Workforce

Lighting Up the Industry

Tri-City Electrical Contractors, Inc. has been awarded Associated Builders and Contractors’ distinction as 2020 Contractor of the Year for its client service, technical innovation, safety performance and workforce achievements.
By Lauren Pinch
April 5, 2020
Topics
Workforce

Reputation. Integrity. Longevity. These are words that come up frequently when construction industry influencers and clients speak about Tri-City Electrical Contractors, Inc., which has been awarded Associated Builders and Contractors’ distinction as 2020 Contractor of the Year for its client service, technical innovation, safety performance and workforce achievements.

With multiple award-winning projects lighting up Florida skylines, the company’s broad portfolio spans an array of markets: commercial, entertainment, government, health care, hospitality, industrial, multifamily, schools and more.

A company doesn’t win these big-name projects by accident; it takes years of dedication to clients to achieve this level of high esteem. In the merit shop contracting community, Tri-City is a name that always comes up when it comes to delivering on expectations.

“I like to use the phrase: ‘You always want to get invited to the party. You don’t get to dance every time, but if you get invited to the party, then you’ll get that opportunity to dance,’” says H.L. “Buddy” Eidel, founder and chairman emeritus, who for more than 60 years has made sure that the company is not just invited, but is the life of the party. Tri-City, through its loyal relationships with ABC, NCCER and local construction organizations, is an active and influential participant—advancing the industry and providing lifelong career opportunities.

This positive attitude is recognized by owners and general contractors alike, and it’s precisely why the company has been recognized for ABC’s top honor. “I used to tell the guys, ‘do a good enough job for a general contractor that he’s afraid to use somebody else.’ We believe in taking care of the customer. It has come back to help us many times,” Eidel says.

As an employee-owned company since 2017, Tri-City encourages its entire team to invest in the success of the company, the well-being of its people and the future of construction.

When Eidel stepped back from the business, he put it in the capable hands of an executive management team that carries on the founders’ “can-do” philosophy, believing that networking and volunteerism are the best ways to connect and grow the company—and the industry.

“We’ve gotten a lot of business through networking with people we never would have worked with before because of ABC. I encourage everyone to participate on chapter boards and committees, which have been a real positive for us,” says Jack Olmstead, president, who began his career in Indiana before joining Tri-City 25 years ago.

C.L. Janeski, district vice president and Central Florida commercial division manager, who has been with the company for 40 years, echoes that building relationships matters most.

“We have a very strong relationship with a lot of clients, and they look to us to always be the contractor they come to when it’s a difficult project or a tight schedule, because they know we have the manpower, the resources and the knowledge to take on the complex work,” Janeski says. “We are known for giving a quality product to the owner and meeting or exceeding the client’s expectation, and working hard for them, because we know that comes back to help us.”

DOING ‘THE RIGHT THING’

Christopher Szydlowski, regional operations manager, says repeat business is based on going above and beyond, from the office, down to the field. “We have a reputation for doing the ‘right thing,’ whether or not it costs us money, or we walk away. We are willing to man up jobs if necessary, help out other trades and be a team player.”

Matt Hardy, director of healthcare construction and prefabrication services, agrees: “People are very engaged and interested in the success of the company and really care about each other. They really understand that our clients and our projects; it’s why clients would rather have Tri-City do the work than somebody else do it for less.”

“I would say that the biggest thing that separates us from other electrical contractors is our longevity with employees,” says Ken Curcio, Florida West Coast and South Florida regional manager. “People know we are going to be here when this job is done, and we’re still going to be here for the next job. Nothing excites me more than a client telling their estimating team: ‘You’ve got to figure a way to get Tri-City on the job.’”

Tri-City works with big-name clients in a broad array of markets: commercial, entertainment, government, health care, hospitality, industrial, multifamily, schools and more. Clockwise from left: University of South Florida Byrd Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute, Tampa; Amway Center, Orlando; and Four Seasons Resort, Walt Disney World.

AN EMPLOYEE-CENTRIC CULTURE

Tri-City’s quality work is a direct result of its quality team of employees and its commitment to industry education. Through ABC chapter and NCCER education programs, the company invests in apprentices and encourages them to move up the ranks according to their skill sets.

“I always felt like training the young apprentices was the future of our industry,” Eidel says. Historically, in the early 1970s, the company was a founding member of the ABC Central Florida Chapter at a time when union coercion and conflict over pay scales were rampant problems. Tri-City remained committed to the merit shop apprenticeship model, working with the state legislature to support non-union apprenticeship programs that provided the same benefits and opportunities as the unions, with fewer unnecessary restrictions.

Eidel fostered the importance of field work and respect, and passed along that value to the company’s current leadership team. “I have always respected the field people and treated everyone as an equal, regardless of what part of the company they are in or what discipline they are in. I think that today, this is a very good place to work, especially for a young person,” he says.

Tri-City takes care of its employees with competitive wages, 401K benefits and paid vacation time—and as an employee-owned company, stock benefits.

