SSC Underground Employee

Family and Faith Guides SSC Underground to Trenchless Success

Arizona-based SSC Underground Carves Out Success in Auger Boring and Tunneling Markets

Family and faith. Faith and family. Those two words are interchangeable when describing Phoenix, Arizona-based SSC Underground.

Simply put, faith and family are equally integral to the way SSC Underground has operated since the day it opened for business 55 years ago. This family-owned and operated trenchless contractor has grown alongside of the industry that it has become a successful and respected leader in.

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Guided by company CEO Marcia Veidmark and her son, Arvid III (president), SSC Underground relies on its tightly-held core values and its Christian faith to navigate its path to professional success and personal happiness.

The SSC leadership team is rounded out by Marcia’s niece Michelle Walker (vice president of operations) and her husband, Steve Walker (general manager). Together, this quartet shares the same resolve, mindset and vision to keep SSC Underground a thriving, vibrant and workhorse business for years to come.

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“We genuinely, with honor and gratefulness, believe we have an obligation to our employees,” Marcia says. “One of our core values is that we are committed to excellence in everything we do.”

Though conservative in its approach to business, SSC Underground is not opposed to taking risks and making the investment when the right opportunity presents itself. The contractor’s venture into auger boring in 1982 was a leap of faith that has paid off tenfold, opening the door for other trenchless opportunities, such as TBM tunneling, pilot-tube auger boring and others. The leadership team genuinely wants to do right by its employees in terms of work, company culture and professional fulfillment.

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“We have raised the bar. I know that for a fact,” Arvid III says. “I know our competitors have pushed us to get where we are and I know we have done the same, especially locally, to get outside their comfort zone and try new things. By and large we are very well positioned and we are pushing the limits of trenchless and make it go beyond where it is comfortable.”

Getting Started

The course drawn for SSC Underground’s story was quite a ride. Marcia’s father-in-law, Arvid Veidmark Sr., acted on an enthusiastic entrepreneurial drive, taking the family through multiple company ideas and passions before the company landed where it is at today. All through those twists and turns, the Veidmarks relied on their faith to guide and strengthen them through the years.

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Marcia and her husband, Arvid Veidmark Jr., joined them in starting the family business in 1969, after his parents asked if the couple would be interested in helping them fulfill a job order contract to install cable to homes for the telephone company.

“I remember we knew nothing about the fact that he had [submitted a bid for the contract],” Marcia reflects. “When he was awarded the contract, it was obvious he would not be able to do the work and the job. They came to us and asked if we wanted to go into business together. We were hesitant at first and we were expecting our first baby. But we thought: This is an opportunity. Will we be sorry if we don’t take it? And then we said, ‘Let’s do it!’”

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The couple left their studies at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff to move back to Phoenix and in with Marcia’s in-laws for a short time. Their Christian faith has always been at the forefront of the Veidmark family and business.

Marcia notes that her father-in-law served as an Army chaplain during World War II and met his wife, Lois, at Bible college. Their core values and faith were weaved within the fabric of their family that carries through today.

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“[Their relationship] was built on a foundation of faith that says we trust God to open doors, to close doors and if it seems in the right direction and we have the skills to fulfill an opportunity, we go for it,” she explains. “[Our faith] allows to see an opportunity when much of the world doesn’t see it. It’s a confidence without arrogance or cockiness. We’re grateful for that belief and faith. We were willing to do the hard work to build the company from the ground up.”

And that is exactly what the Veidmarks did: Built a company from the ground up.

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Marcia’s son, Arvid III, officially joined in SSC in 1993 at age 23 but has unofficially been a part of the company since he was a young child, helping his dad on jobsites and in the shop, getting a firsthand view of how the company was run. He took some time after high school to decide whether he wanted to join his family’s business full-time.

“I was in school [in Flagstaff] but fumbling around,” he remembers. “My parents approached me in a similar way that [my grandparents] did, asking me to help on a job in Flagstaff. After it ended, we had a good conversation and I was ready to commit to being part of the family business going forward. I came back home and the good Lord provided the next project.”

