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Room to Grow

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With its state-of-the-art steel fabrication facility completed, Georgia industrial contractor Reinicke Athens sees immediate growth in its future. By Kathryn Jones, Building and Construction Southeast

When a recession strikes, most contractors will hunker down, work off their backlogs and wait for the storm to pass, but Reinicke Athens Inc. (RAI) President Mark Christopherson sees it as an opportunity for growth. “To me, the best time to expand is during a down market when people are available, and people are the most important part of a business, in my opinion,” he states.

“We hadn’t focused on growth until about two years ago – on purpose – because we didn’t feel we had the right people to be able to grow. Right now, we are hiring the cream of the crop. We’ve found some great talent and are having a lot of success filling key positions.

“We’ll be poised to take on additional and much larger projects, whereas other companies won’t be ready. While others are in defensive mode, we are in offensive mode and ready to grow. But, then again, you have to have the work to hire people, too, so it’s kind of a Catch-22 for some companies.”

Fortunately, Christopherson says, there is no shortage of work for RAI. The Athens, Ga.-based industrial contractor works mostly for repeat clients, many of which are Fortune 500 companies. Although it varies from year to year, approximately half of its work is negotiated and the other half is competitive bid. Although “people are bidding a lot more aggressively than they have in the past, “ he says, RAI’s competitive advantage is its capability to self-perform up to 80 percent of a turnkey project.

The company’s services include electrical, mechanical, process piping, concrete, steel fabrication, and 3-D building information modeling detailing services. Because RAI can self-perform so much work, it often serves as general contractor on complex industrial projects. “When you can self-perform a high percentage of the work, you have significant price advantages,” Christopherson points out.

“Everybody in our company understands that production is paramount to our customers’ success, and therefore our success. Our employees understand if our clients aren’t making products, they aren’t making money, and we’re there to help them make money. We’re able to perform fast track construction under high pressure, and that’s one of the reasons our clients choose us.”

Brand-New Fabrication Facility

After serving as general manger for his uncle’s business, Reinicke Corp., Christopherson bought the company’s Athens profit center in 1996 and secured a non-compete agreement that enabled RAI to establish a position in the Georgia marketplace. At the time, its main trades were electrical, mechanical and process piping, but as the company grew, it added concrete and steel fabrication to its service offerings.

RAI’s steel fabrication business has grown to the point where it has branched off into its own company, RAI Steel, Inc.. “We have had a lot of opportunities that we weren’t able to take advantage of because we were not big enough to do it, “ Christopherson notes. As a result, RAI is building a 103,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art structural steel fabrication facility next door to its headquarters that will boast fully automated production capabilities.

“We’re going to have a robotic plasma cutter beam line; drilling, coping, notching all in one stations; and an automated blasting and painting system along with work station areas and assembly areas,” he says. “We’re anticipating we’ll have maybe 25 to 30 employees running that operation at full capacity.” Construction on the $8 million project began in February and is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2012.

Project Safety Comes First

In fall 2009, RAI completed work on a 51,000-square foot skidder facility for Caterpillar Forest Products at the equipment manufacturer’s LaGrange, Ga., headquarters. Assembly of all CAT© forest machines, wheel skidders and both Cat and Prentice track feller bunchers were moved from the Caterpillar plant in Aurora, Ill., to LaGrange in support of the 2005 decision to consolidate the manufacturing of all Caterpillar forestry products. The facility was designed and constructed in accordance with LEED certification standards using on-site and local materials with high-recycled content. Other green features include high-efficiency heating and air-conditioning systems, low-flow plumbing fixtures, hot-on-demand water heaters, and an oil/water separator to reduce waste and hauling costs.

RAI’s top priority was to complete the $6 million project safely. “Safety is the most important thing on the job site,” he maintains. “You can’t qualify to work for the customers we work with without a good safety record and a solid safety plan. We have a 0.74 EMR, which is in the 99th percentile for contractors our size. We get a 26 percent discount off our worker’s compensation rates based on our safety record.

“That goes back to what I said before about employees being our most valuable asset,” he adds. “All you really have in business is your employees, when you get right down to it. We don’t want any of them to get hurt. I know them all personally, and I don’t want to see any of them hurt. We emphasize that and reinforce it on a daily and weekly basis that safety is not an option, it is required.”

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