Installing and maintaining the infrastructure that powers our lives is serious business, and no one takes it more seriously than Capital Electric Line Builders. Even more serious is emergency and storm response, something else the company adds to its roster of services that includes constructing overhead and underground transmission and distribution systems, substations, traffic signals, information technology solutions, and roadway and area lighting.
Throughout its over fifty-year history, Capital Electric Line Builders has completed countless diverse but critical projects. It is clear why it remains a trusted partner on large and complex projects: it gets the job done on time, within budget, and does not compromise quality or safety to do so.
In 1967, the company was founded to serve the utility industry by building substations, distribution systems, underground installations and high-voltage transmission lines. In the 1970s, Capital Electric Line Builders expanded its services from electrical transmission and distribution to include street lighting and traffic signals, and today, its diversity is a key part of its strength.
MDU Resources Group acquired Capital Electric Line Builders in 2001, and since that time, Capital Electric Line Builders has tripled its revenue to exceed $100 million annually. It now regularly operates in eight to eleven states and expands its reach to forty-eight states for emergency and storm restoration as part of MDU Construction Services Group, Inc. MDU Construction Services Group is composed of 17 diverse companies and has more than 5,000 employees across the country.
“MDU Construction Services Group is one of four business units owned by MDU Resources. The other business units include Knife River Corporation, WBI Energy and a group of electric and natural gas utility companies that serve more than a million customers in eight states,” explained Capital Electric Line Builders President Greg Darkenwald.
The company’s business lines, as outlined on its website at www.celbinc.com, complement each other beautifully. The utility companies distribute natural gas and generate and transmit electricity throughout eight states in the Northern Plains and the Northwest; Knife River Corporation mines and produces construction materials like gravel, asphalt and concrete products; and WBI Energy transports and stores natural gas and constructs pipelines.
MDU Construction Services Group provides a full spectrum of construction solutions, from underground utilities and excavation to electrical, mechanical and fire suppression systems as well as transmission line construction. The diverse group of companies also manufactures and distributes transmission line construction equipment and supplies.
From its headquarters in Riverside, Missouri and satellite office in Dayton, Ohio, Capital Electric regularly operates in eight to eleven states. However, it can also draw from its sister and parent companies’ resources, which includes a large fleet of specialized mobile equipment.
The company’s ability to “leverage financing and draw on a large number of national accounts to maximize our rental, lease and capital purchase dollars by being part of the MDU Resources Groups,” is another benefit of the 2001 acquisition, explained Fleet Manager Glen Page.
The company carries the materials, equipment, and resources required to respond quickly to routine and emergency requests, and its fleet is well-maintained and well-equipped. Senior Vice President Jim Tepper says that the company’s need to urgently address traffic signal and street light emergencies means the right equipment needs to be available when urgent circumstances arise.
Darkenwald stressed the importance of having the right resources – including capable employees – to supply planned and emergency service across the multiple states the company serves. He says that the crucial element of covering this huge area is “support from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW),” and management that embraces the company’s culture.
The company “is active in NECA (National Electrical Contractors Association), IBEW Locals 53 in Kansas City, Missouri, 304 in Topeka, Kansas, and 1002 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as well as lineman apprenticeship programs such as Southwestern Line Constructors, Missouri Valley Line Constructors and American Line Builders Association,” explained Safety Director Travis Johnson.
In addition to its headquarters and satellite office, field offices are established on location at projects when required. Currently, Capital Electric Line Builders has a fairly significant workforce in Oklahoma, so it has established a field office there to support those projects. It also develops relationships with various industry organizations in the areas in which it commonly operates.
Capital Electric Line Builders installs traffic signals, electronic signboards, smart highway systems, traffic cameras, and street lighting. It also performs routine maintenance and emergency repair following everything from massive damage from weather events like hurricanes to system damage from vehicle accidents or equipment breakdown.
The strength of this division is strongly correlated with the economic strength of the communities in which the company operates. When economies are strong, Capital Electric Line Builders is strong. This is especially true when readily available funding at the state and federal levels, which Tepper noted, “impacts the quantity and size of projects available.”
To see the caliber of projects Capital Electric Line Builders undertakes on the signals and lighting side, one has to look no further than KC Scout, a $25.5 million intelligent transportation system in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The company served as the prime contractor on the initial build and continues to provide maintenance for this project.
“The project included thirty-seven message boards, seventy-five CCTV cameras, twelve-hundred vehicle detectors, hundreds of pull boxes and thousands of feet of conduit and fiber optic cable along with construction of a traffic operations center,” said Tepper. The project was completed on schedule and within budget.
Capital Electric Line Builders was also responsible for upgrading traffic signal controls at 451 intersections in Ohio. The project was completed without the need to power down the cabinets, which resulted in minimal traffic disruption and savings for the customer.
On the transmission and distribution side, Capital Electric Line Builders has seen a significant increase in work over the past eight years. This has included projects exceeding $50 million for clients like Ozark Electric, the Board of Public Utilities in Kansas City, as well as Evergy – formerly KCP&L and Westar Energy.
The group’s primary focus is outside line construction and substations, according to Vice President of Transmission and Distribution Colby Atwell. “We can construct or perform maintenance on overhead and underground distribution, substations, and transmission lines up to 345 kilovolts.”
