COOKEVILLE – It’s often said that many small business success stories share the same underlying theme: rags to riches, a rise through the ranks, a bold attempt to break out alone.
For Donnie Elkins, those scenarios are awfully familiar. The Jackson County native started his company, Elk Mountain Construction, in Gainesboro with just one piece of equipment, a backhoe, following more than a decade as a laborer and then a foreman. His first office was in his basement. Ranking on the list of his first jobs, building and paving roads in his hometown.
Today, Elk Mountain is one of the largest contractors in the Upper Cumberland, employing more than 40 and offering a purposefully well- maintained, extensive fleet of equipment. Elk Mountain opened an office in Cookeville in 2002; the company’s scope now includes excavation, grading, demolition, site work, trucking services and more.
“Construction was always interesting to me. That’s what I always wanted to do,” said Elkins, who started in the field in 1972, straight out of high school. “When I started my company, it was mostly on the weekends, in the evenings. One day I decided I would go into it 100 percent. I bought a loader and a truck and started Elk Mountain.”
With Cookeville serving as the epicenter, Elk Mountain has certainly grown over the years, now performing work in an 80-90 mile radius. But a majority of its most visible projects have been here.
Over the years, Elk Mountain’s to-do list has included Tennessee Tech’s STEM Center; several buildings along Restaurant Row – Olive Garden, Cheddar’s, Starbucks, to name a few – Seventh Street and Fairground Lane, two highly-trafficked roads in Cookeville; the new Algood city hall; excavating for a new building pad at Cookeville FedEx, and more. The list is exhaustive.
“When we came to Cookeville, it opened so many doors for us,” Elkins said. “We have a good staff that knows the cost of work. We know what we can get done. The public has been so good to us; we have a lot of good business friends who spread the word about us. And a lot of it has been word of mouth, people seeing our work, and people liking our business.” What customers can certainly appreciate is Elkins’ attention to detail. Elk Mountain keeps its operating costs low by stressing safety – safety meetings are a regular occurrence. Office personnel, including wife Donna, who has handled a variety of tasks over the last dozen years, starting in the days when Elk Mountain was based in their basement, provide support for staff in the field. And when it comes to his equipment, he’s meticulous about keeping the machines clean, neat and maintained – he has his own in-house mechanics – a concept that’s meant to trickle down to other parts of the business.
“Our equipment is probably as well maintained as any in the country,” Elkins said. “When you’re doing grading (work), keeping equipment that’s in the mud all the time clean, it’s hard to do. But our whole company’s based off the (idea that the) equipment is clean and neat, the job is clean and neat, the employees are clean and neat.”
All those factors are likely reasons Elk Mountain has weathered the recent economic storm. Elkins said the outlook for 2014 is stronger: projects once on the backburner are now moving forward and there’s more confidence in the local market.
“It’s been ridiculously tough since 2009,” he said. “But this year, we’ve already gotten more work than we had this past year. Things are starting to happen.”
That bodes well for the company’s future. Last year, Elk Mountain Construction celebrated its 25th anniversary. In an industry that’s taken a hit during the downturn, it definitely wasn’t an accomplishment overlooked.
“It was a milestone,” Elkins admitted. “Every year is a milestone in this business; so many people have gone out because the economy’s been so rough. So if you’re weathering the storm, as they say, surviving – you’re doing good in today’s world.”
Donnie Elkins is the owner of Elk Mountain Construction in Cookeville. For more information, visit http://elkmountainconstruction.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (931) 372-7424.