The companies on this year’s list of America’s Concrete Contractors are at the head of the class in many ways. Here’s what they have taught us this year.

1. Find the niche where you can be an innovator. Success is all about capitalizing on what you do best, and several of the operations profiled in 2014 have found ways to stand out as trendsetters in various niches. Elliot Construction Corp., Glen Ellyn, Ill., has built a strong reputation working on unique and meaningful projects such the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. Oltmans Construction, Whittier, Calif., was one of the first in tilt-up concrete construction, and Miller & Long, Bethesda, Md., pioneered the use of electrically powered climber cranes and tall tracked tower cranes in the 1960s. It was also among the first in the industry to offer employee health insurance and profit sharing. Tom Ralston, CEO, Tom Ralston Concrete, Santa Cruz, Calif., has made a name for himself in decorative concrete through a close relationship with concrete supplier Granite Rock. At Nibbi Concrete, San Francisco, Calif., the focus is on developing the right process for the job, and the team has come up with innovative approaches for some complex projects, including the first LEED Platinum office building in Mountain View, Calif.

2. Start small, think big. Many of the 2014 America’s Concrete Contractors started on a shoestring and they have come a long way, thanks to some big ideas. Urata & Sons Cement, Rancho Cordova, Calif, started with a used truck and a few concrete driveway and patio jobs. Today the team is mastering large scale projects, including a new Stanford Central Energy Plant, using state-of-the-art 3D technology. Naval Officer and entrepreneur Greg Hyde Hryniewicz started his concrete company in 2005 with an MBA but no industry experience. Hyde Concrete, Annapolis, Md., now boasts several major awards for its work.

3. Safety first.Vee-Jay Cement Contracting Co., St. Louis, Mo., provides job-specific safety training and all 300 employees receive at least 10 hours of OSHA training. LeChase Construction Services, Rochester, N.Y., received a 2008 Presidential Award for Outstanding Safety Performance, for its commitment to safety.

4. Honor yesterday’s history, but embrace tomorrow’s technology. “I like to view the CSI 3000 team as the new generation of concrete contractors with an old school work ethic,” said Rey Rivera, who started as a laborer at age 12, and is now CEO of CSI 3000, Chicago. Webcor Builders is also tapping into the latest tools. The San Francisco-based operation combines the use of virtual tools including  Building Information Modeling (BIM) with historical construction cost data to provide accurate estimates, optimize schedules and identify issues ahead of time.

5. Keep it in the family. Many of this year’s America’s Concrete Contractors started out as small family operations doing driveways and small projects. One example is Kent Companies, Grand Rapids, Mich., a third-generation family-owned business. Frank Builders Company Inc., Cincinnati, has been a family business for more than 25 years. Co-owner Jeff Frank and his wife Pam have used their knowledge of concrete to help people with disabilities, especially their son. To improve access, they installed several features at his home, including concrete ramping, extra-wide driveways, and glowing concrete edges for safety. Roger & Sons Concrete, Lagrangeville, N.Y., views its tight customer list as family.

For the full list of America's Concrete Contractors, click here.