MMR getting ready for next industrial buildout

Michael Bradwell
Observer Reporter

As one of the country’s largest employers of electrical subcontractors, MMR Constructors Inc. knows it way around many of the world’s petrochemical and other industrial projects.

Baton Rouge, La.-based MMR is an international leader in installing electrical and instrumentation controls, construction, maintenance, management and technical services.

The volume of that work makes MMR one of the largest electrical contractors in the U.S., according to a recent industry survey.

While it has worked in refineries, petrochemical plants, gas plants and has a major presence wherever petroleum and petroleum products are being extracted or processed around the globe, the company also works in a host of other industries.

Locally, MMR, which has been working in the oil and gas industry here for the past six years in upstream, midstream and downstream projects, is putting the finishing touches on a new office building in Lawrence as it looks for an upturn in the oil and gas industry in the Marcellus Shale. It’s also looking further down the road to what it believes could become the next industrial revolution in the region – the outgrowth of manufacturing as a result of Shell’s recent decision to build an ethane cracker in Beaver County.

“As gas and petrochemicals pick back up, we believe we will see an uptick in employment locally,” said Billy Hinton, business development manager for MMR.

It’s not that MMR has been idle. In addition to oil and gas, it casts its capabilities across a variety of industrial and manufacturing projects, power generation and pulp and paper processing. It also installs communications and software systems for industrial applications.

“The power market in the Northeast is very strong,” Hinton said.

While acknowledging the current downturn in the oil and gas industry in the region, Hinton said the company doesn’t have all of its eggs in one basket in terms of its workload.

“We’re hoping the gas industry picks up, but the saving grace of MMR is its market diversity,” he said.

“We were really busy last year,” added Peter Blaser, operations manager for MMR’s Pittsburgh area office, which is currently based in Bridgeville’s Bursca Business Park.

Pittsburgh is one of three MMR offices in Pennsylvania, with the others in Warren, where the company operates a full-scale control panel fabrication shop; and Wellsboro, where the focus is on construction projects. The company directly employs 165 across the three sites, but depending upon its project mix, the number goes far higher when it counts its subcontractors.

MMR, which has a total of 19 offices in the U.S. and five others in South America, hires nonunion workers, with a strong focus on training them internally for the work they do, Blaser said.

The company participates in National Center for Construction Education and Research programs that includes both hands-on and classroom training at its Baton Rouge headquarters. It is also partnered with the Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Pennsylvania.

“Our biggest strength is our labor pool,” Hinton said, noting that the company employs some 3,000 electricians nationally. MMR was recognized this month by Engineering News-Record as the sixth largest electrical contractor in the U.S.

According to the ENR report, MMR’s earnings totaled $705 million in 2015, with the company anticipating earnings to be between $700 million and $800 million for 2016.

Because of its broad presence across the country, the company hires locally.

“We try to hire a lot of people from the area” where the company has operations, Hinton said.

But projects out of the local office could be far-ranging, he added.

“We follow the major pipeline construction all the way down into West Virginia and Virginia,” he said.

District Manager Tony Graham said the new office in Lawrence, which is scheduled to open in the spring, is 10,000 square feet, with offices and warehouse space, and includes an 800 square-foot training room.

The building will accommodate about 10 MMR employees as well as numerous subcontractors.

When Shell announced in June it would build the ethane cracker plant, it also said it would hire union workers to construct the massive project, which will begin next year and take about three years to complete.

While Shell’s commitment to using union kept MMR from being considered for the project, Hinton said the company is setting its sights on the manufacturing opportunities in plastics and petrochemicals that are expected to expand across the region as a result of the ethane cracker’s presence.

“Manufacturing in the next five to 10 years is where you’ll see the boom,” Hinton said.