Capital Electric Line Builders is nearing completion on the Clearwater to Viola project, which is expected to be finished this fall. The job entailed replacing twenty-two miles of aging transmission infrastructure and upgrading it to a double-circuit 115-kilovolt line with bundled conductor for increased capacity for Westar Energy.
The Geary County Project is another project of the transmission and distribution group which consisted of two separate projects, the first of which was a new 345-kilovolt to 115-kilovolt substation on a twenty-acre greenfield site. When it was put into service this spring, it became the largest of Westar Energy’s 345-kilovolt substations to date.
“The second part of this project involves tying this new substation into Westar Energy’s existing 345-kilovolt and 115-kilovolt transmission infrastructure. In total, we will build or rebuild a total of twenty-four miles of 345-115 kilovolt transmission line to service this new substation. The line portion of the project is currently under construction and is expected to be completed late this fall,” explained Atwell.
Capital Electric Line Builders has trained, licensed, and experienced signals and lighting technicians holding certifications from the International Municipal Signal Association (IMSA), American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA), and more. They are skilled, safe, and professional.
Capital Electric Line Builders continues to grow to satisfy increasing demand for its services. Employees who want to work for a company that has their back and can offer job security and a unique company culture are in high demand. There is no shortage of opportunity for dedicated employees who share the company values of Capital Electric. Foremost among these values is safety.
Capital Electric Line Builders parent company has proven itself a leader through its involvement with organizations like the Electrical Transmission and Distribution Partnership that has developed work methods and education to reduce lineman injuries and fatalities.
Capital Electric Line Builders is proactive with regard to employee safety and wellbeing and has received a number of awards that acknowledge its safe performance and commitment to safety. Most recently, it was recognized by insurance company Liberty Mutual with the 2017 Silver Safety Award. The insurance industry calculates a factor called ‘days away restricted or transferred’ or DART to track any injuries that keep employees from a job. Capital Electric Line Builders rating is in the top third of the industry. It also received MDU Construction Services Group’s 2017 safety award.
The company, contrasted with the five-year industry safety average, “has outperformed the industry averages in three major performance indicators of total recordable incident rate by twenty-five percent, lost time incident rates by forty percent and days away restricted time) by six percent,” Johnson noted. He attributes this to the value that employees place on their safety and the safety of others.
Production, quality, and safety are held to the same high standard, and this is communicated to employees from the beginning. An employee’s new hire orientation serves as Capital Electric Line Builders’ first opportunity to establish expectations and present the training programs and safety activities required of all employees.
“Within the first thirty days of an employee being hired, a supervisor will again reinforce our commitment and expectations with the employee. Continuous education and reinforcement are vital to establishing a solid safety culture,” explained Johnson. He highlighted two initiatives by which this takes place: weekly leadership calls and safety stand-ups.
In addition to daily job site safety meetings and personal accountability, weekly leadership calls are facilitated by a superintendent and are attended by leadership in the field, safety representatives, warehouse managers, fleet managers, as well as the operations manager.
Safety stand-ups take place quarterly, when seven members of the upper management team, including the president, travel to project locations and address topics related to safety from current safety performance and trends, up and coming projects, and opportunities. These serve as a platform by which employees can offer feedback to improve the company.
“We feel our safety culture and management’s buy-in is evident to our employees. All employees know that we are providing a safe work environment and that production should never risk the safety of our employees,” Atwell said.
Capital Electric Line Builders complies with federal, state, and local regulations. Through careful planning, sound training, and established procedures to expedite solutions, safety is not only promoted, but it is also an expectation of employment and has led to the company’s longevity and reputation.
“We have an outstanding group of experienced leadership that is respected within our industry that employees want to work for. Capital Electric Line Builders has been in business for over fifty years. That consistency, coupled with our financial success, modern equipment, and our commitment to serve our customers is very appealing to the workforce within our industry,” said Atwell.
There is even an employee satisfaction committee that is dedicated to making Capital Electric Line Builders an employer of choice. According to Darkenwald, this contributes to why the company has such “great long-term employees who genuinely care about the services provided to our customers.” On average, field supervision staff members have eight years of experience, while company superintendents have twenty-two years of experience, he adds.
However, much like other industries across North America, securing talented employees can be a challenge, and while Capital Electric can team up with its sister and parent companies during storm and emergency response events, there is a real need for skilled human resources. It is not an easy job, but it is a job to be proud of, especially when people can play a critical role in projects that have significant implications for a community.
“We have seen steady growth in the transmission and distribution market over the past five years. We have increased revenues by 9.36 percent year over year. However, due to the attrition rate of retirees and the growth within the industry, it is becoming challenging to find the necessary resources to support the growth we’ve seen,” Atwell explained.
While having seen much growth over the last sixteen years since joining the MDU family of companies, Capital Electric Line Builders remains focused on being able to maintain and improve its financial position, safety performance, and customer and employee satisfaction. This will require adding people and resources without diluting the culture it has worked hard to establish.
Capital Electric Line Builders will seek organic growth as well as growth through strategic acquisitions and will continue to be there when infrastructure dollars and projects become available or when a storm rolls in.