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FOCUS - Electrical Industry - Electrical horizon

image Vincent Real, President and CEO, Big State Electric Ltd., Austin, TX

AUSTIN - How would you describe the state of the construction industry in general terms?







    I feel Texas has been vibrant and creative to keep our economy healthy. Texas leadership has always been proactive attracting large industry and Fortune 500 companies. No matter where I go or turn there is construction projects of all sizes including infrastructure and highway improvements throughout the state. I would say the economy in Texas is fair.

 Have you heard of any increase or slowdowns in business?
     Obviously the oil production decrease and under $50 a barrel oil has had an impact on Texas. Our Houston office has definitely been feeling it for the last 10 months, but we see light at the end of the tunnel. We have been budgeting many projects for large companies and we feel it is only a matter of time until they are released.
    We have also noticed a lot of consolidation in facilities with the larger companies. The Permian Basin is very active at the moment and we hope it trickles down to the Eagle Ford and other parts of South Texas. On the bright side, we are seeing a lot of activity in San Antonio, Austin and Houston with public education bonds being passed to build more schools. There seems to be a lot of activity in the higher education arena also. Medical and data centers, also seems to have some activity.

What are the factors driving this increase/slowdown?

    I believe not only national, but also international companies focus on Texas. It is a company and industry friendly state that does not handcuff large industry with laws and regulations. Not that our state leaders don’t protect our state and the people that live here, they just seem to be more sensible and use common sense when it comes to what is decided for the large companies and what is good for our state and its cities.

Do you see an increase in the number of outside contractors coming to the area?
    We do see a considerable number of general contractors, mechanical, electrical and plumbing contractors from other states setting up offices in the areas where we work. Especially in the last 10 years large contractors, from the East and West Coast, pursing large government and municipality projects in the state.

What are the costs increases relating to your industry?

    We historically have had labor increases due to inflation and insurance coverage continuing to rise. We have invested a large amount of funding on two full time safety personnel and looking for a third so we have one in each office. We are also increasing safety and certification training. We have seen a positive side to this by lowering our modifier and reducing our insurance premium.
What is on the horizon for your industry?
    We have invested in various software, more computers, ipads, cell phones and state-of-the-art tools. We are doing more training, preplanning, prefab and taking more emphasis on material and logistics.   In simple terms, reducing task and steps on the project site.

Have there been any significant code changes in the last year?
    Yes, related to the energy codes regarding lighting, lighting controls, daylight harvesting and automation of window shades in large buildings.

With the recent emphasis on green building, what is the most environmentally-friendly change relating to your industry?
    I think in the electrical industry it would be the disposal of incandescent, florescent lamps and ballast. You can’t dispose a large quantity when doing a demo project. I know Big State Electric is doing a better job recycling and collecting cardboard, pallets, etc. for recycling instead of throwing in the dumpster. We have been on some large projects when owners are seeking LEED Certification for silver, gold or platinum recognition for their buildings. On these projects you have multiple dumpster separating cardboard, pallets, scrap metal, sheetrock, trash, etc. to score points.

Have you seen an increase in safety awareness?

    Yes, I would estimate a 30 percent  increase in the last five years in our company. As a minimum, all our employees are OSHA 30 or OSHA 10 trained along with many other special certifications.

What is the most unusual application of electricity you have seen?

    Back in the ‘90s, we did a project at a research facility where high voltage cable grids were installed overhead in the interior of a large building.  This was to mock up high voltage utility lines that we see in our cities and rural areas. Monkeys lived in this facility for years and were observed to see if the frequent exposure had any side effects or caused medical issues.

What is the most significant challenge your industry faces?

    I would say hiring. We have become a society that feels they are entitled to high wages and benefits when they have no experience. I had a friend tell me his son just started his first day as an intern at a large company and one of the other interns in the group asked, “I wonder how many hours they expect us to work?”  That scares me when this type of mindset exists for potential new hires. I am seeing it too often.

What are the rewards of the industry?

    The friends I have made and every project we complete and getting that warm and fuzzy feeling of accomplishment. I am very proud of our company name and I smile every time I see one of our trucks on the road or seeing our sign hanging on a new construction project.

What are keys to being successful?

    I think finding people to work in your organization that are self- motivated, driven with a desire to be a servant and that are engaged daily. We all work hard in our organization but we try to have a little fun while we are doing it.
    Big State Electric Ltd. headquartered in San Antonio, with offices in Austin and Houston Texas, has been in business for over 50 years performing all facets of electrical services from 38 KV to low Voltage telephone/data cabling.  –cmw

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Carol Wiatrek meditor@constructionnews.net