by Mary Lou Jay
The staff at Southway Crane & Rigging never knows what to expect when the phone rings. It could be a call from a utility company seeking assistance with downed wires after a hurricane, a hospital ready to install new MRI equipment, or a construction project that requires a crane onsite for several weeks. While most of its work is pre-scheduled, Southway is prepared to send crews and equipment out on short notice and at any time of the day.
“We tell our guys in Atlanta to always keep a bag with them, because you never know what’s going to happen. We do a lot of emergency work, and if Georgia Power calls at three in the morning, we’re going to get a crane out to them,” said David Knighton, DOT administrator.
Providing safe and dependable service to customers is a core value for Southway, which was founded by Jerry Reynolds, the company’s current president, and James Simons in 1990 in Albany, Georgia. Over 30 years, the company has expanded to 14 branches serving the southeastern United States, with seven locations in Georgia (Albany, Atlanta, Augusta, Jefferson, Macon, Savannah and Valdosta), plus three in Florida, two in Alabama, and one each in South Carolina and in Tennessee.
Southway Crane & Rigging’s customers run the gamut from chemical companies and industrial manufacturers to utilities, telecommunications providers and construction contractors. The jobs are both large and small. “We could be working in a paper mill one day and the next day setting the air conditioning on top of a local hardware store,” said Wesley Peebles, safety director. Southway’s cranes can also be found on movie sets in Atlanta, performing tasks like unloading trucks and holding
Across all branches, Southway’s fleet includes 190-plus cranes, from 3 tons to 800 tons: all terrain, boom truck, rough terrain, carry deck, crawler, spider cranes, truck cranes and versa-lifts. Most rentals include both operator and equipment, but Southway does bare rent (equipment only) boom trucks and rough terrain cranes. The company also rents equipment including tri-lifters, forklifts and skates.
Getting a large crane to a jobsite is different from moving other types of loads. The job may require special wide load permits and multiple trucks to carry all of the related equipment to the site, plus skilled employees to set up and operate the crane once it’s on site.
ROOM TO GROW
Southway employs a total of 268 employees, 127 of them in Georgia. Most of its NCCCO-certified crane operators also hold CDL driver’s licenses. Other workers include haul truck drivers, qualified/certified field technicians and riggers, and sales personnel who work with customers to determine the proper crane size for their job and develop a lift plan for it. Each location has a branch manager, operations manager and administrative staff. Four safety professionals and a DOT compliance professional cover all the branches.
Finding competent, qualified operators and drivers continues to be challenging. “Southway is constantly looking for quality personnel who have a can-do attitude, are efficient and safe and want to work for a reputable company,” said Josh Grant, controller and vice president. The company appeals to drivers by offering them opportunities for advancement.
“Our goal is to get drivers licensed and trained and eventually move them into a smaller crane and work up. A lot of crane operators started with us as truck drivers,” said Peebles.
Knighton started with Southway in 2013 driving a pickup truck and graduated to driving haul trucks and cranes before moving to dispatch and then to DOT compliance. “It’s a great company to grow with,” he said. “I’d say 60 to 70 percent of the employees here have built their own resume and continue to grow every day.”
Safety is ingrained in the culture of Southway Crane & Rigging. “We are actively involved in IIF (the Injury and Incident Free program from JMJ Associates) and do constant training with our employees,” said Peebles. Southway trains its drivers using the Smith System driving program and internal defense
Technology has enabled the company to operate more safely as well. For example, the Bluetooth capabilities on some of the newer German cranes enable operators to put out and retract the stabilizing outriggers using remote control so they can see what is going on. Cameras on the cab allow operators to monitor whether or not the crane cable is spooling on or off properly.
Adding safety-related technology has not always been easy. To comply with ELD regulations, for example, Southway had to have special harnesses rigged to install those systems in the German cranes that make up most of the company’s inventory.
One ergonomic advance that’s been welcomed by crane operators is the tilting cab on the newer cranes. “Operators no longer have to break their necks all day long, looking straight up at the sky,” said Grant.
CRANES ON DEMAND
Southway has been a member of the South Carolina Trucking Association for several years and has gained valuable assistance and built good relationships with other members. That positive experience encouraged the company to join GMTA early in 2020. “The month after we joined, COVID hit. We hope that when things go back closer to normal, we’ll be able to go to meetings in person and build some relationships with the folks at GMTA as well,” said Peebles.
Although the COVID-19 crisis has impacted operations, Grant said that the company has continued to play an important role as an essential service provider in the communities it serves. Just a week after businesses began shutting down, when people suddenly were working from home and needed reliable power more than ever, Southway was involved in the replacement of transformers.
“Southway will continue to lift businesses to new heights far into the future because we understand our success is dependent on our customers’ success. We will be ready to go whenever and wherever a customer needs us,” said Grant.