Empire Southwest


Site prep contractor clears the way for custom homes


Shortly after moving to the greater Phoenix area in 1990, Rusty Ludwig caught on as a laborer with a small construction company. He started out on a basic level, manning a water hose, a shovel and checking grade elevations. Within a year, he was running equipment as his eight-year ascension from laborer to construction business owner began. 

Ludwig became a crew leader for the first company he worked for, and on the second job he started filling the role of jobsite superintendent. 

“And then the third guy I worked for, I was actually doing the bids, and it really gave me experience and an opportunity to start my own business,” says Ludwig, owner of RJL Excavating Inc. in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“I learned a little bit more from each of the companies that I worked for before I started my company in 1999.”  

Now in its 18th year, Ludwig’s 12-employee firm performs residential site prep for high-end, custom home developments. RJL does the initial work, and then comes back at the end and does jobsite cleanup and finish grading. Normally, the entire process takes anywhere from five to eight days to complete. On average, RJL does site preparation for 75 to 80 homes per year, with the majority occuring in the north Scottsdale area.

“I started out by myself with one loader and one grade tractor,” Ludwig recalls. “Then George Nichols came to work for me and I bought another loader and just kind of expanded from there. Our workload grew almost 25 percent every year up until 2007, and then the recession hit.

“George has been with me through thick and thin, and he always has a 'can-do' attitude no matter what,” Ludwig continues. “During the recession, it was a matter of wondering where we were going to work the next day,” Ludwig says. “I mean it was hard, but I think I’m better equipped to handle it if we ever had to go through that again. Things are much better now.” 

Ludwig values his employees, which leads to a higher retention rate and a more cohesive crew.

“I probably am a little bit different as an owner,” he says. “I don’t just view them as employees, I take everything that happens with them personally. I want to know what’s going on in their life. It’s just not a Monday through Friday type of deal with me. You have to invest in your guys if you want to keep them.”  

General contractors know they can count on RJL to provide quality work, as well as expertise that includes recognizing potential pitfalls before they become a problem on a job.  

“At some point, everybody’s going to have callback work, but ours is virtually nonexistent,” Ludwig says.  

Compact equipment saves time

RJL also does concrete demolition, breaking concrete with Cat® Hammers. On a job that lasted for a full year, RJL assisted by hammering all of the concrete footings. When complete, the 16,000 square-foot home will have a tennis court and a putting green, as well as an area for chipping.

“And with the Quick Coupler, we’re able to go from the bucket or the ripper with just the touch of a button,” Ludwig says.

RJL purchased its first Cat machine, a 938G Wheel Loader, in 2001 after experiencing problems with a similar machine from a competing brand.

“As soon as the warranty was over I was paying approximately $1,100 a month in repairs, so I contacted a Cat salesman I had known from the previous companies I worked for,” he says. “He outlined the financial terms to me, explaining what it would take to get into a Cat 938G Wheel Loader.”

Ludwig appreciated the ease of financing the purchase through Cat Financial. Years later, when the recession hit, Cat Financial arranged favorable terms at a time when RJL was taking in less revenue.

“They rewrote contracts for me,” he says. “When business started to pick up, we were able to pay that stuff off. They extended credit to me and enabled us to get the pieces of equipment that we’re using here on site today.”  

With an average of four jobs working simultaneously, Ludwig still tries to visit each site daily until the work is complete.

“The smaller Cat equipment gives us the flexibility to go and do a big job that we normally wouldn’t be able to perform if we didn’t have the small skid steers or the mini excavators,” Ludwig says.  

“We’re able to do a big job with the small equipment and still be productive doing it. It saves us time because we don’t have to transport the wheel loaders to the jobsite, and that ends up saving the customer money.” OTJ




RJL Excavating Inc.

Employees: 12

Location: Scottsdale, Ariz.

Cat® equipment: 226B Skid Steer Loader, 252B Skid Steer Loader, 262D Skid Steer Loader, 259D Compact Track Loader, 301.7D CR, 303.5C CR Mini Excavator, 305E2 CR Mini Excavator, 320C Hydraulic Excavator, 938G Wheel Loaders (3). 

Attachments: H45ES Hammer, H65DS MHEX Hammer, H130S Hammer, CVP16 Compactor



“The reason I chose Empire is they are there for whatever we need,” says Rusty Ludwig, owner of RJL Excavating in Scottsdale. “With the type of work that we do, things don’t always go smooth, but they’re always there to help us get through, whether it’s a part that we require or when we need something repaired.

“My salesman, Mark Snow, has a wealth of knowledge that he is always willing to share,” he says. “The support that I get from my salesmen and my PSSR is invaluable. Those guys help us order the parts and everything that we need to get us up and running. As a result, we have minimal downtime on our jobs.”



Ludwig likes the versatility of his Cat® equipment fleet, which includes a compact track loader, three mini excavators, three skid steers, three 938G Wheel Loaders and a 320C Hydraulic Excavator.

“Whether it’s a big job or a little job, with these compact machines I can handle whatever my customers throw at us,” Ludwig says. “Our smallest mini excavator (a 301.7D CR) gives us the ability to perform a task faster, whereas before we would have had to do it by hand. It comes in handy when we do site prep for a house or on a small demolition job where we are breaking up concrete patios and existing hardscape. So that’s a time saver for us, and it saves our customers money in the end.”

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