When a massive earthquake hits Hawaii, causing extensive damage, whom do you call for help? In 2010, for Emergency Alakahi Stream Intake Restoration, it was Royal Contracting Company, a general construction firm that has been around almost as long as Hawaii has been a state. Founded in 1961, the company, which primarily serves Oahu, has worked on a variety of project types, from residences to roadways, and it now has 85 employees committed to its mission of quality, integrity, and punctuality. “We recognize our capabilities, and we do what we do best,” says vice president Leonard Leong, who’s been with the firm for almost half a decade. Here, Leong walks American Builders Quarterly through Royal Contracting’s long and diversified history.
1961: Royal Contracting is Founded
Two years after Hawaii earns statehood, three friends—an accountant and two operating engineers—decide their skills are complementary, so they form a building firm. “They didn’t have the financial strength to get bonding, so they originally began with subcontracting work,” Leong says. The company gradually expands into general contracting as it increases profits and secures bonding.
1970: Leong Joins the Company
Immediately upon graduating from the University of Hawaii with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, Leong begins working as a field engineer for Royal Contracting when the firm has only 20–25 employees. “We weren’t very large at the time,” Leong says.
1985: Leong Becomes Vice President
During his first several years on the job, Leong is involved in a variety of areas on the operations side of the business, including estimating, engineering, and negotiations. He carries these skills into his role as vice president. “Now, I’m essentially an operations manager,” he says. “I solicit work, get the contracts, administer them, and supervise the construction of projects.”
1987: Expands to 400 Employees Through Golf Work
The nationwide real estate boom leads to a demand for golf courses, and that, in turn, drives new business for Royal Contracting. “Building golf courses involves earthwork, and we had those capabilities, so we teamed up with a landscape subcontractor that was seeking to get established,” Leong says. “Some of the noteworthy golf courses we worked on are Koele Golf Course on Lanai, King Kamehameha Golf Course on Maui, and Kapolei Golf Course on Oahu.”
1990: Partners with Castle & Cooke
Castle & Cook, an area developer, begins working on a community of 6,500 homes, and it hires Royal Contracting to construct various related projects. The relationship ends up lasting last two decades. “We had the same superintendant on the project for the next 20 years, until the project was completed, and he retired in 2010,” Leong says. “You don’t usually see one company and one superintendant on a project for that long.”
1997: Royal Contracting Begins Roadway Work
The company is selected to provide ground support for ordinance cleanup on the island of Kahoolawe, which is being used as a target for naval warship training. Royal Contracting constructs roadways and installs utilities for the island cleanup. Because the island doesn’t have an airport or harbors, all equipment and supplies are delivered by landing craft and helicopter. There are no deaths during the four years of service to those involved in the ordinance removal.
2010: Award-Winning Emergency Cleanup
On April 14, 2009, at 12:45 p.m. local time, a 5.0 magnitude earthquake strikes Hawaii island, causing extensive damage in many areas. Alakahi in Waipio Valley, for example, suffers a landslide. The remediation project (opposite page bottom) is so onerous that no contractors want the hassle of taking on the job—no contractors except Royal Contracting. The firm completes all work ahead of schedule, earning an award of merit from the General Contractors Association of Hawaii at the 2010 Build Hawaii Awards. Additionally, the American Public Works Association gives Royal Contracting the 2010 Project of the Year award in disaster emergency construction repair in the $5–$25 million range.
2012: An Archeological Study
Construction of the $5.2 billion Honolulu Authority Rapid Transit system, a 20-mile elevated steel-rail commuter transit line, begins in February 2011. It’s halted in August 2012, however, when the state Supreme Court rules that the city and state are violating the law because they hadn’t completed archeological surveys along the entire route before building.
Royal Contracting is hired to complete the excavation for the required archaeological study. That excavation (opposite page top) is completed in December 2012, thanks in part to a successful partnership with concrete supplier Island Ready-Mix Concrete, Inc. and heavy-construction contractor Grace Pacific Corp. “They service us with concrete and asphalt-concrete mix at night, on Saturdays, on Sundays,” Leong says. “They’re really helping us.”