Higgins grew from a small, contracting business established in the Manawatu by Irish immigrant Dan Higgins.
Dan Higgins left his home in County Down in Ireland during the Great Depression. In the 1950s, after a stint with Christchurch company British Pavements, Dan set up his own drainage and road repair business in loose partnership with others in Manawatu.
In 1958, eldest son Pat joined and D Higgins & Son was born. Over time, Higgins became more of a family affair as sons Michael and Bernard joined during the '60s and '70s.
In 2016, Higgins was purchased by Fletcher Building and is now part of the Fletcher Construction family of brands.
For more than 60 years, Higgins has been at the forefront of building New Zealand's infrastructure and is now one of the leading roading civil and road construction companies in the country. Higgins now employs over 1600 people throughout New Zealand and in Fiji.
In August, Higgins became a member of the Fletcher Building family of companies. Higgins Contractors (in NZ), Approach Signs, Penny Engineering and the Higgins brand in Fiji became a part of the Fletcher Building Construction Group. Higgins Aggregates is rebranded and is integrated into Fletcher Building’s Winstone Aggregates. The Higgins family property business, Horokiwi quarry shares and Higgins Concrete business remain under the ownership of the Higgins family.
Expanding beyond New Zealand again, Higgins commenced a four-year contract with the Fiji Roads Authority to maintain the roads of the western division of Fiji on Vitu Levi. In 2014 the assets of Infracon were purchased, a civil construction business with quarry operations in the Manawatu and Hawke’s Bay region.
A series of major slips in the Manawatu Gorge caused the largest road landfall slip in New Zealand’s history closing the Gorge for a year. Higgins was lead contractor working in partnership with NZTA, consultants and other contractors to remove the slip and rebuild the road. Higgins expanded its aggregates operations in the northern region with the purchase of Baldwins Aggregates in Waikato in 2011.
Higgins expanded its bitumen storage facility at the Napier Port. Higgins became an alliance member of the Auckland Victoria Park Tunnel project which at the time was the largest tender ever let by the NZTA.
Higgins celebrated 50 years in business. A Manawatu lifetime business award was presented to the Higgins brothers for services to the community. Higgins purchased the Oldfields Group, a family business with contracting and concrete operations in Wairarapa, Wellington, and Nelson.
Higgins Contractors Taupo opened a new permanent asphalt plant. Higgins Waikato moved to a new purpose-built site. Higgins Contractors won significant projects which included MHX alliance, Avalon Drive, D2P (Dowse to Petone) highway upgrade, and the Westwind wind farm development. Higgins acquired 50% ownership in Roadrunner Roadmarkers. A Manawatu lifetime business award was presented to the Higgins brothers for services to the community.
Close to 50 years after the company began, Higgins established a new group office in Church Street, Palmerston North in 2005. As a result of the February 2004 floods, Higgins Contractors were involved in major works to repair the damaged road networks. In 2006 Higgins continued to strengthen its position in the market, winning a Best Roads Maintenance contract again and significant projects in Wellington. Staff numbered at around 800.
Northern momentum did not take the Higgins focus away from continuing to build a stronger presence at the other end of the island. In 2004 a brand new ready-mix concrete plant and depot was established at Porirua to coincide with an increase in housing and commercial construction in the greater Wellington region. Engineering company Penny Engineering became a part of the Higgins family of companies in 2004. Also, in 2004, Higgins filled in more gaps in its North Island coverage, buying Glover Contractors in Hamilton, renamed the Higgins Waikato branch, and set up a new branch in Taupo. Higgins became involved in several new green energy projects, wind farms, providing the roading and foundation work for Te Apiti near Ashhurst in 2004, the T3 expansion at Tararua, and in 2007, starting the West Wind site at Makara, Wellington.
The northward expansion north was in full swing in 2000 with the setting up of an Auckland operation in East Tamaki. This coincided with the start of the major infrastructure projects in the Northern Waikato and Auckland Regions. Higgins, in partnership with Fletchers, won the first of these contracts, the Rangiriri to Ohinewhai Expressway. Higgins' position as a key player in the Auckland roading scene was further strengthened by its participation in the Grafton Gully Motorway to Port link project between 2001 and 2003. This was the first major project constructed in New Zealand under an Alliance contract model. The traffic management company Maverick Services was added to the group in 2000 along with the specialist road signage company, Approach Signs in 2001. Sadly in 2001, the Higgins family bade farewell to their patriarch and Higgins' founder. Dan passed away aged 93.
