Tapping into Insight

While working as a full-time treatment plant superintendent, Kevin Jacobson launched and runs a successful inspection and cleaning firm
Tapping into Insight

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It was supposed to be a business serving the central part of Iowa, providing basic water and wastewater services to municipalities and contractors. But when the word spread about Central Iowa Televising, owner Kevin Jacobson soon saw the need to expand to cover the whole state, and to offer a bigger service menu.

Jacobson brings an impressive resume as water and wastewater superintendent for Story City. He holds an Iowa Grade IV (highest) wastewater treatment license and has 31 years of experience in that business. He handles the business end of Central Iowa Televising while working full-time for the city; son Shane is the operations manager.

“We started the business because I saw a need in communities for drain cleaning and televising,” says Jacobson. “In some areas the conditions are pretty bad because of a lack of maintenance. Lines haven’t been cleaned for a long time.

“There is root intrusion and a lot of inflow and infiltration (I&I). Intruding taps cause flow interruptions. We have to cut those back, and then return to do a full inspection. These are typically 4-inch service lines and 8-inch mainlines. They have cracks and they need a lot of tender loving care.”

The state Department of Natural Resources is requiring I&I studies, and engineers involved are contacting Jacobson’s company for quotes on jobs. “We see a lot of that going on,” says Jacobson. “It’s kind of a trickle-down effect. They start with the larger communities and work down to the smaller ones. The more water they pump, the more exposure they have.”

Jacobson estimates the company has inspected more than one million feet of mainline since the company started in 2007.

 

Adding and exchanging

Jacobson added capabilities gradually, the most recent being cured-in-place pipe lining using Source One Environmental. In 2009, the company replaced an older combination cleaning truck with a 2002 Vactor 2100 on an International Chassis with a positive displacement blower, 2,500 psi/80 gpm pump, 1,500-gallon freshwater tank, and 10-cubic-yard debris tank, purchased from Jack Doheny. With that unit the firm offers hydroexcavation, sewer jetting, lift station cleaning and other services.

For CCTV the company has two inspection vans with PE 2600 and PE 2620 pan-and-tilt cameras and Badger wheeled tractors from Aries Industries, along with a PE 3000 zoom/pan/tilt camera and Saturn III camera, also from Aries. Other equipment includes a Radiodetection locator, smoke-testing system from Hurco Technologies, and a Lumberjack sewer auger from NozzTeq for root control.

Jacobson purchased a 3,000-square-foot heated garage with three bays and a lounge and office for the technicians. The business office is in the Jacobson home directly across the street.

Shane Jacobson and employee Curt Deaton are certified in the NASSCO Pipeline Assessment and Certification Program (PACP), Manhole Assessment and Certification Program (MACP), and Lateral Assessment and Certification Program (LACP) systems. Both operate the CCTV equipment and the Vactor truck, backed up by operator assistants Ryan Whitten and Phil Paulson.

Shane Jacobson says his biggest challenge has been to learn the business and recognize that everybody makes mistakes, including himself. “We want to focus on quality, not quantity,” he says. “To take our time and learn from every job we undertake. I’m enjoying the work. I knew from the start that I would, as I have always been interested in the sewer industry. I was really excited about getting the business going.”

Earning certifications was an important learning experience, as more and more communities require the NASSCO defect coding.

 

Boots on the ground

In staffing the company, Kevin Jacobson looks for motivated people who will work hard and don’t mind being out of town when necessary. “Experience is nice, but it’s hard to find people with background in this industry,” he says. “We do want someone to be able to operate a computer. For televising, you have to be computer-savvy. We want to groom and elevate an operations assistant to a full operator, and then hire more people as we grow the company.”

One of the first jobs came from Jacobson’s former hometown, where the company did a cleaning and televising job. “We also knew a lot of contractors who were willing to give us an opportunity to do some cleaning and televising for new subdivisions,” Kevin says.

At present, about 75 percent of the work is for Iowa municipalities, for which crews travel in all directions up to 150 miles. The rest of the work is for commercial and industrial clients. Mainline CCTV and drain cleaning make up 90 percent of the business, but that will likely change as more customers learn of the other capabilities.

 

From another view

Kevin Jacobson is walking in a new pair of shoes as owner of Central Iowa Televising, and he has been challenged by tasks like bookkeeping, billing, accounts receivable, and dealing with rules and regulations. He stresses quality control to the technicians.

“The operator might be working on a big job, and circumstances would cause him to move to another area, and return later,” says Jacobson. “Everything must be properly documented. The technician needs to find the defect and properly mark it.”

Jacobson notes that he has to take care not to push technicians too hard – quality comes first. Technicians are expected to have a strong work ethic, but in return they enjoy benefits that include health and vision insurance and paid vacation, sick leave and holidays. Training and safety are also high priorities. Only the two certified operators are allowed to handle the Vactor truck, and all safety rules are carefully followed.

Jacobson’s approach to the business has brought quick success. “We started out with basic cleaning and televising, but as we went about our work, more and more people asked if we could do some of these other jobs,” says Jacobson. “We started doing root cutting, easement work, hydroexcavating, smoke testing, and manhole inspection, and most recently we added CIPP lining. Source One Environmental came out and helped us with our first patch, and observed on the second job. They will be available if we have any future issues.

“The important thing with lining is that you always measure properly. We use our camera to ensure the proper placement and take an exact measurement using a footage counter and a piece of tape on the cord. This is vital.”

Hydroexcavation is fairly new to Iowa, but Jacobson says it seems to be catching on. “It makes it easier to uncover pipes, and you don’t have to worry about fiber optics underground,” he says. “It’s a real worry digging with a backhoe. One of our bigger jobs was for a gas company where we were looking for an underground gas line. With hydroexcavation, we didn’t have to worry about damaging the lines.

“There are so many things you can do with hydroexcavation – not always big things. Say you have a valve box off-center, and you can’t get your wrench on it. You can excavate a little bit and then use the wrench.”

 

Image and message

Jacobson asks technicians to keep the trucks and equipment clean and the work area uncluttered. They find that when working in some neighborhoods in small communities, people come out to ask about the job, and they often stop and watch the video (standing outside the van) as work progresses. The organized appearance of the equipment has proven to be beneficial, drawing good feedback from communities.

The technicians also keep a neat personal appearance, wearing shirts and jackets with the company logo. Fleet vehicles are painted all white with blue lettering.

During winter when the temperatures are below zero, Shane Jacobson and the other technicians often turn to promoting the company by visiting the municipalities they have worked for, as well as potential clients.

Central Iowa Televising has had its website up for two years, and it has drawn some response, but Jacobson sees a need to upgrade the site continuously.

Overall, Jacobson is surprised at how fast the company has grown without a major advertising campaign. No doubt his experience has been a big benefit: He can see the world from the customer’s perspective. “I can reflect on what I see is needed,” he says, “and then I can relate to Shane and his crew the perspective that might come from the other side of the desk.”



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