Construction in continental environments is difficult enough, but constructing on islands brings a new level of logistical challenges. In the world of the Pacific Rim, Hawaiian Crane & Rigging has demonstrated superior construction acumen since 1965, with heavy construction equipment across the Aloha State and all across the Pacific.
Vice President Kerwin Chong attributes the company’s success to its positive and receptive attitude. “We do the most difficult jobs in the state,” he says, elaborating that Hawaiian Crane & Rigging has carved its niche by taking on the most ambitious jobs at which other companies might balk. As a result, the company has no lack of interesting projects and prides itself on its ability to overcome complex construction issues. Chong estimates that the company has had a role in seventy-five percent of all major new construction in Hawaii since the company began.
But Hawaiian Crane & Rigging’s reach extends far beyond Hawaii itself. From its Oahu headquarters, it has deployed its equipment all across the Pacific. Past jobs have taken the company to the Philippines and even up north to Alaska. In recent years, the company has installed large generators on Kwajalein Atoll for Lockheed Martin, supporting America’s military commitments in the Pacific.
Hawaiian Crane & Rigging also maintains a wide equipment range, which, in turn, boosts its versatility. The company’s crane line ranges from twenty-five tons to the four-hundred-ton heavy-duty crane which it recently acquired. While the company must admittedly look to other businesses to secure transport across the Pacific, it is still able to use both its own equipment and local materials to get the job done.
As an example of its resourcefulness, the company recently skidded a 150-ton transformer off a low boy rail car onto a pad. Not only did it complete this difficult task, but it did so using parts from locally sourced steel, which it mixed in with its own components. This approach, as Chong relates, is typical of Hawaiian Crane & Rigging’s style; the company consistently uses its skill and resourcefulness to accomplish complex and custom tasks for its clients.
This project is characteristic of the company’s ‘can-do’ approach to construction jobs. As a Hawaii-based company, it must confront and overcome different logistical challenges than those faced by its continental peers. “We don’t have the option of moving cranes across state lines, like our fellow companies in North American can,” Chong explains, “so that being the case, we’ve got to work with what we’ve got on-island.”
He mentions a recent poll conducted by the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Foundation (SC&RF), which indicated that, in his words: “Hawaiian Crane has the distinction of doing the most tandem lifts in the nation.” These tandem lifts, considered the most dangerous jobs a crane company can do, are a critical milestone in crane operation. In addition to these tandem lifts, it excels at what Chong refers to as “real-time problems.”
While challenges and delays on construction sites are inevitable, the island’s isolated nature requires a minimum of seven days’ ocean travel to obtain replacement parts, and this does not include any delays from packing, customs inspection, or delivery. As a result, the company has developed a knack for practicality and self-reliance. “We don’t have an unlimited amount of I-beams, and we can’t bring in, in real time, exotic materials, so we have to work with what we’ve got,” Chong says.
He compares the company’s ingenuity to the same approach displayed by the ancient Polynesian explorers who first settled Hawaii centuries ago. “Landing on an island, you have to be able to get along and cooperate with each other.”
He recounts an instance where the company installed filters using cantilevered beams, demonstrating superior knowledge of load-bearing engineering. The company has also completed jobs in which it installed bridge girders using cranes considered undersized. Finally, it developed a pulley system, between two cranes, to hoist an air handling unit to the top of a local Home Depot.
While Hawaiian Crane & Rigging has benefitted and expanded from this business model, it does not mean the company does not embrace a safe working environment. On the contrary, it has won six SC&RA crane and rigging safety awards since 2004 in recognition of its exceptional safety record. Chong notes that the awards’ criteria are based on Workers’ Compensation Modification Rate, so a company can suffer no accidents in an entire year.
In addition to its mindset, flexibility, and safety record, Hawaiian Crane & Rigging’s experienced leadership and loyal employees set the company apart. The leadership team, as a whole, has vast experience in the field, and its President Patrick Rolison boasts forty years in the construction industry. Many employees are in the second- or third-generation of their family to work for the company, showcasing its longevity and enduring attraction over the decades.
As a small company, Hawaiian Crane & Rigging’s staff and leadership enjoy a close-knit relationship representative of island life. “It’s a mutual respect between employer and employee,” he explains. The company is a proud union shop, but Chong says that the company cannot solely rely on the union to provide talented labor. As a result, the company conducts most of its training in-house.
Operators begin in the construction yard, learning the ins and outs of the construction trade for five to ten years. The finest, as Chong explains, are sponsored for union membership. These new members spend their next ten years as drivers before finally moving up to crane operators, having demonstrated through career growth their readiness to take on the responsibility.
This lengthy but fully comprehensive job training program gives Hawaiian Crane & Rigging highly skilled employees and a high retention rate. Applicants are attracted not only to the steady nature of construction work but also to the high variety of jobs the company accomplishes thanks to its expertise, capabilities, and reach across the Pacific.
“We’re doing things that I don’t think any human being has done before, or we’re in places where we’re sure we’re the first human beings that set foot there,” Chong says. “It’s an adventure.”
Hawaiian Crane & Rigging’s community activism is just as bold. The company’s leadership exhibits the ‘Aloha spirit’ of giving without expectations of anything in return, like when it supported its industry by sharing its crane selection algorithms in a 1992 issue of Cranes Today. “Today there is a myriad of crane selection software programs on the market,” Chong says, and the company has furthered the spread of this technology to boost the construction industry as a whole.
“We have a sense of duty. We’re not going anywhere; we have work here, we have family here,” Chong states of the company’s sense of ohana or family. Many Hawaiians welcome an atmosphere of cooperation. “There’s a sense of duty to the community,” he explains. “We all serve the community with a sense of honor, duty, and self-sacrifice.”
As Hawaiian Crane & Rigging enters its fifty-fifth year, it is poised to continue its long history of top-tier commercial service to its customers. Its proven track record has demonstrated that construction challenges can be solved by having creativity and the right part. The world may be shrinking thanks to technology, but the Pacific Ocean remains as vast as ever. Companies like this are flourishing thanks to resourcefulness, training and a high regard for safety. It truly embodies the essence of Hawaii in its service to clients and neighbors, and will do so for decades to come.