PUCC Founding Father Ernest G. Woodcock: Hungry for Success
Portland Utilities Construction Co., LLC began as a tiny spark within a small town farm boy born in 1939 in northern New York. Growing up, PUCC founding father Ernest Woodcock worked at multiple jobs. On his mother’s side, his maternal grandparents were dairy farmers. “It was right after the Great Depression, remembers Mr. Woodcock. Back then, everyone worked hard. I worked the hay fields at seven years old.” On his father’s side, his paternal grandparent’s owned and operated the Blue and White store in Morristown, NY. People came from miles away to his grandfather’s butcher shop. “I may have followed in his footsteps, tells Mr. Woodcock, but I was left handed and couldn’t cut the meat right.”
Born into a close-knit family with lots of love, it was the hardships of an absentee father that fueled young Ernie’s dream of escaping empty food cupboards and threadbare winter coats. As a young man, he dug graves and worked as a deckhand on the St. Lawrence River near his home in Morristown. He always had money in his pocket because he always worked.
At 23, Mr. Woodcock moved to Pennsylvania to manage a cheese factory for Aiello Quality Products. A newspaper article at the time of the plant’s opening titled, Cheese Plant Almost Ready, referenced Mr. Woodcock as follows: “Ernest G. Woodcock assigned as manager came to the area and supervised the installation of the cheese-making machinery.” The article went on to say that all of the cheese produced would be used in making pizza pies and peak production would produce about a ton and a half of pizza cheese daily and use some 40,000 pounds of milk. Mr. Woodcock’s picture was featured in the newspaper article.
In 1966, the hard working Ernie returned to New York and hired on as a laborer for a sewer and water pipeline construction company. The company, Congel-Reuter, was headquartered in Syracuse, NY and was co-founded by Robert J. Congel, who later established in 1970 the Pyramid Companies, today a well-known and successful developer of retail shopping centers in the Northeast. This entry-level job with a forward-thinking company would be the beginning of Mr. Woodcock’s spiraling upward career in the utility construction industry.
Over the next 25 years Mr. Woodcock pursued success in the construction field similar to the determination and strength of the work horses he drove across the snow-covered hay fields of his youth. Doggedly, he rose from the sewer and water pipe line trenches by climbing the construction business ladder. “When I was a laborer, I wanted to be a pipe layer, says Mr. Woodcock. When I was a pipe layer, I wanted to be a foreman. When I was a foreman I wanted to be a superintendent. Eventually, I knew I wanted to own my own company.”
Mr. Woodcock’s whirlwind career out of the trenches of New York, Virginia and Kentucky eventually landed him in Portland, Tennessee. In 1978, he graduated from the Dale Carnegie Leadership course. In 1983 he became president of Southeastern Utilities located in Bowling Green, KY. In 1987 he became vice president of the Southeastern Division of Memphis Construction, located in Portland, TN with headquarters in Memphis, NY. Throughout the 1980s, Mr. Woodcock managed open-cut sewer and water pipe line projects in the Tennessee and Kentucky areas.
In 1991, the spirit of entrepreneurship for climbing out on a limb and taking a risk called Mr. Woodcock’s name. In November of 1991, Mr. Ernest G. Woodcock started Portland Utilities Construction Company and opened an office in Portland, TN. He obtained a Tennessee contractor’s license and began the operation of bidding, winning and building water and sewer pipeline construction projects. The first open cut sewer project performed by the company was Lynn Garden Sewer for the City of Kingsport, TN.
In the mid-1990s, sons Michael and Greg and daughter Tracy joined the company. By this time, Ernie had already recruited a strong team of field superintendents. With supervision and crews willing to go the extra mile, the open cut sewer projects in Tennessee soon turned toward a trenchless technology known as pipe bursting. Ernie and his son Mike believed so much in the pipe bursting technology they began educating the municipalities and engineers in the area about the benefits and cost-effectiveness of the technology. By 2000, the new technology took off, and company crews travelled all over the southeast and mid-west completing pipe burst projects. Crews were able to replace old, deteriorated sewer and water pipelines with brand new pipe. Gone would be the days of having to dig up an entire street to fix or repair a sewer or water line past its useful life.
In 2010, Ernie and Mike went out on another limb and bid their first sewer pipe burst project for the City of Houston, TX. During this time the company also added a Cured-in-Place UV liner division and incorporated Mr. Woodcock’s grandson Troy Goforth into the lining operation. With a lot of hard work and finesse, both the Texas operation and the UV liner division have become a regular part of PUCC. Because of its rounded, close-knit extended family of hard-driven, innovative and intelligent employees, PUCC has grown from a $3 million dollar a year company at its inception to over $25 million a year in 2015.
The work ethics of Mr. Woodcock’s super-nova personality, which is to take the bull by the horns and chase business opportunities, continues to fuel PUCC. His trade-mark question, “Do you want to be a leader or a follower” has inspired and moved hundreds of past and present employees. His spirit of probing, prodding, discovering and looking ahead helps contribute to Mr. Woodcock’s legend as a pioneer and driving force in the trenchless technology industry of the 21st century.
Mr. Woodcock never looked back after leaving his humble beginnings in upstate New York. The American highways have become his home. On any given week, he travels in his company pick up from construction project to construction project. It would take a GPS tracking system to keep up with the miles behind him as Mr. Woodcock drives and pushes PUCC toward the future.
Today, Mr. Woodcock’s wind-driven energy can be felt on PUCC construction sites all the way from North Carolina to Tennessee, over the Mississippi River and into Texas. Employees loyal to the industry, loyal to the company and loyal to their leader utilize trenchless technology to repair and replace water and sewer pipes in big cities and small towns all across America. Over 100 strong, together they work with other trenchless industry professionals to prevent sanitary sewer overflows from spilling into US waterways and help keep America’s drinking water safe.