David Bice enlisted in the Marine Corps after dropping out of South High School in Minneapolis. He served three years before returning to civilian life in 1980. “Joining the Marines turned my life around,” he says. “There were no good jobs and I needed to grow up. That’s where I learned to be responsible.”
As founder and CEO of Eagan-based Bald Eagle Erectors, Bice is now responsible for a $7.5 million steel erection company with 32 employees.
It was only natural to get into the iron business after leaving the Marines—Bice’s grandfather and his grandfather’s three brothers were ironworkers. “I was an ironworker apprentice in Iron Workers 512,” Bice says. “I worked for my cousin’s rigging company. I had always wanted to start a company, so when he retired and closed his business, I decided to start mine.”
In 1994, Bice chipped in $7,000 to start a company with a partner, whom he bought out a year later. The Bald Eagle Erectors name popped into his head while he was preparing the necessary paperwork in his lawyer’s office.
Since then, Bald Eagle has worked on several notable projects, including the Minneapolis Central Library, the 494 bridge across the Minnesota River, the University of Minnesota Bioscience Project, and the pedestrian bridge for the new Twins stadium.
The company provides construction and installation of structural steel and concrete rebar, millwright and welding services, and moving services for heavy equipment such as boilers, condensers, turbines, chillers, generators, and transformers. (For instance, Bald Eagle recently moved some transformers for Xcel Energy, jacking them up on hydraulic jacks, putting rollers underneath, and pulling them with a winch truck.) Other services include ironwork for construction projects, placing architectural precast panels, and controlled demolition of steel structures.
The company itself was almost demolished a couple of times due to unscrupulous business associates. During his years in the military, Bice had heard over and over that “a Marine never gives up.” It was a lesson that served him well in those difficult times.
His first major challenge came when he realized that the bills weren’t being paid, even though revenues were healthy. After bringing in an accountant for an audit, he discovered that an employee had embezzled roughly $100,000. The lesson? “I learned to pay attention a lot more to everything,” he says.
After recovering from that, Bice was stiffed for a whopping $360,000 by a contractor. “He paid his bills on time until the job was 95 percent done,” Bice says. “Then he pocketed the rest and said, ‘I’m out of money. That’s business.’”
Bice fought back. “People were telling me I should go bankrupt and start over, but that’s not the answer,” he says. “A lot of people would have given up, but we worked through it and paid all our vendors and our banker.”
With the economy hurting, Bald Eagle’s revenues are down about 20 percent, but Bice’s perspective can be boiled down to two words: semper fidelis, the watchwords of the Marines. He wants his employees to know that they can count on him to be “always faithful.” “I have a lot of great employees who have been with me over 10 years,” he says. “They’re hard-working ironworkers. My project manager and estimator, Howard Christianson, has been with me nine years. He’s stuck with me through thick and thin.”
Bice has made it a priority to help recruit Native American youth to come into the industry. He serves on the boards of the Metropolitan Economic Development Association, the National Association of Minority Contractors, and the Minnesota American Indian Chamber of Commerce. “I get a chance to hire a lot of people of color and give them a chance,” Bice says.