Capital’s Electrifying Performance

Capital Electric Construction Company
Written by Nate Hendley

Capital Electric Construction Company, Inc., has made the top tier on a list of leading electrical contractors in Kansas City, carried out huge projects including work at the Kansas City International Airport, and been in business over sixty years. The firm remains eager to grow and take on even bigger jobs; for this company, coasting along on previous company achievements seems unthinkable.
Capital Electric’s customer base is very wide, covering everything from automotive to power generation facilities, hospitals, universities, casinos, data centers, and government buildings. “We’re really diversified in that we handle just about everything: industrial, healthcare, commercial buildings and data centers. We don’t have one major focus. I think healthcare is probably our largest at twelve to fifteen percent of our revenue,” states President Ed Downey.

From its branch in Manhattan, Kansas in addition to the Kansas City headquarters, Capital Electric prefers to do as much of its own work as possible. “We contract out some excavation and do other small subcontracts, but the lion’s share of what we do is all self-performed, from the low-voltage side all the way up to the medium-voltage side,” he says.

The company’s self-performed services fall under the categories of construction, engineering, integrated systems, and service. Construction covers fieldwork, estimating, pre-construction, project management, and more. The integrated systems group does new installations, maintenance, and modifications for voice/data, fiber optics, CCTV and fire alarm systems, while the service division handles all manner of jobs, large and small, involving cable locating, infrared scanning, parking lot and sports lighting, process controls, and similar.

Its engineering capabilities consist of power quality analysis, load-flow studies, medium-voltage system design, and more. Technology is central to what the engineering division does. Capital Electric is a big proponent of building information modeling (BIM) technology to create digital computer models of buildings and other sites. The company utilizes Autodesk Revit software for three-dimensional design and has design/build specialists on staff. Having this capability in-house allows it to have more control over projects, leading to better results.

“Technology is driving everything that we do on a daily basis. Owners are pushing us more and more on how we can be more technologically savvy to grow, not just be the same-old electrical contracting business that has been around forever,” he explains.

Because Kansas City is located right on the border between Kansas and Missouri, Capital Electric’s workload is split roughly equally between the two states. Some of the work the company has done recently involves extremely high-profile construction projects. The firm, for example, was hired as an overall electrical contractor on a $1.9 billion construction project to build a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.

“We’ll be doing all the medium-voltage distribution, working with Kansas City Power and Light, all the way through to the lighting and power distribution to the new mechanical equipment, the new central plant, the baggage claim system,” says Downey.

Capital Electric is also serving as an overall electrical contractor for the construction of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas. Once completed, the NBAF “will be a state-of-the-art biocontainment laboratory for the study of diseases that threaten both America’s animal agricultural industry and public health,” explains the website for the Department of Homeland Security, under whose auspices the facility is being constructed.

Capital Electric was heavily involved in the pre-construction phase of the NBAF and is currently “doing all the medium-voltage and 480V distribution to the facility, all the way through the lab space build-out and support buildings, working with a couple of subcontractors,” he says.

A recently completed project saw the company working on a twelve-story hospital tower for The University of Kansas Health System. For this assignment, it handled low-voltage systems, lighting, power distribution, and more.

Employment fluctuates, depending on workload. The company is a signatory to International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) locals in Kansas City and Manhattan. Working with the IBEW means Capital Electric can tap into a highly qualified pool of electricians whenever it needs extra staff.

“We have about 260 electricians currently working in the field. In the office we have about 47 employees,” states Downey. “Our minimum is about 200 electricians in the field, and the largest count we’ve reached since 2010 has been about 550 electricians in the field.”

The union connection guarantees that new hires will have comprehensive training and certification. On top of this, Capital Electric expects workers to be safety-minded, an important consideration when dealing with electricity.

“I want somebody who’s going to want to be safe. That’s my number one priority. I’m very proud that our total recordable incident rate is below 1.0, and our EMR (experience modification rate) is 0.56. That is a huge part of our culture. If you plan your work, your safety is going to come naturally to you,” says Downey.

Capital Electric has a safety director who runs various programs and analyzes hazards while each electrician undergoes thorough Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training. The company aims to instill apprentices with a safety-mindset from the moment they step through the door.

“We want to get them on board early, rotate them through our pre-fab shop, so they learn how to use tools, learn where things are, get them some experience early on. Then they go in the field and work with tools in the field to learn a little bit more about safety and how things change on a minute-by-minute basis. From the moment workers are hired, we spend a tremendous amount of time addressing the fact that safety is the number priority here at Capital Electric,” explains Downey.

The company has strict qualifications for suppliers. The company wants vendors who understand the nature of what it does and recognize that using highly qualified and skilled union electricians. As such, the company wants suppliers “who will work their butts off to get the right tools and material to the job site,” on time, so Capital Electric does not incur any work stoppages and delays.

The company, which moved into its new office space in Kansas City, Kansas in 2017, uses old-fashioned promotional tools like its well-known fleet of red, branded, service vehicles bearing the Capital Electric logo in yellow. At the same time, the firm embraces cutting-edge technology.

Though the company’s red service trucks are its most visible means of promotion, this fleet is not the only way the firm markets itself. It has a website but also puts much emphasis on person-to-person contact. Project managers are encouraged to work closely with general contractors and owners, in face-to-face fashion as much as possible. “Twitter, LinkedIn, and other online communications are all great, but it still comes down to being able to talk to somebody and develop personal relationships,” says Downey.

The company was originally founded in 1957 by the Doran family with an emphasis on electrical construction. There have been ownership changes over the years; Capital Electric and sister company Capital Electric Line Builders, which constructs and maintains exterior transmission lines, distribution systems, sub-stations, and roadway lighting, are now part of the MDU Construction Services Group, owned by the MDU Resources Group of Bismarck, North Dakota.

Having passed its sixtieth anniversary, the company, it is safe to say, is thriving. Capital Electric was listed as the third largest employer of licensed electricians on a Kansas City Business Journal list of top Kansas City electrical contractors. Published May 2018, the Business Journal said Capital Electric boasted local billings of $80 million in 2017.

Downey is not content, however, to sit back and take it easy. His goal is to grow the company to $125 million in revenues within a few years. He believes that sophisticated technology will help Capital Electric achieve this and says the company’s expertise in BIM software use makes it stand out from the competition. He is eager to enhance the company’s already impressive virtual design capabilities.

Proud as he is of the company’s technological prowess, Downey also stresses the human side of the business. The intention is to make this more than just a place to earn a paycheck. To be more appealing to younger workers, Capital Electric has taken steps such as implementing an open-office concept at its new Kansas City digs and introduced an element of play into company proceedings.

“I always tell people we all work hard, but you’ve got to figure out a time to have fun. We try to have some fun, play a little ping-pong, play a little shuffleboard at work. Little things that will get people to talk to each other and enjoy being part of a family organization, not just a corporation,” he notes.

This commitment to fun and the intense attention to worker safety reflect a simple fact: while technology-savviness is pushing Capital Electric forward, the company built its success on having hard-working, well-qualified electricians on staff. It is a tradition the company very much wants to maintain.

“I believe we have the best electricians – people who care the most about the owner and about what’s happening to their work,” states Downey.



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