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Clear Creek - building community

Clear Creek employees gather for a photo before heading out to work stations. They are, standing at left, Josh Stenehjem, Keith Tucker, Robert Haukenberry, John Spalla, Lindsay Lange and Jorge Villalvazo; front, Craig Large, Michael Haskins and Dugan Poss. Not shown are Shannon Reagan and Troy McConnell. (Linda Sailer/The Dickinson Press)

Clear Creek Plumbing and Heating technicians stop at the office each morning to pick up their work assignments. The calls may be anything from a furnace that needs repairs to working on a construction project.

"We go over calls from yesterday, any potential materials that need to be ordered, rescheduling, and discuss where we're headed for the day," said branch manager Robert Haukenberry. "The services we are provide are vital. People expect when they turn on the faucets the water is there and the heat comes on—until it doesn't work anymore."

The company has a commercial division and a service division.

"The commercial has always been our main focus, but our service division has been developing more over the last three years," he said. "We're really focusing on a community-based business model and cost-effective customer solutions—essentially we're address the issues of clients at the best possible price."

Clear Creek Plumbing is a branch of Don Haught Inc., of Torrington, Wyo. The company's first project in North Dakota was five years ago at Cavalier. Soon after, the the company opened an office in Dickinson and is now at 483 South Main Ave.

Commercial projects have included the New Town High School, Killdeer Aquatics and Wellness Center and Southwest HealthCare Services at Bowman. Technicians just completed a project at the Stark County Courthouse.

"We are in partnership with other plumbing and heating companies; if its a large enough project, we'll split the responsibilities," he said.

Haukenberry joined Clear Creek as a project engineer 3½ years ago. He referenced how Don Haught has been his mentor for what they want to do here in Dickinson.

"He volunteers once a year at the retirement center in Torrington, fixing leaks and tuning up furnaces. He's an integral part of the community—we really want to take after that here."

Clear Creek is big on a team environment, he continued.

"We focus on empowering employees within the workplace to make proper decisions in the field and communicate that to the office—so it's a shared vision," Haukenberry said.

Clear Creek sees a huge need for plumbing and heating services throughout western North Dakota, from Bowman to the Canadian border.

"The growth happened during the oil boom—families stayed behind and still demand our services," he said.

The calls may be a matter of life or death—the heat goes out and its 34 below zero outside.

"It's only a matter of a couple hours before they incur significant damages to their homes due to frozen water pipes. Sometimes folks don't have the opportunity to go elsewhere—they turn on their ovens, etc.," he said. "If an apartment complex's boiler system goes down, that potentially impacts 40 people. Even if we don't have technicians available, we'll call another company in town—hey, this customer has an issue."

Clear Creek responded to several frozen pipes during the recent Arctic freeze.

"There were some situations where mobile homes didn't not have the proper insulation, and even situations where heaters at businesses went out," he said. "I manage on the back end, and of course, I help in the field sometimes. Josh Stenehjem and I were just at a call until 10 o'clock last night because of no-heat situation."

When pipes are frozen, it takes time to defrost them.

"We commit to the customer... maybe it's a day or two days to address the issue."

The employees include Lindsay Lange, who works in the office with Haukenberry, and technicians Josh Stenehjem, Keith Tucker, John Spalla, Jorge Villalvazo, Craig Large, Michael Haskins, Dugan Poss, Shannon Reagan and Troy McConnell.

Clear Creek's strategy for growth is to identify youth in the community.

"For students who are not sure what they want to do, we are a full union shop. That means the union provides the training necessary for our youth to learn a trade while being paid to do so—right out of high school."

Sometimes, students are sent to Bismarck State College for training; other times, they train in-house.

"We are working on getting a union HVAC (heating, ventilation and air condition) training facility right here in Dickinson. There's a big need in western North Dakota," he said. "We don't hire for short-term employment—we look at long-term careers for our team members. It's definitely a process that takes anywhere from three to five years before a technician can troubleshoot effectively."

Haukenberry moved here from Seattle in 2009, but considers Dickinson as home. He met his wife, Jamie, who is from New England, and they have two children, William and Anna. He serves on the board of the United Way of Dickinson and is a volunteer at House of Manna.

What keeps him in the business?

"It's the technical aspects of it—there's always something new to learn," he said. "I am a relationship-orientated individual. It's meeting new people and figuring out what makes this community work. I think the community and culture of North Dakota is what has convinced me to stay here—it's between having a family at the farm by New England and the relationships I've developed in town."