Mike Heitmann is the chief executive officer and Mark Kelly is the director of business development for Garney Construction, a Kansas City, MO based company that is engaged in water and wastewater construction projects for public, private, industrial and federal clients throughout the United States. The company is entirely owned by its 1,550 employees and today has annual revenue of $1.1 billion.
Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about Garney and its history.
Mike Heitmann: Garney is a water and wastewater contractor that was founded in 1961. The company was started by Charles Garney, whose father was in the plumbing business in Kansas City. Since 1961, the company has grown significantly and expanded beyond Kansas City. We work in about 30 states around the United States.
We focus entirely on water and wastewater infrastructure, including pipelines, treatment plants, pump stations, and storage facilities. We also have an epoxy coating and linings business that focuses on the rehabilitation of water systems and water structures. We are 100 percent employee owned; Mr. Garney sold the company to the employees when he retired. Everyone from myself down to our field crews owns stock. They earn that stock with the sweat equity that they give to Garney. Our Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) has been successful and has fueled our growth and success over the last 30 years.
Municipal Water Leader: How long have you been with Garney?
Mike Heitmann: I’ve been here for 30 years and have been CEO since 2011.
Mark Kelly: I’ve been a part of the Garney organization since 2012, when it acquired the company I was then working for, Encore Construction. I was one of the owners of Encore and had worked there since 2002.
Municipal Water Leader: Garney recently produced a video for participation in Imagine a Day Without Water. Would you tell us about the video, what inspired Garney to create it, and what your message is?
Mark Kelly: It is part of our effort to continually align ourselves with our clients in more ways than just building projects for them. Over the last 15 years, we have done more collaborative delivery work for our clients that has allowed us to better understand their challenges and needs. Garney is an active member and participant in water and wastewater infrastructure organizations, and we have experienced the obstacles our clients face. We continue to look for ways to support our clients in their endeavors to provide clean, safe water infrastructure to their customers. This video is one more way for us to join with them in facing the challenge of the widening gap in funding for water infrastructure in the United States.
Municipal Water Leader: What is Garney’s message to Congress about the status of our water infrastructure?
Mike Heitmann: Water infrastructure in the United States is in critical need of expansion and reinvestment. It tends to be overlooked because, for the most part, it is underground. Our water systems fuel the economic expansion of the country by enabling not only residential construction but commercial and industrial construction as well. Tremendous strain is being put on our water infrastructure by population growth; the deterioration of existing systems that have not been properly maintained; and the changing climate, which is putting pressure on sources of water. This campaign will hopefully raise awareness of that and help everybody understand that while water is often taken for granted, it is critical to our lives and our economy.
Municipal Water Leader: What should Water Strategies’ partners and clients know about this video?
Mark Kelly: The video shows what life would be like without water. Water is intertwined with everything we do as a society. We want people to understand the need for this precious resource and to see how they can encourage change. We hope that everybody who sees it takes action in some way, whether by calling a politician, educating people in their local communities about water, or finding ways to conserve water.
Individuals will spend $4 on a bottle of water, a cup of coffee, or another beverage without thinking about it. One of our messages is that that same $4 could buy them 9,000 bottles’ worth of tap water. I think that if they understood that, they would think about their water differently. In Florida, we’ve challenged people to see if they can drink 10 cents of water. People get confused when we say this, but 10 cents can buy 30 gallons of water. That’s a lot of water for so little money. We are not paying rates that support water infrastructure upkeep and replacement.