Harris Cos.

Some construction firms might prefer to take on the easy jobs that have minimal complications, but Harris Cos. has found success by focusing on “large and technically complex projects,” President and CEO Greg Hosch says. Based in St. Paul, Minn., the firm is one of the largest mechanical contractors in its industry, with offices in four states and Canada.

Founder Charles Harris started the company in 1948 as Harris Plumb­ing & Heating, and his son Ron Harris, later took leadership of the firm around 1960. Harris went on to nurture and grow the business with another partner, Shelly Stewart. The company was purchased from Ron Harris and Shelly Stewart in 1983, Hosch says, adding that the same ownership structure has remained in place since.

Harris Cos. also has grown its range of services to include design/build, installation, control and maintenance services for clients in such markets as healthcare, data centers, nuclear facilities, public venues, industrial and commercial. Additionally, it acts as the parent company for multiple firms, including Harris Mechanical, HiMEC Mechanical, HiMEC Conveyors, Superior Air Handling and TRAK International. 

“As a single-source mechanical contractor, Harris listens intently and responds promptly to [clients’] concerns and helps guide [their] projects from start to finish,” the company says. “[Clients] can rely on Harris to put [their] visions on paper and to build what [they] see in [their] dreams.”

Harris’ Loyal Base

Currently, Harris Cos. serves a customer base that is comprised largely of general contractors, Hosch says. Additionally, “Most [are] customers [who] we have done business with before,” he says.

He adds that Harris Cos. also has strong direct relationships with several owners, including IBM, Mayo, Malt-O-Meal and 3M. Due to these relationships, “[We] form a pretty consistent base of revenue from year to year,” Hosch says. 

Currently, Harris Cos. is completing work on a geo-exchange system for Summit Elementary School in Casper, Wyo. “Adolfson & Peterson is the general contractor, and they were instrumental in helping the owner understand the benefits of a high performance system,“ Hosch says, noting that the system is highly efficient. 

While Adolfson & Peterson Construction is as the general contractor, Harris Co. is the mechanical contractor, with TRAK providing the piping and GeoExchange design for the 62,500-square-foot school, which includes 25 classrooms, a two-story village/community center, an administrative wing, and a music and performance area.

The efficient system reflects Harris Cos.’ focus on green initiatives, which is “important to us,” he asserts, adding that the company also has 40 staff members who are LEED accredited professionals. “[We’ve] also got people focused on selling energy based projects.” 

Generally, Harris Cos. will refer to these projects as bundled energy solutions, which are highly customized projects. However, they all share the common trait of the company providing capital improvements to an owner’s facility and funding them through reductions in operating costs.

Strategies for Success

Hosch has a long history with Harris Cos. He joined the company in 1993, but his father, Bob Hosch, served as its president from 1983 to 1997. Today, his father is the chairman of Harris Cos., which retains a “family” feel, according to Greg Hosch. 

He adds that Harris Cos. has stayed successful by concentrating on continuous expansion. To accomplish this, the company has opened offices in new locations and acquired businesses that give it access to more marketplaces. 

For instance, “Our first foray into that was [with an acquisition in] Rochester, southeastern Minnesota,” he says. The company today also has offices in St. Paul and Northfield, Minn.; San Francisco; Phoenix; Salt Lake City and Clearfield, Utah; and Kelowna, British Columbia. 

Recently, Harris Cos. acquired Wasatch Control Systems LLC, a controls contractor in Salt Lake City. “[That acquisition will] expand our offering in the Salt Lake City market,” he says, adding that the purchase became official in May. 

The firm also has taken on jobs outside its regions. At the moment, “We’re doing work in at least 14 states,” he says, adding that the company has completed projects as far east as South Carolina in the past. 

In recent months, Hosch says, Harris Cos. has strived to adapt to the poor economy by keeping its revenue up as it has kept its overhead low. “That’s kind of the primary challenge right now – finding and doing work, [and] managing the size of your business to match your opportunities in the marketplace,” he says, noting that the company has looked for areas where it can make cuts.

To help cope with the rough times, the company has looked to cut discretionary spending, including holiday parties and golf outings. In addition, the firm has downsized some of its office staff as the work load has decreased.

 However, in spite of the challenges, Hosch believes that the company will continue to grow and prosper as it finds new areas into which it can expand. “We’re going to continue to look for new market sector opportunities,” he says. “We want to enter a new marketplace by the end of the year, [and we are] looking at a couple of new cities. Those are the two general means we’ll use to grow and expand.”

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