SSC Underground's leadership team
The SSC team (top to bottom): Arvid Veidmark, Steve Walker, Michelle Walker and Marcia Veidmark.

Trenchless Centric

Trenchless has been SSC’s focus since 1982 — the year the Veidmarks purchased their first auger boring machine; however, the company’s trenchless roots date back to the 1970s. “We had an air-driven, two-person handheld with a 20-ft rod that we would bore under driveways,” Arvid III says. “We had to get under sidewalks and driveways [to install the cable]. We later branched into piercing tools and larger auger boring machines.”

The decision to enter the trenchless industry wasn’t made lightly, after years of open-cut success. The Veidmarks knew they had to add diversity to their skillset in order to navigate the growing and aggressive competition. “We had to do something different rather than just do open-cut excavation,” Marcia says. “We started competing with too many contractors and we needed to take the jump into something more specialized and niche — and that is what we saw in auger boring. We knew we could do it. It just took a big decision for capital investment to make that jump.”

SSC’s trenchless repertoire today includes more than just auger boring. Over time, TBM tunneling, pilot-tube auger boring, pipe ramming and hand tunneling were successfully incorporated. Vacuum excavation was added in 2003 to offset any trenchless slow periods and has proven to be an invaluable asset. “For a few years, [vacuum excavation] grew to the point where it was an almost 50-50 revenue split [with trenchless],” Michelle Walker says. “Adding vacuum excavation has been a really critical part for us these last 20 years, helping to even out revenue during slower periods.”

Beyond its own personal evolution in the trenchless market, SSC’s leadership marvels at the evolution of the industry’s technology and equipment during that same period and how it has impacted the trenchless industry. SSC recently purchased its first new auger boring machine in over 20 years; the amount of change in terms of power, efficiency and safety were night and day vs. its old model.

“The evolution is monumental,” Arvid III says. “We used to spend hours and hours trying to make a casing go straight through the earth for a gravity sewer line. And now we have the ability with pilot tube to shoot a pilot tube in a few days for a few hundred feet and know it’s perfectly spot on. It really is exciting and something the industry has done well. I think we are still learning it because it is new to [SSC] but it’s truly been advanced.”

One of the areas that sets SSC apart from other trenchless contractors is the decision the SSC team made years ago to keep the work local in Arizona, if at all possible. By doing that, the impact on SSC has been twofold. Firstly, SSC developed into the go-to experts on the unique and challenging Valley geology that can and has scared contractors away. Secondly, SSC crewmembers do not spend long stretches away from their families. For SSC, those decisions were not difficult.

“We’ve chosen, with our core values, not to pursue work outside of Arizona,” Arvid III says. “There has been enough [work] to maintain what we have here. We don’t necessarily want to be the biggest and the baddest on the block because we know those who are out to do that and in order to accomplish that, they are in eight and nine states and they’re pushing their people all over the country. And it is difficult to find people who want to live that lifestyle.”

The Arizona geology can be complicated when it comes to new construction applications, as contractors can encounter multiple difficult soils in one bore. The soils are maddening and not always attractive for contractors trying to bid on jobs. “It runs the gamut and that is a problem,” Arvid III says matter-of-factly. “We have a job right now we are auger boring in ground that is just gravel and it’s just collapsing on us. We are struggling to go 50 ft with a 24-in. casing. That’s how bad it is. Pipe ramming is not really feasible but we may try it.

“There was a point where we weren’t going to get into auger boring because the risk to do it was too great,” he adds. “Our sewers are so incredibly flat. Our average sewer line in the southwest has a .01 slope whereas most communities’ sewers are in the 1.5 to 2.0 slope.”

SSC Underground

SSC Underground Remains in the Family

Having a successful family-run and owned company in today’s fast-moving mergers and acquisitions climate is no small feat. Fielding offers and phone calls from capital investment inquiries has become routine for SSC. When asked, Marcia emphatically says SSC has no interest in accepting these potentially lucrative offers, as they are more than happy to remain in charge of their own destiny and providing for their employees vs. being swallowed into a larger, less personal entity.

