The Midwest has always been a hotbed of activity for the manufacturing industry. With all of the necessary environmental and geographic ingredients such as accessible rivers and lakes, plentiful forests, and rich soil, products that range from wheat to automobiles, textiles to airplane parts have all come out of the region for hundreds of years.
In 2010, the Midwest accounted for 30 percent of total U.S. manufacturing, while the regional manufacturing workforce represented 10 percent of the region’s total employment – a higher percentage than any other region. And one of the most notable manufacturers to come out of the Midwest is AZCO Inc., an national industrial and fabrication contractor located in Appleton, Wisconsin.
AZCO was initially formed by four individuals, one of whom was the late F. John Barlow – a reputed prolific and colorful figure in Appleton. At the time of its inception in 1949, AZCO was primarily focused on the industrial piping industry.
The name “AZCO” was chosen because the company wanted to be able to provide services to their customers that ranged from “A” to “Z”. In 1953 the team began to expand their focus to metal fabrication after securing a large industrial ventilation project, and their story and services grew from there. With new services also came expanding facilities and new locations.
After more than 30 successful years in operation, in 1985 AZCO purchased Hennes Erecting Company, which was an established machinery moving, millwright, and crane services company in Milwaukee. In 1998, Barlow decided to retire so he could focus on his mineral collection and philanthropic work. His shares were bought and distributed amongst the employees of the company, and as a result, by 2005, AZCO became a 100 percent ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) company.
It was at this point that AZCO’s focus shifted to the industrial and power plant energy market.
After collaborating for over 20 years on many successful projects in the power sector with Burns & McDonnell, a leading Kansas City-based engineering and architecture firm, AZCO was acquired by them in 2016. The company’s industry-leading construction and pipe fabrication capabilities were a natural fit for the 120-year-old company’s multi-billion dollar construction arm, and the acquisition resulted in the creation of one of the most comprehensive environmental, engineering, procurement, and direct-hire construction and fabrication companies in the world.
By joining Burns & McDonnell, AZCO also became part of a family of companies that is made up of more than 5,300 engineers, architects, construction professionals, scientists, consultants and entrepreneurs with offices across the country and throughout the world. Both organizations are also 100 percent employee-owned, and plan to remain that way.
Today, AZCO is known as one of the top full-service industrial contractors and metal fabricators in the country. Its work encompasses the power, alternative energy, petrochemical, industrial manufacturing and metal fabrication sectors, and its sales total more than $300 million annually.
The company employs over 250 individuals in its Appleton headquarters in Wisconsin, its additional offices in Wisconsin and Colorado, and its three fabrication facilities. The team also works with more than 750 international trade union craftsmen nationally.
In addition to being known for its exceptional craftsmanship in construction, AZCO operates a 90,000 square foot fabrication center that produces carbon steel, stainless, chrome-moly, and exotic alloy pipe and metal fabrication. It has also constructed, fabricated and provided mechanical contracting for some of the most iconic landmarks across the Fox Cities, such as the Kimberly Clark Corporation.
Current President and CEO John Trottier’s specialized leadership has always ensured that his team stays focused on being an integral part of the community. The company prides itself on the quality of its workmanship and the safety of its employees. In fact, part of its mission is to be dedicated to zero injuries, and the business has won numerous safety awards, including from the Association of Union Contractors. In June of 2017, the company reached a significant safety milestone by achieving one million hours worked with no recordable incidents – which are an injury that results in death, days away from work, restricted work or transferred to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, or loss of consciousness.
Recent notable projects for the combined team are the Empire Riverton Power Plant in Riverton, Kansas, which was completed in 2016. For this project the team converted an existing combustion turbine generator into a combined gas-fired power facility, and the high-efficiency system controls fuel costs, lowers emissions and provides reliable energy for consumers in Riverton. This project received a Zero Injury Safety Award from the National Maintenance Agreements Policy Committee for completing more than 600,000 on-site labor hours and zero recordable injuries.
Giving back to the community is also an important aspect underpinning AZCO. It has been a supporter of local organizations including the Sole Burner/American Cancer Society, Menasha Joint School District, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army, just to name a few.
Like so many manufacturing and construction companies across the U.S., AZCO is faced with the challenge of finding skilled labor, but this hasn’t prevented exciting project work to be awarded to this seasoned company. Next up for Azco Inc. and Burns & McDonnell is a project that will see the construction of two new natural gas power plants in Wisconsin for the Upper Michigan Energy Resources Corp., which is a subsidiary of WEC Energy Group. The projects are estimated to cost $275 million to build and will generate approximately 180 megawatts of natural gas-fueled energy when completed, providing a long-term and affordable power solution. Both of these projects are expected to be completed in early 2019.
AZCO is also breaking ground on a new fabrication facility, and is expecting to win project of the year for a large Exascale Computing Project (ECP) it completed in Texas. We look forward to seeing what lies ahead for this firm that makes it its mission to invest in its people and its community.