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Focus - A change in direction

image Chuck Fell, President, CFI Mechanical Inc., Houston, TX

Houston - In addition to his role as president of CFI Mechanical Inc., Chuck Fell served as the president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) in 2014 through 2015. He continues to attend and serve as a past president of the association.





How would you describe the state of the construction industry in general terms?
    In the Greater Houston area, the market is fairly healthy. Many school districts have projects starting or in the design phase, and multi-family construction is booming. Office tower construction has slowed since the peak in 2015.
Have you heard of an increase or slowdown in business? What factors are driving this increase/slowdown?

    As far as a slow down, it would be in the construction of major commercial projects like office towers and large hospital projects.  Houston just finished a large office tower boom along with many new hospitals.

How has this increase/slowdown affected your company and how you conduct business?
    We have ventured out into multi-family projects. We have plenty of school  work and have built-up a sizeable service department for commercial clientele. We have a good niche in chiller change out and cooling tower change outs.  Our customers appreciate our ability to keep their building downtime to a minimum.

Have there been any recent changes in legislation affecting your industry?
    There have not been any significant changes concerning Texas legislation. The steel tariffs are cause for concern.  We have numerous projects with steel pipe that we are now paying a premium for and the manufactured goods we purchase have gone up accordingly.  It’s hard to bid a current project and hold our pricing more than seven days, when typically an owner wants you to hold your bid price for 30 to 60 days.

What are the “hot button” issues in your industry?
    The continued skilled labor shortage and, now, the possible steel tariffs are the “hot button” issues in the HVAC and plumbing industry today.
What is on the horizon for your industry? (Changes in technology, equipment, other)
    “The Internet of things” is having a positive effect on the manufactured goods that we are purchasing. In addition, our collaboration with Milwaukee Tool has provided us a safer more productive means to perform our work safely and efficiently.

 What are the major changes in your industry in recent years?
    Augmented and virtual reality is gaining more traction in construction such as 3-D BIM Modeling which has now turned more toward Revit Software in which we coordinate with the architect and engineers to provide life size building models in which we use in the design and coordination specific mechanical and plumbing systems. Also, our tech savvy workforce and the use of tablet and cloud computing to communicate with our field foreman are the biggest changes we’ve seen in recent years.

What is the most significant challenge your industry faces? Labor shortages? Other?
    We often hear about the challenge of staying ahead of the curve when it comes to changes in technology and project delivery methods. Building Information Modeling (BIM), mobile technologies, modularization and prefabrication are good examples. And then there are the related challenges of enhancing your firm’s efficiencies and maximizing your competitiveness. One issue in our industry, unfortunately, is the ongoing need to replace today’s aging skilled work force with new skilled plumbers, pipefitters and service techs. Our apprenticeship schools need now, more than ever, to recruit talented individuals and our contractors need to put them to work. We also need to provide ongoing training on today’s new technologies and techniques to keep us all competitive, and our workers employed.
    There is a labor shortage, specifically skilled labor such as HVAC service technicians, licensed plumbers, and welders, along with other construction trades. The loss of vocational classes in high schools back in the late 80s has hurt this industry.

How are you dealing with these challenges?

    We are aggressively working with the United Association of Plumbers & Pipefitters in recruiting new apprentices into our trade.
What are the rewards of the industry?

    Building a trusted loyal client base that turns to us for repeat business.  We pride ourselves in building a reputation up and down the supply chain, from architect and engineering firms to general contractors and the subcontractors that work for us to the building owners that depend on us for their air conditioning and plumbing needs.

What are the keys to being successful?
    Our employees are who we are as a successful mechanical contractor.  We enjoy our work and our customer base and we take pride in the subcontractors we choose to do business with. They represent CFI Mechanical. 
    CFI Mechanical Inc. is a HVAC and plumbing contractor in Houston, TX. -cmw

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Carol Wiatrek meditor@constructionnews.net