drilling with Vermeer machines
Not only is Excel installing fiber in the same town as Vermeer headquarters, but they’re also using Vermeer drills on a daily basis.
“Right now we’re running three D20x22 S3 horizontal directional drills in Pella and potentially adding a fourth one soon,” said Clayton Payne, Excel project manager. “In the past, we used a D23x30 S3 horizontal directional drill, two D10x15 S3 horizontal directional drills and two other D20x22 S3 HDDs.”
Excel started using Vermeer drills the way a lot of customers do — through a relationship at one of the many Vermeer dealers around the world.
“Tim Noltkamper from Vermeer Midwest sold me my first Vermeer machine, and he’s still selling them to me today,” said Record. “They have excellent service and they stand behind their product. If we have a machine that’s going to be down for a while, they give us a loaner. Vermeer has always been good to work with, and I appreciate the relationship we have with them.”
Excel took their Vermeer horizontal directional drills and put them to work in Pella. They started installing conduit and fiber lines in June 2020 and haven’t stopped since.
“Working directly with the city has been very helpful,” said Payne. “And it’s a great community to work with and work in. In our career field, we have to inconvenience homeowners and the community at times, but everyone that we’ve talked to has kept a level head, handed us water and popsicles in the summer and had genuine conversations with us about more than just our work.”
But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been any challenges along the way. Working during the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been easy, and Excel has experienced their own roadblocks.
“The pandemic caused a gap in production, and it still hasn’t caught back up yet,” explained Payne. “Factories weren’t able to produce at the same rate as before, which has led to pretty major delays. Our lead times have been six weeks, 17 weeks, 20 weeks and sometimes even longer.”
This may have slowed Excel down, but it didn’t stop the work. They’re working at an install rate of 10,000 feet to 20,000 feet (3,048 m to 6,096 m) on a weekly basis and are currently 71% done with the infrastructure.
Along with installing the fiber infrastructure, Excel is also contracted with Pella to do the drop installations. That means they’ll be installing the actual fiber into the conduit they put in and connecting houses and businesses to the Pella Fiber network. And, once again, they’re using Vermeer plows to get the drops done.
The fiber drops have already started, with a total of 2,000 drops to be completed by the time Excel is finished. They’re starting with installing fiber for Pella Fiber’s test customers and will continue from there to the other residents and businesses that have signed up for the service.
Overall, the project is a 71-mile (114.263-km) build, with a total of 382,440 feet (115,567 m) of fiber. That is no easy task and has required a lot of planning, management and hours to make sure this project is running efficiently and successfully. Excel has been up for the challenge and has shown they have what it takes to connect an entire city.
Working together to get the job done
One of the other major contributors to this project is Doy Ousley, telecommunications director for the city of Pella and Pella Fiber.
“He absolutely makes this job a lot better with his positive attitude, and he’s a great guy to work with,” said Record. “You don’t find that everywhere.”
Excel has also been working closely with NewCom Technologies Inc., who have provided engineering services for the project.
“NewCom has had inspectors onsite in Pella, and they’ve worked with us through the challenges,” said Record. “They’ve been great to work with and we’re glad to have them overseeing this project.”
Overall, Excel is impressed with Pella’s community and the people that they’ve gotten to work with on this project. Installing a fiber network across an entire city isn’t easy, but Excel is showing how it can be done efficiently and successfully. It takes a team effort to coordinate a fiber network this size, and Excel and the city of Pella have shown that working together makes the entire process run smoothly.
With Vermeer directional drills at their disposal, Excel is ready to take on any fiber project, and they have the track record to prove it.
This article contains third-party observations, advice or experiences that do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Vermeer Corporation, its affiliates or its dealers. Testimonials and/or endorsements by customers in specific circumstances may not be representative of normal circumstances experienced by all customers.
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