“Our company has always afforded the opportunity to grow and provided a career path,” says Rance Borderick, vice president and division leader of residential and multifamily markets, who has been with Tri-City for 48 years. “Buddy always promoted from within; we have always had the next step available for people. A lot of people in the company have moved up through the ranks; for example, they were first a journeyman electrician and then a project manager, and then went up the ladder. That’s what attracts good people.”

Natasha Washburn, human resources director, leads Tri-City’s employee recruitment, hiring and retention efforts. “We want to make sure that they have a career path that’s defined for them. We continue to invest our resources in our employees. Everything starts with them and ends with them,” she says. “We always reinvest in our people; that’s who we are.”

Michael Germana, CFO, says: “The people are really what defines us and sets us apart. We do more than what’s expected. That’s how our name has become a staple in Florida. For any major project, people want us on it because they know we are going to deliver. They know we have the best people. We are client-centric, but we are also employee-centric.”

“From a field standpoint, we are very involved, from helpers on up, to make sure everyone is involved in ABC’s training programs, whether they have college degrees or not. We push complete involvement, in the same way we push customer service. It’s a similar investment,” Szydlowski says.

“We are not just looking to set people up for a job; we are looking to set people up for success and a career,” Janeski says.

ESOP CREATES A PERSONAL INVESTMENT

Being an employee-owned company takes the “employee-centric” piece to the next level, as executive leaders partner with younger leaders, who will grow the company as vested owners. “They are owners, not renters now. They’re not just coming for a paycheck. They are leaving their mark,” Germana says. “They are the architects of the success of the company.”

Olmstead says the company is already seeing a shift in employees’ attitudes, as well as a positive effect on the bottom line: “People are even more invested because of it. They are paying more attention to not wasting materials or resources.”

“Being employee-owned means the company is going to feel like the same company, well into the future. People appreciate that. It gives them a little bit more security,” Borderick says. “Many folks have longevity here because we have a family atmosphere, and the ESOP works right into that.”

In addition, the ESOP has been a recruitment and retention tool. “People have to make decisions about which company to join, and the industry has been very competitive right now. They can come here and be part of a program where they can be given stock along the way,” Olmstead says. “It makes our customers feel that we aren’t just any national company. It shows we care about our employees.”

NEXT GENERATION: SPEED OF LIGHT

In addition to being community, client and employee-centric, Tri-City Electrical Contractors is also innovation-centric. Its culture of safety (see sidebar at the bottom of the pg.) is innately wired into its prefabrication shop—an aspect that helps with attracting the younger generation.

“We are tapping into a younger generation to let them know that construction pays well and provides many options,” Washburn says.

Olmstead is proud of the efforts Tri-City makes to encourage young people, such as visits to high schools and colleges. For the past four years, one recruitment program in Tampa Bay has exposed nearly 800 high school students to the trades, which has resulted in some students opening their eyes to working at Tri-City and other local contractors.

“We try to show them that they’ll come out of school with no debt and have the opportunity to make well over 100k a year,” Olmstead says. “Statistics say we have about a thousand people a day moving to this area, so we are always looking for that talent.” It doesn’t hurt that Tri-City works with well-known general contractors to build projects such as the impressive new Star Wars “Rise of the Resistance Trackless Dark Ride” at Walt Disney World® Hollywood Studios.

“The kind of work we do is attractive. For example, at theme parks, electricians get to see behind the scenes to see the back rooms of projects that no one else is building,” Olmstead says.

Technology and pre-fabrication will advance at the speed of light, and contractors that are able to keep pace are the ones that will succeed in the long term. BIM tools such as drone cameras and 3D modeling have become part of most every complex job, and electrical contractors need to engage in that evolution along with everyone else.

“In the next the 10 years, technology will force us to look at how we do business, from the back office to customer service in the field,” Germana says. “Being able to solve complex problems for our customers, and continuing to develop our employees, are what set us apart. That will be the differentiator that keeps this thing going another 100 years.”

ABC’s 2020 Contractor of the Year Award is sponsored by Travelers.

by Lauren Pinch

Lauren Pinch was editor-in-chief of Construction Executive and serves as an editorial consultant to the construction industry.

Related stories

Workforce
Building TeamBuilder
By Patrick Hennessy
After experiencing chronic problems with workforce planning, Harkins needed an easy-to-use solution that would support not just staffing but training and development. So the general contractor designed and developed one itself.
Workforce
One Milestone at a Time
By Grace Calengor
Breaking barriers can be intimidating for women business owners in construction, but Jessie Cannizzaro never shies away from a chance to better her company and her reputation. As the founder of Milestone Plumbing puts it: ‘Your work ethic needs to be what you strive to work toward and the path that you pick.’
Workforce
Generation Yes
By David McMillin
Today’s construction-management students are ready and eager to join the workforce. What can companies do to attract the best and brightest? Get to them early, create a close-knit culture, offer flexibility and travel— and don’t discount their affinity for technology.

Follow us




Subscribe to our newsletter

Stay in the know with the latest industry news, technology, and our weekly features. Get early access to any CE Events & Webinars.