Dickey Electric Begins Transition to New Ownership
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Eric Carlson was 15 when he worked as a materials handler for “Joe” Dickey Electric in North Lima. In about 10 years, he’ll assume majority ownership of the company.
In a statement Wednesday, the 61-year-old electrical contracting company announced it had begun transition of majority ownership to Carlson, who was named president of the company last year. The transition will take about eight to 10 years, Carlson said, giving CEO Dave Dickey enough time to set the company for the future.
“It’s simply time to start making the necessary transitions so that our company can be here another 60-plus years,” Dickey said. “We’re only able to do this because of the confidence we have in Eric. He is a young man who literally grew up in our shop and will continue to maintain and grow the legacy and success we’ve experienced since my dad started the company in 1957.”
Carlson came to know the Dickey family through his father, who worked there as an electrician for 22 years, he said. He remembers being six or seven years old when his dad would take him along to jobs, including the construction of Stambaugh Stadium at Youngstown State University.
“He always kept me around and kept me involved,” Carlson said. “He taught me how to wire. He was always exposing me to it.”
He first met Dave and Joe Dickey when the younger Dickey offered to purchase the building materials for an Eagle Scout project Carlson was working on – a 16-foot wooden bridge for Boardman Park. That was back in 1989, and the bridge is still used on a walking trail there to allow visitors to cross a creek.
“I got to see firsthand the philanthropy that Joe and Dave [Dickey] had done for the area for a number of years,” he said.
The Dickeys support local school systems, youth initiatives, the electrical trade, children’s health care, veterans’ causes and other community needs. Dave Dickey, who served as company president from 1984 until he was succeeded by Carlson in 2017, is the president of the Canfield Fair Board, governor of the Mahoning Valley National Electrical Contractors Association, or NECA, and is involved with multiple other civic and nonprofit boards and volunteer initiatives.
When Carlson turned 15, he started working for Dickey during summer break from school, he said. His father told the Dickeys “Give him a job. Get him dirty,” Carlson said. He started off “during grunt work” around the shop and cleaning out the store room. When Carlson was 16, he got his driver’s license and started driving a truck for Dickey Electric, making deliveries.
As a freshman at YSU studying electrical engineering, Carlson still worked at Dickey and worked on the construction of the Mahoning County Jail downtown, he said. The experience taught him how to organize the office, keep track of time and paperwork and see how some of the construction projects are built.
“That was a good experience for when I started my electrical engineering degree,” Carlson said. “Good on the job experience.”
After college, he was hired by Dickey to do estimating, he said. He worked closely with the same people he met when he was 15 – some of whom still work there today – and learned how they design the work before construction. He also worked under Dave Dickey, who taught Carlson how to run a company.
The most important lesson that Dickey taught him, he said, is how to treat the people.
“You take care of the people that take care of your company,” Carlson said. “Even though my last name isn’t Dickey, it still is our family business.”
Some of the electricians at Dickey started there as apprentices and have been there for 40 years, Carlson said, adding that it’s a good feeling to know that many of the people he works with have worked at Dickey their entire careers, just like him.
“I’m truly blessed in the fact that I’ve never worked anywhere else,” Carlson said. “I never had to write a resume or look for a job or go to an interview. I started here when I was 15 working summers after school as a kid, and now I’m going to be running the company.”
Now 43 years old, Carlson is looking toward the future. Last year was “off the charts” with business up 25% over the company’s average, he said. Business was down slightly in 2018, but still 15% over the average, allowing the company to maintain a staff of 100. During peak season, Dickey employs up to 350.
“We still had a great year,” Carlson said. “We got a lot of opportunities and we got more backlog than we’ve had in a while, which is really exciting.”
For 2019, he expects the backlog to drive business closer to 2017 numbers, he said. Jobs for next year include three contracts with the Youngstown Wastewater Treatment Plant and other private projects that will start in the spring, he said.
The company does strong residential business as well, usually with 12 electricians going to jobs daily, he said. Industrial work has picked up as well, including steel manufacturing and heavy manufacturing. He acknowledged that the announced halting of production of the Chevrolet Cruze at the GM Lordstown Assembly Complex will affect business at Dickey as well, so the company is “a huge supporter” of the Drive It Home campaign.
“We’re helping them in any way we can,” he said.
As Ohio lawmakers and economic development officials push for production of electric vehicles at Lordstown, Carlson is looking to electric vehicles as one of the next big changes, particularly with charging stations, he said.
“We’ve talked about it for a long time, but I think it’s going to become a reality,” he said. “They need electricians to be able to install those charging stations, whether in homes or businesses.”
Carlson said he is always looking for new opportunities to diversify the business and will be adding more technology to stay “fast and agile.” Dickey does a lot with digital imaging and metering, and is constantly upgrading to get better equipment. He looks to roll out digital invoicing systems for his residential business as well.
“I see that going over into our commercial side eventually,” he said.
As more electricians retire, hiring will be a challenge moving forward, Carlson said. With construction of the Shell ethane cracker plant ramps up in Monaca, Pa., and construction of the second power plant in Lordstown begins, “that will take manpower out of our Valley,” he said. Carlson plans to lean heavily on the apprentice program at Dickey to train the next generation of electricians, he said.
What won’t change, Carlson said, is the “principles of integrity, honesty and a commitment to supporting our community,” that the company was founded upon.
“We’re still going to be ‘Joe’ Dickey Electric, and we’ll continue to operate with the same focus on providing the highest level of customer service and investing in our people that my mentors Joe Jr. and Dave Dickey have long established,” Carlson said. “I can’t think of a better place to be and I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to not only learn this business from the best, but from the ground up.”
Pictured: “Joe” Dickey Electric, North Lima has begun to transition majority ownership to the company’s president, Eric Carlson.
Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.