Higgins began expanding further south of Manawatu / Horowhenua in the 1990s, first purchasing Purser Belwood in Wellington to become the Higgins Contracting branch in the capital. Two years later Higgins Concrete was established in Wellington, followed in 1995 by the joint purchase of the Horokiwi Quarry near Petone, where the Pavements Ltd asphalt plant also operates. These moves consolidated the Higgins business in the southern North Island. At the same time, Higgins also looked further north, opening Pavements BOP (Bay of Plenty) in Mt Maunganui in 1994 in partnership with Brent Glover. Shortly after, Higgins purchased the 50% Glover shareholding, the name changed to Higgins BOP, and all the trucks turned green. Strong subdivision growth and Council infrastructure development has seen considerable branch growth since then. Also, in 1995 Russell Asphalt was renamed Higgins Contracting – the first time the Higgins name was used on a business outside of Manawatu, and the Roy Withers name was replaced by Higgins Aggregates. It also saw the consolidation of the now familiar green paint scheme on all Higgins trucks and plant. Higgins total employment now numbered more than 500.
More overseas work came at the start of 1990 when Higgins, working with Fletchers, was involved in contracts on several Pacific islands. The first was in Tonga for the construction of the island’s airstrip, using local coral as the base-course, then in Western Samoa to build inland roads in 1992. Higgins was tasked to deliver 30km road in Tonga in 1995. Around the same time, Higgins also took part in the construction of the Summerhill Drive flyover project to alleviate congestion in Palmerston North, expanded the city’s airport runway and built a German-designed firing range for the NZ Army at Linton.
Higgins continued to expand, purchasing Russell Asphalt of Hawke’s Bay and acquiring Ray Withers gravel pit at Roy’s Hill in Hawke’s Bay. Employee numbers moved past the 200 mark as the company expanded through the centre of the North Island.
Growth continued into the '80s, with more emphasis on roading and subdivision contracts and less on drainage work. The Higgins reputation spread outside New Zealand when it was awarded the contract to build the airport runway on Norfolk Island. Back home, the concrete side of the business was growing. In 1984, Higgins purchased Domett Redimix in Feilding and Sanson Metal to form a self-supporting concreting operation. To further secure metal supplies in the region, Higgins purchased land alongside the Manawatu River between Ashhurst and Palmerston North. In the following years an aggregate quarry in Te Matai was established.
Dan's third son, Bernard, joined the company in 1974 after training as a fitter and turner. Dan, now 65, was able to leave more of the day-to-day duties to his three sons – he continued to be active well into his twilight years. With more subdivision and construction work being won, Higgins became a major user of concrete and moved into the ready-mixed concrete business establishing Higgins Redimix in 1976. Higgins workforce grew to 100. Collier Contractors of Levin was purchased in 1977 and Pavements (Wellington) Limited hot mix was bought from Purser Belwood in 1978. Several major contracts were undertaken in the '70s which included the building of the Manfield racing circuit, construction of the Palmerston North Airport runway, the Napier Airport runway, sealing of the Ohakea air force base runway, and a joint venture to supply asphalt to the Wellington Port container terminal.
With Higgins’ solid reputation carved out in the ‘60s, the '70s became a decade of rapid expansion. Roading was fast becoming big business. Higgins bought the Belspray asphalt manufacturing business in Hawke's Bay in 1971 to bulk up supplies. Continued growth called for more support staff and the first section of the current office complex was built in 1972 to house them.
Dan and wife Phyllis wanted their children to learn skills that would be useful outside of contracting. Son Michael, being clever with numbers, went into accounting and joined the company that did the Higgins books. By 1968, with the volume of work at Higgins, he joined the business full-time in the small two-room office. The building formed part of the workshop area. The company’s name was changed to D Higgins & Sons Limited. The £10-assisted passage program from the UK was in full swing and new immigrants swelled the New Zealand population that led to an increased demand for housing. Higgins entered the housing subdivision market which included several state housing projects.
The '60s was the decade that Higgins began building a reputation which continues today. The first two full-time employees were hired: Sam Cameron and Wally Cooper who both stayed with the company until retirement in the '90s. Modern machinery, like back hoes, diggers, tankers, sprayers, allowed Higgins to take on some more challenging work, including the construction of the foundations for the Wellington TV tower at Mt Kau Kau. With the growing demands of the business, Higgins purchased its first site at Roxburgh Crescent, Palmerston North, where a gravel crushing operation was housed. By the late '60s Higgins had outgrown its old home at Child Brothers and its first office and headquarters were also established at the Roxburgh site. In 1963, the company became D Higgins and Son Limited.
In 1958, Dan’s eldest son Pat, fresh from an automotive apprenticeship and military call-up duties, joined him to form D Higgins & Son – the Higgins company was officially born. Pat did not become a full partner until 1960 by establishing his stake into the company with the purchase of a small mobile crushing plant. Based in a small workshop at Child Brothers transport depot in Albert Street, Palmerston North, Higgins continued with its drainage and roading contracts around the Manawatu, using mostly basic equipment, as machinery was still hard to come by.
The ‘Waverley Project’, a contract to pave six miles of State Highway between Waitotara and Waverley, gave Dan Higgins the break he needed. Working seven days a week, heating bitumen in a roadside kettle, and using rudimentary machinery – some home-made – Dan completed the job and successfully stuck his stake in the ground. Dan also had significant contract during his start up with laying storm-water pipers under Main Street in Palmerston North, including tunneling under the main trunk line that ran through the town centre.
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