Harmon Steel is a full-service steel erection company in Indianapolis, Indiana, and operating in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Illinois.
Harmon has always been a family-owned business, and the culture within the company is built around family values. “It’s very comforting to have owners that value us all as part of their family,” says Mike Pritchett, vice president of operations at Harmon. “It’s a family-friendly atmosphere. They make us all feel very welcome, and they would do anything for us if we needed it.” These values extend to the relationships between employees, and in turn, the employees take those values into every customer relationship with a commitment to quality service. The Harmon Steel staff works hard to help in any way they can.
The company has sixteen full-time employees and a field staff that varies from seventy-five to two hundred people depending on the season. It operates out of two Indiana offices, a corporate headquarters in North Vernon, Indiana, which includes administrative staff for payroll and accounting and an Indianapolis office where field staff, estimators and project managers work.
The business was founded in 1988 by Tom and Bill Harmon as a contracting company installing rebar and metal deck. In the beginning, the company was recognized by the Department of Transportations Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program. This program was designed to help ensure that businesses belonging to socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, such as women and visible minorities, have a fair opportunity to compete for federally funded transportation contracts.
As the company grew, it began to expand its services to include miscellaneous structural steel, shear connectors and more. The company’s primary focus has remained on rebar, but the growth from a small startup in 1988 to a twenty-four million dollar contractor today has been substantial. In 2010, the company graduated from the DBE program and is now a recognized as a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE).
While it was a disadvantaged business enterprise, Harmon Steel worked on a large number of government projects, but once it graduated from that program, the volume of work did not decrease. This is a clear victory for the company as it demonstrates that the quality of the service, rather than the program was what earned it important government contracts. The company’s dedication to high-quality workmanship has helped it build a solid reputation over thirty years.
Harmon Steel is one company of a collection of companies known as the Harmon Group, consisting of Harmon Steel, Harmon Construction and Taylor Bros, Inc. Harmon Construction, a sister company to Harmon Steel, was formed in 1955 and offers construction services including general contracting, construction management, pre-construction services and more. This division of the Harmon Group specializes in smaller concrete projects and frequently enters into joint ventures with larger contractors in a construction management role.
Taylor Bros. of Columbus, Indiana was founded in 1933 (and later acquired by the Harmon Group) and now concentrates on retail, educational, industrial, commercial and institutional projects. This division has developed relationships with many noteworthy customers including Target, TJ Max, CVS and Speedway gas stations. The Harmon Group of companies is rooted in a long and successful history over which it has developed more than adequate experience to put toward its newest addition, Harmon Steel.
The most significant challenge for Harmon Steel, and for companies throughout the United States that are dependent upon skilled trades, is labor shortage. It can be difficult for the company to find enough qualified people to manage the volume of work that is made available to it. Fortunately, Harmon has developed a reputation over thirty years for its dedication to building an employee-centered work environment, and this goes a long way toward helping the company find the labor it needs.
It is well connected to the labor force and has a relationship with the ironworkers union in the region, and so through those channels, Harmon Steel is able to find manpower. “All the ironworkers like working for Harmon Steel because of the atmosphere we provide,” says Pritchett. “They come to work for us every summer. We go out to find people ourselves, get them into the union. That seems to work for us.”
Technology is improving the efficiency and the productivity of companies that can adapt. As technology pushes the industry forward, less flexible operations can fall behind, but Harmon strives to stay on the leading edge of the many innovations that are helping better workflow and project management. Employees have smartphones and iPads that enable direct, real-time collaboration with General Contractors and Project Managers, ensuring that up-to-date drawings are always available. Keeping the lines of communication wide open in this way minimizes the possibility of miscommunication and results in more efficient project management overall. Another unique project management technique used by Harmon Steel is the fact that in several instances the team bids projects as a furnish and install. Common practice in construction, the fabricator receives the proposals from the installers or erectors. This allows Harmon Steel to be more involved in the drawing approval process and review the drawings before they are submitted to the engineers for approval. This allows Harmon to make any changes that may benefit the schedule or budget.
One of the unique things about Harmon Steel when compared to other ironworker companies operating in the same market, is that Harmon is a full-service operation that installs rebar and structural steel, performs every aspect of construction and commercial highway services. Showcasing this variety, a notable project for the company was the development of the I-69 interstate between Evansville and Indianapolis in Indiana. The project is currently nearly complete, but throughout its course, Harmon Steel built nearly two hundred bridges which required the breadth of services it offers.
“That makes us a lot easier for a general contractor to hire because we can schedule things internally,” says Pritchett. “Our rebar crews are talking to our structural crews, and our structural crews are talking to our deck crews. It’s more internal and takes a lot of the scheduling off the general contractor.”
Another key project was the Ohio River Bridges. This project consisted of the construction of two bridges between 2013 and 2016, connecting Louisville to Southern Indiana over the Ohio River. Harmon Steel did the majority of the rebar on both the six-lane, 2,100-foot Abraham Lincoln Bridge and the four-lane, 2,500-foot Lewis and Clark Bridge. At the same time Harmon installed rebar on approximately 60 other bridges connecting to the new river bridges. The scale of these projects is a clear demonstration of the abilities of Harmon Steel.
The company believes that its reputation and its success result directly from the values it holds, not the least of which is diversity in every facet of the business. From the projects it takes on to the members of its team, the company approaches business in a way that reflects the diversity of the communities it serves. “Diversity is our main goal,” says Pritchett. “We’ve learned, over thirty years, to go with the ebbs and flows. Our main differentiator is our diversity.”
“Something we’ve always lived by is that we’re there from start to finish. In the bridge building business we say we’re there from the first footing to the last barrier wall,” says Pritchett. “No matter how big or small the job is, we show up and get it done.” This is the attitude that has garnered the company continued support from its many dedicated customers that continue to come back for every bridge and every building and from its exclusive contractors who will not work with any of the company’s competitors.