Doing Things ‘A Little Bit Different’ Proves to be a Winning Formula

Midwest Drywall Company

Commercial wall and ceiling drywall subcontractor Midwest Drywall Company Inc. likes to do things differently. Among other services, the firm designs, engineers, fabricates, and installs prefabricated light gauge panelized walls and has worked on a series of prominent construction projects. Founded in the early 1970s, the Wichita, Kansas-based company recently became employee-owned.

“We’re a little bit different in our approach. Typically, drywall subcontractors are brought in after a design is completed,” says Vice President of Business Development Josh Mensinger. “But we provide design assist services with a GMP for the super structure. That allows us to value-engineer the structural component of the project at the earliest stages with all the load-bearing, light-gauge and floor and roof system assemblies.”

Unlike other offsite construction competitors, Midwest’s scope of work will include structural light-gauge framing, non-load-bearing light-gauge metal framing, gypsum wallboard and building insulation systems, floor systems, roof systems, and ceiling systems. Its work has been showcased in sectors from gaming and casino to university and student housing, hospitality, mixed-use and office, retail and entertainment, civic and government, multifamily and condo, education, religious, industrial and warehouse, senior living and assisted living, and more.

The company has an in-house fabrication facility that prefabricates loadbearing panelized walls in compression tables, exterior bypass panelized walls, and other items. Educating potential industry partners about the benefits of prefabrication and how prefab panels best fit into a construction schedule is also a major source of activity.

“In order to take advantage of offsite construction methods, there is a lot of work done ahead of time including engineering, drafting, ordering material that isn’t done with stick framing methods,” states Mensinger. “We’re [trying to] educate the industry, make them realize that we have to be released at the earliest stages [during a construction project] so that we have enough time to keep up with the speed of installation.”

The company was founded in Wichita in 1972. Over the decades, it expanded, adding new personnel and service regions. Midwest currently has branches in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. In addition to these offices, it is highly mobile. “We’re a national travelling drywall subcontractor,” he says. “We follow our customers. If it’s the right project for the right client, we’ll go outside our state boundaries for them.”

As it grew, Midwest Drywall also started to take a close look at prefabrication methods. It completed its first prefabricated panelized wall system, for use in a multi-story senior living facility in Denton, Texas in the mid-1980s. Since then Midwest has completed hundreds of Load Bearing Light Gauge projects, and prefabrication is one of its core services.

Mensinger calls the company an “open source,” prefab subcontractor, which makes it rather unique in the commercial wall and ceiling world. “Drywall subcontractors who provide a light gauge panelized wall service tend to have their own floor system that they’ve created,” he says. “Unfortunately, that one product isn’t going to be a solution for every building. By [being] what we call ‘open source’ we’re providing a project solution, not a product solution. We’re not pushing any one proprietary system. An owner can come to us with any building design, and we can provide a prefabricated solution.”

In recent years, the company has been rapidly growing, and this can be attributed to two factors. There is plenty of work available, and it treats its employees well. “Construction is just booming right now,” notes Mensinger. So is Midwest Drywall, which counts roughly 650 carpenters on its direct payroll, up from around 500 to 550 at this time last year.

Workers are unionized – laborers belong to the United Brotherhood of Carpenters – and the company offers good wages, a 401(k) plan and insurance programs for health, dental, and vision. An employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) was implemented in 2018, giving workers shares in the company.

Mensinger cites the decision to implement an ESOP as an example of the company’s commitment to its workforce. Instead of selling the company for a big profit, Chief Executive Officer and President Steve Nienke opted to reward his employees. Nienke himself joined the firm during its first year of operation as a carpenter and became an owner when Midwest incorporated in 1974.

Midwest Drywall also takes great care to keep its workers safe. At the time this article was written, the company boasted an experience modification rate (EMR) of .68. It employs several full-time safety directors who have Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-500 training. All project managers are OSHA-30 certified, while foremen and workers alike have been through OSHA-10 training. Workers receive additional safety training through the carpenters’ union.

“Midwest prides ourselves on not only making projects safe for our employees but also the other trade partners that are working alongside us,” states Mensinger. In turn, staff have earned a reputation for doing stellar work.

“Over the past ten years, seventy-five percent of our customers have been repeat customers that have done three or more projects with us. In fact, some of our clients have given us 10 projects over a 10-year span. In our industry, that’s not typical. That shows the success of our motto, ‘Start strong, Finish strong.’ General contractors know that Midwest is going to come through and finish the project on time and on budget,” he says.

There is no shortage of high-profile projects on which it has worked. For example, it recently partnered with general contractor GE Johnson to build the Coloradan, a twenty-story luxury condominium complex in Denver, Colorado.

“Midwest provided prefabricated exterior bypass panelized walls that included exterior sheathing, air and water barrier and windows preinstalled prior to installation. This was our solution to getting the twenty-story project dried-in quickly to beat the Denver winter. We had 865 exterior panelized walls that were installed on the second shift, and six weeks after the last concrete pour on the twentieth floor, the entire building was dried-in,” reports Mensinger.

On the education front, Midwest worked on a new pair of schools in East Joplin, Missouri after that city was hit by a devastating tornado in 2011. In partnership with GC Universal Construction, it helped construct a 157,000s-quare-foot middle school and 65,000-square-foot elementary school. Company crews worked on metal stud framing, gypsum board assemblies, taping and finishing, among other duties.

“We do a lot of education projects. It was really special to partner with Universal Construction on the East Joplin middle and elementary schools. They needed schools to be built quickly to get students back in. Midwest was brought to the table as that partner to get those schools built very quickly with high quality. We were proud to be a partner to restore a city that was in need,” states Mensinger.

A third project saw the company working in tandem with GC Clark Contractors on an eight-story, 150,000-square-foot, dual-branded Aloft and Element high-end hotel in Dallas.

“Our prefab, load-bearing, light-gauge was utilized as the structural system for the project, providing the best value, speed of construction, and long-term durability of materials. General contractors love this solution because it allows them to have a single trade responsible for the panelized walls, floor system, roof system, and commercial drywall and ceiling package. Owners love it because they get their building built quicker which saves them [money],” Mensinger reports.

The company attends trade shows, generally not as an exhibitor but to participate in panel discussions, gather information and network with industry partners. One of its best forms of promotion, however, has been its AIA-accredited ‘lunch and learn’ presentations in which company officials enlighten architects, engineers, and general contractors on off-site prefabrication methods. It will travel, within reason, to host these events for clients.

Interestingly, Midwest Drywall has not been hugely affected by the skilled labor shortage that plagues much of the construction sector. The company’s employee-ownership model, unionized nature, and generous benefits ensure a steady supply of new hires, Mensinger explains.

“I think a lot of qualified guys want to come work for Midwest Drywall because we provide so much more with being an ESOP and the extras in wages, training, and benefits for union carpenters,” he states.

As for the future, he says, “I think our goals are unlike other people’s. Everyone is striving primarily off the financial goals to meet, but that’s not really what’s driving us. Our future vision is about providing a place for our employees to partner and bring success to the construction industry – really, what we’ve been doing since the beginning. We’ve been here for a long time, and we’re going to be here for a long time because we’re looking to provide a relationship with our clients.”

Seeing Red

In 2018, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) released several of the worst examples of so-called “Red Tape” that businesses and developers need to complete before getting projects off the ground. The list reads almost as a cautionary tale for anyone hoping to get a development, whether a condominium or a warehouse, completed quickly and on time.

December 14, 2019, 5:30 AM EST