Industry Reports

Projects Spark Business for Electrical Contractors

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With the opening of the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre scheduled for mid-June, electricians from Tri-Area Electric Co. Inc. were at work at the project site on a sunny morning in late April.

With the concrete being poured the following day, roughing and grounding had to be competed for the main stage. Then an excavator was going to begin digging for the installation of utilities along a road near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge overhead. 

“It’s winding down,” says electrician Greg Voytilla of his company’s work on the electrical package at the site. 

Voytilla, who has been employed by Tri-Area Electric Co. 15 years and working at the amphitheater site since last June, was installing an electrical service panel with fellow electrician Ryan Wallace that would provide lighting underneath the bridge and behind the adjacent Covelli Centre, as well as for food trucks. 

Wallace, an electrician nine years, says his uncle and grandfather were electricians as well. “You’re doing different stuff every day,” he says. It’s not like you’re going to work sitting at a desk every day. You’re out in the field at different places.”

The major challenge at the amphitheater site is that the work is mostly outdoors, “so we’re faced with dealing with Mother Nature,” says Michael Johnson, chief estimator at Tri-Area, says. “Fortunately, our guys are highly skilled and very adaptable.” 

Business overall at Tri-Area this year is up about 30% from last, according to Johnson. He attributes increased spending on private-sector projects to a greater comfort level in the U.S. economy. 

“People are spending more money on their facilities now,” Johnson says. “People saw the economy doing better and felt like they were able to loosen their purse strings.” 

Work on the amphitheater is among several projects keeping Tri-Area and other electrical contractors in the region busy. At Tri-Area, those jobs include a new spine and pain center at the Southwoods Health complex in Boardman and the community and wellness center of Campbell City Schools

“All of the electrical contractors are swamped from what we can tell,” says Dominic Donofrio, business development manager at Enertech Electrical Inc., Lowellville. 

One of the big local projects for electrical contractors is the upgrade to the Youngstown wastewater treatment plant. 

“They have a big improvement project that they started and we’re on one phase of that project, along with a couple of other local electrical contractors,” says Becky Bertuzzi,  marketing manager for VEC Inc., Girard. 

VEC, which has a concentration in the oil and gas industry, saw “quite an uptick” in work at the beginning of 2019, mostly out of state, Bertuzzi says. 

Among the projects are “a rather large one” in western Pennsylvania and some work in Ashtabula County, she reports. Some work was slowed in recent years because it pushed into the winter months. 

Oil and gas activity this year is slower but 2020 will be “a whole lot busier,” VEC’s Bertuzzi says. “That’s normal industry trends. A few years of boom and a few years of  status quo and then it picks back up again.”

CR Electric Inc., Girard, is also working at the wastewater treatment plant in Youngstown, as well as at the wastewater plant in Niles. The company is  designing an electrical system for an Ohio City materials-handling project and recently converted lighting at Greenwood’s Hubbard Chevrolet to LED fixtures. 

The president of CR Electric, Jason Rubin, says growth is steady this year and forecasts the same for 2020. He attributes that growth, like his local colleagues, to the strong economy. “Everyone is working. People are spending money,” he says. 

Chuck Eyster, general superintendent at Santon Electric Co. Inc., Boardman, reports crews are at work on several gas stations, including Sheetz projects in Canfield and in Hermitage, Pa., and several GetGos. Also on the slate is a senior apartment complex near St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, and work at Belden Village Mall, near Canton, where the Sears is reducing its footprint and Dave & Busters is going in. 

Recent projects include work on student housing at Youngstown State University, eight GetGos – including Boardman and Niles – and six Sheetz stores last year. 

“This is our normal pace. We’re not slammed right now,” Eyster says. He, too, credits the activity level to comfort in the economy. 

“Business is great,” Enertech’s Donofrio affirms. “We’re seeing a lot of new construction, a lot of service and a lot of lighting retrofits.” 

Business overall is up 30% from a year ago, he continues. “We’re doing very well. The economy has treated  us well and our customers treat us well.”  

Much of Enertech’s workload involves public-works projects, Donofrio reports. “We’re seeing a lot of public upgrades in schools and wastewater treatment work,” he says. 

And about 60% of Enertech’s work is in new construction, he notes.

The company started its service/maintenance and lighting retrofit departments a few years ago. Because the economy is good, customers are making good use of their money and being more efficient with lighting retrofits.

Recent projects include lighting upgrades at the Covelli Enterprises headquarters in Warren, Lowellville Public Schools and Kennedy Catholic High School in Hermitage, Pa., he reports. 

Enertech is nearing the end of work on the new Ellet Community Learning Center in Akron and was recently awarded a contract for the new Hudson Middle School in Hudson.   

The company has been “doing a ton of work” for a restaurant chain, as well as work at the Mountaineer Casino in northern West Virginia, Donofrio adds.

Although concerned about rising fuel and materials costs affecting the industry, CR Electric’s Rubin says he is encouraged by prospects. So are other contractors. 

“Our phone has not stopped ringing. That’s a good indicator,” Tri-Area’s Johnson says. Right now, his company is doing estimating work on some hospital and larger public projects. 

Santon Electric’s Eyster is optimistic as well, with hotel projects in Lakewood and at the University of Akron on the horizon, along with an orthopedic surgery center on Western Reserve Road in Boardman.   

The biggest problem facing Enertech is the labor shortage, Donofrio says. “We can’t train them fast enough. What we’re doing now is trying to figure out how do to more with the same amount of people.”

The company has started prefabricating components to be installed in new-construction projects. 

And despite the good economy, Enertech is preparing for a recession that Donofrio sees as inevitable by developing a client base that isn’t as vulnerable to downturns and focusing on keeping good customers.  

Pictured: Ryan Wallace and Greg Voytilla of Tri-Area Electric Co. install electric lines at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre, one of many big projects in the area. 

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.