“These companies recognize that there is an expertise that you learn in the trenchless [work] we do and it takes a long time to learn it,” Marcia says. “We get contacted very regularly and sometimes very aggressively. It is such a different setting to even envision it. Our core values are here. We feel an obligation and want to do good for our employees. We’re not just looking out for ourselves.”

That statement is a reflection of the company’s philosophy and culture. Walker says they see more opportunities in remaining who they are, noting that there are many people who are drawn to the small, family team environment — and being a part of a company that prioritizes a close family and faith-based culture and working close to home vs. being spread out all over the country.

It’s that commitment that makes SSC different from other contractors, she says.

Today’s Trenchless Market

Arvid III shares how excited he is for the future of trenchless technology, noting the opportunities far outweigh the challenges, but combined, they create an incredible journey ahead for SSC.

“In our area, trenchless is growing. The demand for it is growing because in our market, we are finally getting ‘old.’ Our infrastructure is aging. Arizona is getting older and the infrastructure here is getting older. We recognize that [Arizona is] being viewed as a market of potential and growing, bringing in other companies.”

And SSC has no problem dealing with more competition because it is confident in its ability to provide top-notch trenchless and customer service. “

We plan but we don’t plan,” Arvid III says of the future. “It is our faith. You can sit down and have the greatest three-tier plan but do you know what’s going to happen tomorrow? No. At what point do you stop focusing on planning and focus on living and the people and the culture, the integrity and doing the right thing every day, knowing that the good Lord above is going to give you what you need when you need it.

“We’re here. And we’re going to be strong and we are going to provide trenchless services for the next 15 to 20 years and beyond because we are young and we are capable,” he continues. “We like what we do. We love to work in this industry and we have people who need jobs. We want to give them great jobs and great opportunities so therefore we are going to continue to be a leader in the industry.”

Marcia wholeheartedly agrees, saying SSC’s experience and expertise are among its greatest assets as the company looks ahead.

“We have a five-decade plus foundation,” she says. “It’s a good stage to go forward on. We’re not just lived out and worn down but constantly built up and improved … We are poised and well positioned.”

Trenchless and Mental Health

In recent years, more and more attention has been drawn to the mental health of construction workers. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 53.3 construction workers out of every 100,000 workers dies by suicide — four times greater than the national average.

SSC Underground has taken an active role in shedding light on this alarming construction statistic. SSC vice president of operations Michelle Walker has spearheaded this area at SSC, ensuring SSC workers have the tools they need to succeed on and outside of the job.

Walker is a mental health advocate and serves as an at-large director on the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention, which was founded in 2018. She has spoken on this important topic in many platforms.

“It’s the care for our people,” she says. “If we really care about our people then we care about the whole person.”

There are many factors in construction that have led to the mental health crisis in the industry, including the extensive travel and time away from home and family. Construction projects can keep workers away from their routines and support systems for weeks and months at a time, putting them at risk for a multitude of burdens that can lead to addictions, financial strains or emotional instability — if not addressed. For years, this side of construction life was simply ignored, Walker says.

“The old-school mentality was having to ‘suck it up’ and don’t complain, don’t whine and we don’t want to hear about your feelings,” she says. “Problems get buried but don’t go away.”

She says that the nature of the construction worker lifestyle lends itself to this growing issue of mental health awareness, noting the physical wear and tear and susceptibility for injuries for the construction workers combined with the extensive travel.

Walker says companies that provide support for their workers when it comes to mental health only make their workers stronger and safer — and happier. “The reality is that of anything we can address, the mental health of our people, whether that has to do with a diagnosable mental illness or if they are dealing with marriage struggles, kids, etc., all of those different burdens that weigh on us mentally, if we can help them gain skills to overcome those challenges in a healthy way, then we are helping them be better people with better, stronger families. … and a safe work environment.”

Sharon M. Bueno is the editor of Trenchless Technology.

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