Reader Profile: Scott Yaskus

Sept. 10, 2015

In Wasilla, AK, employees of Scott Yaskus’ firm, Prism Design & Construction, face unique challenges. Depending on the location, there are 24 hours of light in the summer. “You can work later in the evening and get more done because you can see what you’re doing,” says Yaskus, adding one drawback is sleeping difficulties. “In the winter, you’re down to six or seven hours of daylight, so we light all of the projects all of the time, because we start at 6 a.m. and we leave at 6 p.m. We have a hard time seeing because it’s dark.” Prism Design & Construction specializes in the retail petroleum (gas stations), convenience store, and car wash markets. The full-service commercial general contractor handles everything from installing underground tanks and piping to constructing and renovating buildings. Starting in 2003 as a two-man operation, the company now employs 21 people with $10 million in revenue. Yaskus says his company’s workload is driven by regulatory changes in what is an underserved market in the area. In 1998, EPA instituted major regulatory changes regarding underground storage tanks. “A lot of places have older, single-wall tanks in the ground they wanted to get out, so we pulled those and put in newer double-wall tanks and piping,” says Yaskus. He runs Doosan, JCB, and Caterpillar equipment, including excavators, skid-steers, forklifts, a crane, Kenworth trucks and trailers, dump trucks, and side dump trucks for hauling gravel.

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What He Does Day to Day
Yaskus spends less time in the field and more on project bidding, permitting, coordinating and checking up on projects to ensure their smooth execution. “More than anything else, I’m putting out fires,” he says.

What Led Him Into This Line of Work
Yaskus had worked with a relative of his ex-wife in a related business and saw the opportunity in 1992 to do underground tank work. After the 1998 EPA regulations were instituted, “That’s when I started getting heavily into doing underground field tanks, piping, and convenience store work,” notes Yaskus.

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What He Likes Best About His Work
Yaskus likes that every day is “something new” with different challenges. A recent “raze and rebuild” job was turned around in less than five months, from permitting to finish. “We pulled all of the tanks out, demolished the buildings, cleared the site off, and built a new building with new tanks, new canopy, and car wash, all done in-house,” he says.

His Biggest Challenge Weather is one of Yaskus’ greatest challenges. During the last few weeks of January, the weather dipped to 20°F below zero and rose next day to 25°F above zero. “Because we still are building buildings all through the winter, we have to go with the flow and do things dependent on the weather,” says Yaskus. Logistics are another challenge. “Everything has to be flown or barged here,” he says. To ensure neither equipment nor employees are freezing, buildings are tented during work, as are foundations when they’re being poured. Ground thaw rigs are used to set up the work site. Employees are given breaks as needed, which are often taken in a warming shack on the job site. “For the most part, as long as you’re staying moving, you’re pretty good,” Yaskus says. “Down to 15 below is when it starts getting a little uncomfortable.” Seasonal work hazards are ice and snow in the winter and increased tourist traffic in the summer, necessitating extra caution at job sites where convenience stores are still open for business while underground work is being done. Finding employees also is a challenge. “I’ve given up on hiring people who have knowledge in the industry because most of what they have is not what I want to see,” says Yaskus. “We bring guys up and work them through the program. They start out as broom pushers and they leave making $150,000 to $200,000 a year, or they never leave. The way we work is unique. Even though we have our own electricians and do all of our own dirt work, a lot of those same guys do many parts of the project so they get a very broad experience fairly quickly.”