Strong Roots

The LE Myers Co.

Not many companies can trace their roots back to an association with inventor Thomas Edison. The LE Myers Co. is such a company. This electrical contractor helped build electrical infrastructure in the U.S. and, to this day, is still amongst the largest of its kind. With over 125 years of history under its belt, LE Myers is still blazing trails in the electrical market and excelling at everything it does. We spoke with Group Vice President Brian Stern and Senior Marketing Communications Specialist Paula Frisina to find out more.
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LE Myers was one of the first electrical contractors in the U.S. It began in the Midwest where Lewis Edward Myers was a salesman who worked with Thomas Edison. It was through that connection that he began to bring electricity to the Midwest. The electrical contractor was founded in 1891 in Chicago, with the first project being streetlights. The heart of LE Myers still resides in the Midwestern states, but there are now offices throughout the country.

Many firsts followed in electrical construction, with increasing voltage sizes, transmission lines and hydroelectric projects. It is believed that LE Myers was the first to build a 345 kV line and a 765 kV line in the fifties and sixties as new additions to the country’s infrastructure. These are all over the country now.

“We were an integral part of building the electrical infrastructure in the U.S., and will continue to be a part of that in the future. We have been around for a long time, and you don’t see that kind of longevity with many companies anymore. I think a big reason for our longevity stems around our customer focus,” says Brian.

LE Myers recently celebrated twenty-five years of working with the Tennessee Valley Authority. Its objective is always to be able to support a customer such as this, no matter what is needed. This could include installing transmission, distribution or substation projects, or assisting the client in trying new technologies. The client may have an idea of stringing a new type of wire for testing or perhaps have a challenging project. LE Myers will help with these types of projects.

“We have a reputation for taking on challenging projects. It’s not that other contractors shy away from them, but I think our longevity has given us a lot of experience with a variety of different things and allows us to take on some of the more difficult jobs and feel comfortable doing it,” says Brian.

An example of this can be seen on the Illinois River Crossing project completed for Ameren Transmission Company. A couple of towers had to be built that were 480 feet tall, and the project had to span the river at a distance of 3,800 feet. LE Myers had to deal with barge and other river traffic and stacking those towers required large helicopters. There are many hurdles that must be overcome when taking on a job of this magnitude.

“Some projects are large, and some are small, but they are all intricate,” says Brian. Its customers also rely on LE Myers for regular maintenance work.

In Houston, where the company also has offices, LE Myers replaced a tower in the middle of The Houston Ship channel. With the amount of commercial traffic through that oil industry channel, it was challenging. It was just a tower with a few spans, but for this customer, it was critical that it went well.

A big reason that LE Myers can take on all this work is that it has the right people and equipment. Not every contractor has the financial backing or the fleet of equipment that this contractor boasts. It owns a large fleet of specialized equipment to perform this type of work.

“Our holding company, MYR Group Inc., is consistently recognized as one of the top specialty contractors in the nation, with the financial backing, equipment and manpower to be able to do these very resource-intensive jobs with the expertise required,” says Paula.

Safety is ever evolving, and looking at statistics for the industry over the last five years, this area has seen great improvement. Having procedures in place that allow less-experienced employees to fit in and be productive safely is the goal.

“It’s a culture of safety, and we focus on that more than anything. If you take a crew of ten and seven work within that culture, the other three will get up to speed in a hurry,” says Brian.

Another change in safety practices has happened within the planning phase. In the past, utilities would hand over a project and expect it to begin immediately. LE Myers takes the necessary time to plan the critical tasks, and this drives safety. The job will get done, but it must be accomplished in the right, safe way.

Aging populations and resource challenges are one and the same for this industry. Not as many people are coming into the industry to replace those who are retiring. Finding people is a huge task, since utilities across the country are replacing old infrastructure. Every contractor is facing this dilemma, not just LE Myers.

“What I find funny is that this industry is not well-known. Everyone knows there is an electrical grid, but no-one seems to know how it got built. It is taken for granted that the power is always on,” says Brian.

We rarely see the transmission lines that run through the country, and when in the cities, most lines are underground. Universities have programs for management, business administration or construction management, but seem to be unaware of this industry, Brian explains.

“I’ve met with the dean of construction management at a local university. Not one of his students was working for the local utility, because commercial construction, along with oil and gas industries, is much more high-profile. It seems to have become a lost industry,” says Brian.

People take for granted what happens when a switch is flipped to produce light. Before Paula worked in the industry, she did not give a thought to the fact that someone has to build transmission lines. Now, LE Myers is reaching out to the local high schools and universities to let them know that this industry is presently a very healthy one in which to be.

“You can make a very nice living for yourself, coming in as a tradesperson to our organization. We have some good recruiting videos that describe all the opportunities. We know we can get people into this industry through education,” says Paula.

The prohibitive price of a four-year degree is leading many students to consider trade professions, and this is encouraging for LE Myers. It has started several internship programs, and four interns from A&M University recently worked on a large transmission project that will be serving the Houston area. Word of these kinds of placements should spread throughout the university developing more interest.

“I think this industry has just been overlooked. We are doing several things to try and attract people, and our safety culture will help in this regard,” says Brian.

LE Myers will never compromise the quality of its customer service, so if it is to grow, it will not be at the expense of a client. The schedule will always be met and the product completed. LE Myers stands behind what it does. LE Myers has thrived this long because it has always served its customers at the highest level.

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 15, 2019, 3:09 PM EST