It may seem unforeseen in the Great Smoky Mountains, where family vacations in cabins, roaming bears in the wilderness, and epic landscapes come to mind.
But, yes, here in the surrounding East Tennessee foothills, a new NUCA Chapter has sprouted up with great fervor, faster than the springtime wildflowers nearby.
It’s drawing crowds and excitement—much like their popular national park and even Dollywood.
Spearheaded by utility contractors and industry suppliers, NUCA of East Tennessee is striking a chord and filling an important need in this booming area.
Knoxville, Chattanooga and the Tri-Cities anchor the region with their vibrant metropolitan areas. Adjacent are the whiskey distilleries and tourist hubs of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and mountain foothills where renting cabins is popular.
Public infrastructure work is booming here amid the population growth, urbanization and tourism.
David Hurst, president of Hurst Excavating, Knoxville, is one early champion who rallied fellow utility contractors with the idea of forming a regional NUCA Chapter. He foresaw a great need in this lively region, which encompasses 33 counties along Tennessee’s eastern border.
“We needed an organization to bind us together for camaraderie and collaboration,” recalls Hurst, who is now NUCA East Tennessee Chapter’s first elected president.
“As a unified group, we can initiate dialogues among us and achieve a number of goals we share in common as excavators,” explains Hurst, “such as improving systems, industry practices, and even workforce development.”
Now in its second year, NUCA of East Tennessee has become one of the region’s most esteemed groups, thanks to its leadership, active membership and triumphant grassroots movement that got it started.
The idea for forming NUCA East Tennessee Chapter quickly gained momentum. In fall 2019, Hurst rounded up 14 fellow excavation contractors and suppliers. Working together on Knoxville utility construction projects, by a quirk of fate these colleagues became the chapter’s founders.
Over the course of a two-hour dinner, they drew up plans for the chapter’s launch, then elected its founding officers and board directors to lead the new group. Their efforts were guided by NUCA Chapter Development Director Kenneth Sommer, who helps facilitate local NUCA chapter startup movements.
Within weeks the group’s ranks tripled. Fifty industry representatives gathered for a barbeque at a prominent downtown restaurant. A productive dialogue ensued with Knoxville municipal utility officials and other stakeholders attending.
The fellowship with industry colleagues—talking shop and collaborating over barbeque and beer—was an immediate hit.
“Opening the lines of communication among us—contractors, engineers, utility owners and locators—helps us to come out ahead and learn from each other,” explains Michael Adams, president of Adams and Sons, Inc., Knoxville.
“We realized our greater strength in numbers, plus our shared passions for getting things accomplished as an industry,” recalls Adams, a founder who was elected chapter vice president.
Innovative social gatherings like this past fall’s dove hunt and axe-throwing tournament also were exceedingly popular, becoming signature chapter events.
A source of inspiration was neighboring NUCA Middle Tennessee Chapter and what they’ve accomplished as a similar trailblazer group. Their Nashville colleagues became key mentors when East Tennessee got rolling.
Now the two regional chapters collaborate on the popular “We Dig Tennessee” podcast found on Apple, Google, Spotify and other providers. Its weekly episodes offer industry news, know-how and chats with NUCA members and experts in utility construction.
“What a rewarding journey it’s been to see our own chapter come alive and prosper here, thanks to the group effort of many NUCA champions here in the region,” Hurst reflects.
The chapter’s growing membership roster includes other such prominent contractors as Brown Construction Consolidated; Cleary Construction; Franklin Underground Utility Services; Mike Smith Pump Service; Merkel Bros. Construction; Morgan Contracting; Pipeline Construction Co.; Portland Utilities Construction Co.; Service One, Inc.; Southern Constructors; Southern Site Contractors; and Stansell Electric Co.
“If you’re involved with excavation and utility work, join us here in East Tennessee for great comradery, outstanding educational programs and many opportunities to connect,” invites Craig Ingram, public awareness manager for Tennessee 811.
For information on NUCA East Tennessee Chapter, visit www.nucaETN.com. Office: (865) 264-3233. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.