Moving Heaven and Earth

In a shifting landscape, one Maui business shows what it takes to stay in it for the long haul

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Story by Diane Haynes Woodburn | Photography courtesy of Goodfellow Bros.

goodfellow bros
From bulldozers to excavators, Goodfellow Bros. maintains a huge fleet of earth-moving equipment.

“We move earth.” The way Steve Goodfellow describes his company is as accurate as it is concise, but it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. For more than thirty-seven years, Goodfellow Bros. has had an enormous impact in Maui County and beyond, constructing roads, highways, airports, harbors, schools, parks, reservoirs, sewage-treatment plants, golf courses, major resorts, even wind farms. And though the head of that company is a man of few words—right down to his preference for abbreviation—Goodfellow Bros. has also built a rock-solid model of corporate citizenship through the generous service it provides the community year after year.

At the height of the economy, Goodfellow Bros. employed more than 1,100 individuals throughout Hawai‘i. The company boasts one of the largest fleets of excavating and earthmoving equipment in the industry, and is one of only a few companies in the nation with bonding capabilities for blasting technology.

When Moloka‘i wanted an airport on the tiny, isolated peninsula of Kalaupapa, Goodfellow Bros. brought in the technology, shipping in heavy equipment for an airstrip sandwiched between sheer cliffs and pounding surf. For the Big Island’s Pakini Nui Wind Farm, the Goodfellow team constructed more than 15,000 linear feet of access road, then excavated the foundation for fourteen wind turbines at the top of the 800-foot cliff that defines Mauna Loa’s southern volcanic rift zone.

When Maui wanted an arts and cultural center, Goodfellow Bros. literally moved heaven and earth to make it happen, bringing in bids that made construction possible when dollars were scarce. Nearly twenty years later, Goodfellow Bros. built Maui’s Central Park, the final puzzle piece in the Central Maui vision.

grandad-goodfellow-bros“We’re a third-generation company,” Steve Goodfellow explains. “My father and his father laid down the philosophy that built this company. They believed that whatever we can do to give back is the right thing to do. That’s what builds a strong community, and a strong community supports business. And the first rule,” he adds, “is to hire local people.” The company currently employs about 700 men and women, 80 percent of whom live in Hawai‘i, the rest around Seattle and Portland, close to where the company was founded.

“I don’t consider us big, relative to a lot contractors,” says Steve. “We’re a family-owned business, with family values. We’ve worked in other places that are pretty cutthroat, where relationships don’t mean a lot. That’s why we love working in Hawai‘i. We believe in collaboration, in solving problems together. We care about each other.”

Saddle Road Maui
Completed projects run from sea level to mountain tops, among them the Big Island’s Saddle Road.

The company is headquartered in Wenatchee, Washington, where Goodfellow began. That was in 1920, when brothers Jack, Bert and Jim Sr. launched a construction   company that focused on hard work in difficult and isolated terrain. According to a history written by Jim Sr., that first job was a subcontract on the Swakane Road project, in what was then frontier territory. The brothers built an on-site camp and cookhouse for about forty workers, and even ran a school to help those who were immigrants earn citizenship —establishing their philosophy of caring for their employees and community.

The company incorporated in 1929 after winning the bid on the Vantage Ferry excavation—one of the largest “rock jobs” of the time—and went on to build the dams and canals of the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery, major highways such as Stevens Pass and the Rock Island Highway, and roadbed for the Great Northern Railway.

“My grandfather would talk a lot about farmers getting crops to market, and how the roads we built helped that happen, and how the dams provided irrigation water for the crops and animals. He instilled in us the belief that being in construction was building America—and that the most important factor in the foundation of our business was relationships and the responsibility to be good citizens.”

pakini nui wind farm
Pakini Nui Wind Farm on Mauna Loa.

Moving the company’s center of operations from the Pacific Northwest to Hawai‘i might seem a surprising leap, but the Goodfellow–Maui connection began long before Steve and his father, Jim Jr., arrived.

“My grandparents started coming here sixty-seven years ago,” says Steve. They came every year. Dad’s cousins Buster and Betty Burnett lived Upcountry then and were good friends with many of the old families.”

In 1972, while Steve was in college, his dad called to ask, “Want to go to Maui for the weekend?” The Boeing Company was competing on a project to build a sewage-treatment plant in Kïhei, and had asked Goodfellow Bros. to bid on the infrastructure. They got the job.

“We came for six months,” Steve jokes, “and stayed for thirty-seven years.”

In that time, Goodfellow Bros. has built not only a great company, but a reputation for being on the front lines in every major emergency, from mudslides to forest fires.

Goodfellow history
Goodfellow’s technology and equipment have changed plenty since the 1920’s, but the company’s commitment to responsible corporate citizenship hasn’t changed since Jim Sr. (below) set down those principles nearly ninety years ago.

“We have equipment the County doesn’t have, and employees with the heart to get out there and use it,” says Region Manager Ray Skelton, who has been with the company for twenty years. In 2008, the Maui County Fire & Public Safety Commission presented Skelton with the Kahu‘aina Award, recognizing his and his company’s years of service in providing equipment and personnel to help fight fires.   Skelton deflects such praise. “It’s the men and women who work for Goodfellow who volunteer to put their lives on the line to cut the fire lines or stop a mudslide. That’s what makes working here so different—the people who make up the company understand and live by the same values that Steve leads with. There’s no compensation in fighting fires; that’s just heart.”

As a good corporate citizen, Goodfellow Bros. provides leadership, funding, and support to many of the Islands’ nonprofits. Steve Goodfellow has been on the board of the Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i since 2000, and is a member of its Corporate Council for the Environment.

“Steve loves the outdoors, and provides tremendous insights on how to partner with other organizations for strategic collaboration,” says Conservancy Executive Director Suzanne Case. “As a result of his leadership we have a wonderful partnership with Maui Coastal Land Trust and other organizations that help us achieve our mission.”

Dale Bonar, executive director of the Maui Coastal Land Trust, agrees. “Because of Steve’s ability to build bridges and create collaboration, Governor Linda Lingle signed a bill in 2005 earmarking 10 percent of all conveyance fees for a legacy land fund. This puts nearly $5 million a year directly into conservation land funds.”

Building a legacy is something the Goodfellow family knows how to do, from the ground up. Steve’s partner at the helm is brother Dan, a vice president of Goodfellow Bros. The company’s newest vice president is Steve’s son, Chad, who recently directed the final two phases of Central Maui’s Mokulele Highway expansion. “Chad is the future,” Steve says proudly. “Now we’re a fourth-generation contracting company! My grandfather would have loved this.”