Construction Site Getaways a New Money Spinner in Down Economy

Earlier this summer I took a trip to Las Vegas—not a great place, I discovered, when you don’t much care for gambling. Stuck for something to do late one afternoon, and on a quest to escape the dimly lit game halls and mind-numbing slot machines, I happened to stumble across something very different.

Dig This Las Vegas—which opened May 2011—offers a stark alternative to the usual Vegas lineup. It’s surprising to find such a company just a few minutes’ drive from the Strip. And for those of us who never quite left the sandbox, it might just be the ultimate escape.

If you’ve ever wanted to operate a 15 ton Cat bulldozer or excavator, here’s your chance. Dig This—headquartered in Steamboat Springs, Colo—offers individuals and corporate groups an opportunity to move mountains of earth, dig giant holes, and stack monster rocks with a variety of heavy industrial equipment. Two to three hours of carnage will cost anywhere from $200 to $800. After a short safety and equipment briefing you’re ready to roll (literally). You can even pit your skills against Olympic athletes like Dave Jarrett.

After some initial setbacks with liability insurance, Dig This has really taken off. Perhaps these types of innovative adventure package—which appeal to corporate clients and weekend warriors alike—could prove to be a new money spinner for traditional construction businesses struggling to make ends meet in a down economy?

The construction industry remains in a Depression-like state according to a recent statement by LIUNA (Laborers’ International Union of North America), and there’s not much hope of recovery anytime soon. So why not find an alternative use for that seldom-used skid steel loader?

Dig This is the brainchild of New Zealand-born Ed Mumm, who came up with the idea while using a rented excavator to build his home in Steamboat Springs. He had so much fun with the excavator that he figured others might feel the same way:

“I wasn’t making much progress on the house, but I was having a great time,” Mumm says. “I felt that it was something everyone could enjoy, and there was nothing like it out there.

“A lot of us never grew up out of our sandboxes and I wanted the opportunity to take it to the next level. We pass construction sites everyday and say, “man I wish I could have a go.” People come to the program a little bit skeptical, wondering what’s going to happen. But then they leave totally elated,” Mumm says.

Mumm—who started out as a fencing contractor—has enjoyed great success in Colorado and wanted to expand to Las Vegas because of its enormous tourist trade – 40 million visitors every year.

People at Play—based in Florida—has similar offerings. You can join the People at Play crew as an operator, superintendent or foreman depending on the amount of time you have and what equipment you are interested in. Operators, for instance, get to operate a Cat 312 or 315 Steel Track Excavator—at a cost of $395 for two hours. For an extra $1200 you can throw in a skid steel loader and a CAT Track Type bulldozer.

“We’ve designed challenges here that kind of imitate what you might do on a job site,” said People at Play co-owner Alisa Bennett in a recent interview with The Today Show. “We show you the diversity and sensitivity of these huge steel monsters.”

People at Play was launched in Dec 2010 to supplement Bennett and her husband’s primary business Bennett Contracting.

Similar businesses, billing themselves as the ultimate in heavy-equipment play, are popping up all over the United States. Some charging as much as $1700 for a half-day package. And if innovation is central to economic prosperity, then surely companies like Dig This and People at Play are pioneers.

Photo: what will this lever do? by sic disintegrat on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)


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3 thoughts on “Construction Site Getaways a New Money Spinner in Down Economy”

  1. Jennifer Martinson says:

    My Uncle actually did this adventure as he had always dreamed of operating a bulldozer as a child. He really enjoyed the experience. Who would have thought?

  2. This has also become pretty popular in Germany – I actually gave a 1-hour-bulldozer experience to my brother for his 30th birthday a few years ago (it was his childhood dream, too, to operate bulldozers… in the end he became a process engineer). Also, I know of a site near Berlin, Germany, where you can drive old army tanks.

    1. Nancy Pardo says:

      And I was happily surprised to find that 50% of Dig This participants are women. In fact, Dig This targets women specifically, offering special Mother’s day deals!

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