Chesapeake Electrical Systems Inc.

Infrastructure and heavy highway construction in the Washington, D.C., area is an extremely competitive industry, particularly for the electrical contractors associated with it, but Laurel, Md.-based Chesapeake Electrical Systems Inc. (CES) has a key advantage, Vice President Tim Harlow says. “We’re a 100 percent union electrical contracting company,” he asserts. “As far as infrastructure and heavy highway are concerned, there is very little union competition.”

CES is a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union. “The expertise we have with our union electricians and the relationships we have with our general contractors puts us far above the nonunion competition,” Harlow says.

Union electrical workers are the best in the business in Harlow’s opinion because the extensive training they undergo makes them well-rounded employees. “Right now, we’ve probably got the most experienced work force we’ve ever had,” he attests. “Even during these rough economic times, we’ve been able to keep our core people employed, which is one of our main goals. When things do turn around, we don’t want to be chasing people because they’ll already be gone.”

Milestone Projects

Chesapeake Electrical Systems was incorporated in October 1993 by President and CEO Joey Tominovich and his partner, Tom Gawne. The two worked for an electrical contracting firm in Washington, D.C., and developed relationships with a number of customers. When they decided to branch out and start their own company, some of the customers went with them, and slowly, the two built CES into a full-scale electrical contracting firm. In 2003, Tominovich purchased Gawne’s shares in the business and now leads CES alongside Harlow, who joined the company in 1995.

The company serves the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area through branch offices in Laurel, Md.; Washington, D.C.; and at Dulles Airport. CES has been at the airport since June 2006 and recently completed electrical work on a new parallel runway with general contractor Lane Construction Co.  The nearly $30 million project included more than 1 million linear feet of conduit and wire, more than 2,000 light fixtures, a new electrical volt with regulators and massive electrical duct banks, some of which were 15 to 20 feet below grade. “This was our largest project we’ve done yet,” Harlow says.

In July 2009, CES opened its fourth branch office in Springfield, Va., to manage its work on the $2 billion I-495 HOT Lanes Project in Fairfax County. CES is working under an approximately $30 million design/ build contract for Fluor Lane LLC, a joint venture between Fluor Corp. and Lane Construction. Fluor Lane is widening a 14-mile stretch of the Capital Beltway into four lanes north of the Dulles Toll Road and replacing more than $260 million of aging infrastructure including more than 50 bridges and overpasses.

“We are the prime electrical and communications contractor providing the infrastructure backbone for power wiring and fiber optics, including 88 dynamic message boards that will show toll prices and direct people to toll lanes; 77 new cameras that will revert back to the HOT Operations Center, where individuals will be able to monitor traffic every half-mile on the beltway; and microwave detectors throughout the project will calculate speed and traffic flow,” Harlow reports.

Monitoring the Market

In 2007, about 50 percent of CES’ workload was in the commercial market, such as electrical services for office building projects, and the other half was in infrastructure work. Today, about 80 percent of the company’s work is in infrastructure and 20 percent is in commercial. “The economy has just made [the commercial] market that much harder to work in, and we’ve been fortunate to pick up some pretty good-sized contracts in the infrastructure end of it,” Harlow notes.

CES’ philosophy is to go where the work is. “We’re struggling like everybody else trying to pick up new work where we can,” he says. “So we’re not really focusing on any particular area other than what contractors are bringing to us; we bid on anything they ask us to. In the heavy highway market, we used to be a small class of contractors that did that kind of work. Now, we’re starting to see contractors bidding on our type of work that don’t have the expertise, and that makes some trouble for us in some cases.”

However, Harlow says the company is seeing some slight improvement in the market. “There are starting to be more projects coming out that have electrical work rather than just paving jobs,” he states. “It’s going to be tough for a little while, but we’re seeing things slowly on the uptick. In the meantime, we’re going to continue to take care of the general contractors we’ve been working with.”

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