Full-Service and Fast-Growing

PJM Mechanical Contractors

PJM Mechanical Contractors, Inc., is a full-service contractor that offers construction and installation, service and maintenance, fabrication, design/build, and boom truck services. Within these broader categories, the Ewing, New Jersey-based company also performs sheet metal work, duct work, plumbing and welding fabrication. A union shop, PJM has been expanding its service offerings, personnel, and client base, and is eager to keep growing.
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PJM has clients in the pharmaceutical, institutional, manufacturing, commercial, and healthcare sectors. The firm has also done government projects for federal, state, and local authorities.

“For large projects, we primarily act as the subcontractor or prime contractor with responsibilities for HVAC [Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning], mechanical, plumbing and so on,” says company President Bruce Buchholz. “For activities like electrical, demolition, trench work, etc., we will normally subcontract the work. Since we have a sheet metal shop, we can do ductwork ourselves, or sub it out on large projects.”

PJM also subcontracts carpentry and remediation jobs involving hazardous materials, among other tasks. The company uses union subcontractors for such work. The firm recently added some services in the fields of “refrigeration, controls and energy,” adds Buchholz.

The company operates out of three buildings on one site in Ewing. This site includes a yard to store materials, a building for materials shipping and tool storage, and offices dedicated to finance, project management, sales, marketing, service, and more. Most of PJM’s jobs are done in central New Jersey, although the firm has taken on assignments throughout the state.

As for what sets PJM apart from other mechanical contractors, Buchholz points to the company’s wide – and growing – array of services. “A lot of times, contractors are not necessarily full-service and may not provide the whole breadth of applications that we do,” he says. “There are others that stop at being just the subcontractor. There are not as many that jump up and also act as the prime contractor on larger projects… We will act as a general contractor on some small projects but our niche is really being the sub or prime contractor on a fairly large project,” he explains.

The company was founded in 1983 by one Patrick J. Mosner (hence the corporate name “PJM Mechanical Contractors”). At first, the firm consisted of a handful of workers and “a couple trucks,” says Buchholz. The business quickly earned a reputation for service, integrity, quality, and safety, gaining new clients and employees in the process.

PJM currently employs “around 125 [people]… We were probably around 100 to 105 last year so we’re up a good 20 percent,” says Buchholz. The company has “aggressively gone after bids, on top of a good year in the construction market,” he continues, by way of explaining what’s behind this rapid expansion.

The firm’s excellent reputation is also driving growth. “We are sought after by many GCs [general contractors] on any given major contract; that’s helped with our growth. Through the years, end-customers have come back and asked for us by name or solicited us for services and/or small projects directly,” says Buchholz, proudly.

As for what the company looks for in a new hire, he states, “We are a union shop. We work very closely with the business managers to try to find guys that have a great work ethic. We get guys that are well-trained from the union. In areas that the union doesn’t specialize in—that might be chiller experience, it might include some of the higher-end refrigeration [services], it might include some of the advanced controls areas and so on—we try to make sure we provide additional training. We also look for guys that want to grow with the company.”

PJM has been very successful on the latter score. The company boasts a high staff retention rate, with employees on both the union and management side who have been with PJM “anywhere from 15 to 30 years. It’s almost a family in that respect. Of course we are always on the lookout for new talent,” states Buchholz.

He continues, “We make sure we have people that want to service the end-customer, that feel involved with their customers. We want to find people that have integrity and are going to treat everybody fairly and at the same time we’re ultra-conscious of safety. It’s something we watch all the time. We also try to make sure we have people that can be open and transparent, that are going to communicate issues without anybody shooting the messenger.”

As for safety, “We have weekly safety meetings. Bulletins go out weekly that literally everybody in the company signs… Many of the jobs have morning safety briefings. Foremen have to make sure everybody has complied with [safety requirements], and a lot of our customers have safety requirements that we also have to meet. So there’s a daily review of not only what we’ve required, but what that customer requires. Then, our project managers check [work sites] every time they go out. Typically, they’re on the site daily or in the worst case, weekly. And then we have regular reviews monthly to look at any other trends, anything else we’ve seen, any near misses, and we discuss that. [Our system] has worked very well for us. We’ve won an award from the Mechanical Contractors Association of America for safety excellence,” says Buchholz.

Quality is an equally significant factor in everything PJM does. “While we’re not ISO certified, we do maintain certificates for certain skill sets. Most of our labor force is part of the union, so they have different OSHA certifications. Most of them have additional training beyond what would be in their licensing. We have other guys that are master plumbers, master HVAC or so on that have certification. Other individuals have been certified in each of the specialty areas. It might be controls, it might be refrigeration, it might be chiller installation and maintenance,” says Buchholz.

Certainly, PJM has been involved in plenty of noteworthy projects. Buchholz would rather not reveal the names of any clients but he does offer details about some of the firm’s recent assignments. “We’re working on a $9 million project to renovate a whole group of New Jersey state buildings as part of an energy savings program,” he shares. “We recently completed a $6 million project with a local university for a chiller replacement. We’ve got a similar project with another university for a co-generation system. We had a $6 million project with another university, renovating a historical building that dated back to the early 1900s; we had most of the mechanical and plumbing contract in that. We’re doing a $3.5 million project now for a major hospital complex on a new wing. We’ve got some pretty high profile projects going on. These are just the ones that are current.”

As mentioned, PJM has expanded into new areas, including refrigeration and controls and energy savings analysis. As to the latter, PJM can go into a company or organization, evaluate its energy systems, and make recommendations for energy savings. To this end, PJM partners with firms that provide solar panels and other forms of alternative energy systems.

PJM’s refrigeration work complements its existing HVAC services. HVAC systems typically provide “comfort cooling” for occupants of offices, schools, workplaces and the like, states Buchholz. But refrigeration systems, by contrast, can generate “super low temperatures” designed to keep medical supplies, food, and telecom and data center equipment appropriately chilled, he explains. This prevents spoilage or, in the case of data and telecom centers, equipment failure. PJM can install refrigeration equipment such as walk-in boxes, coolers and cooling cabinets if so requested.

According to Buchholz, the company’s biggest challenge is “obtaining enough skilled people,” something that is being experienced industry-wide. “It’s a tough environment, regionally and nationally, to find talented and skilled labor in the HVAC and refrigeration arena. It’s very difficult to find the people in this industry, even though it’s a relatively well-paying career. It’s not like an office job; you’re working out in the heat or the cold, so it’s not for everyone.”

In addition, having a traditional plumbing/refrigeration/contractor background, the company likes new employees who are tech-savvy and familiar with laptops, iPads, smart phones, etc.

PJM uses advanced technology in other ways too. “We keep track of our trucks with GPS. We keep track of things like driver performance. We track just about everything. We track where people are,” states Buchholz. Technology lets PJM run its operations more efficiently, which is good for the bottom line.

Promotion of the company is handled in a variety of ways. PJM just upgraded its website and added a blog. The company has a quarterly newsletter called the “Pipeline” that it sends to clients, via electronic or surface mail. PJM also attends trade shows and does “a fair amount of advertising, particularly with some of the local trade magazines, and local hospitals. Local universities have different programs that we advertise and/or support,” says Buchholz.

Buchholz sees robust growth in the company’s future: “Right now, we’re pretty actively intending to grow the business. I expect to grow it organically on a regional basis to go further throughout New Jersey. If we don’t open up branches we’ll at least have some remote operations. I expect we’ll expand regionally, into Pennsylvania and other neighboring states within [five years]. And we’re looking for some other acquisitions to accelerate the growth,” he states.

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 21, 2019, 7:52 PM EST