New York’s World-Class HVAC Installers

Southerntier Custom Fabricators

Established in 1982 in Elmira, New York, Southerntier Custom Fabricators both fabricates and installs HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) products for various clients in the commercial, institutional, and industrial marketplace in the state of New York. But whether you choose to work directly with Southerntier, or have its custom fabricated products installed by another contractor in the northeast corridor, you are guaranteed a world-class HVAC air handling system you can depend on, to receive the thermal comfort and high indoor air quality you need to keep your establishment running smoothly.
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The family-owned business began just over 35 years ago with husband and wife Art and Bev Morrell. At the time, the business had 10 employees and 10,000 square feet of operating space.

Southerntier was founded after Art, who was Vice President and General Manager of the Syracuse-based Joseph Cashier Co., was approached by Frank Cashier (the son of the founder, in his mid-seventies at the time). Cashier drove down to the satellite office the business had in Elmira, announced his retirement, and gave Art the opportunity to purchase the business or find a new job.

In 1982, the interest rates on loans were in the mid-20s, compared to the two percent that is standard today. Even so, Art and Bev Morrell took the leap into entrepreneurship and bought the business with their small savings and a U.S. Small Business Administration loan. They paid off the SBA loan in just five years by not taking a salary for the first couple of years running their business. Their son Ian Morrell, who was about 12 or 13 at the time, would accompany his father while he delivered material on the weekends to different job sites.

Today, Southerntier has gone from its once humble beginnings to employing about 180 people in a facility of over 55,000 square feet, but its values remain the same. Art Morrell serves as Chairman of the Board, and his son Ian Morrell is Company President. Ian tells us that Southerntier is a family business in more ways than one.

“We have second and third generations of people who work for us—brothers and sisters, fathers and sons. Not only is it family-owned, but it’s a family-run business that employs families,” remarks President Ian Morrell.

In honor of the company’s 35th anniversary, the management organized a company picnic at an amusement park, replete with a DJ, photo booth, and commemoration of work anniversaries. The company’s fun, positive atmosphere and family feel are chief reasons for its happy workers, satisfied customers, and low turnover rate. “If someone starts with us, they retire with us,” says Morrell.

Morrell’s business mantra is simple: bid it right, build it right, bill it right. The Elmira-based business is known for its quick, productive, no-nonsense approach to high-quality HVAC fabrication and installation. These qualities have set it apart in the industry, where customers appreciate the business’ ability to halt a project and turn on a dime at a client’s request. But although the business processes over four million pounds of metal per year, its high-end workmanship is never compromised. Southerntier has managed to achieve the sweet spot between quality and quantity, and has worked on many impressive projects over the years for hardware and supply stores, industrial manufacturers, universities, hospitals, and more in the areas of HVAC related work, PVC or stainless steel fabrications, and specialty fabrications.

Southerntier is a company that understands the necessity of high quality air in your life, as well as in your facility, and therefore knows the importance of the ductwork that makes airflow possible. If you already have an idea in mind, the one-stop shop can take your rough sketch via email and, using CAD/CAM computer design capabilities and its expert design team, transform that into a finished drawing or product. No job is too big or too small, too simple or too intricate.

For those who prefer not to use email, the welcoming company even encourages its prospects to make an inquiry on a walk-in basis. Southerntier is the experienced business you can trust for any HVAC or welding and finishing job, from design to delivery—and its delivery fleet will ensure that your materials are delivered and installed in a rapid and worry-free manner.

Noteworthy projects completed by Southerntier include fabricating ductwork for air conditioning systems to repair multiple floors of both the World Trade Center (towers 1 and 3) and the Pentagon, which were tragically affected by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Southerntier has also completed ductwork for Google Headquarters, NBC Studios, and A & E Headquarters. The A & E project involved completing a remarkable 21 floors of HVAC ductwork in roughly six months.

More recently, Southerntier Custom Fabricators has broken ground on a project for American Dream Meadowlands (ADM), a retail and entertainment complex set to open in New Jersey in 2019. More than just a mall, the exceptional five-story, mixed-facility indoor establishment will feature a Nickelodeon Universe Theme Park, a DreamWorks Waterpark, a Big Snow America™ Indoor Ski Slope, and an observation wheel with climate-controlled gondolas to provide guests with a panoramic view of the famous New York City skyline. Other exciting features are a mini golf course, a performing arts theatre, an aquarium, and an NHL-sized ice rink. Southerntier is currently completing HVAC work for ADM’s indoor water park.

Southerntier boasts an annual revenue of over $25 million dollars. As the booming business—which has grown to be 18 times its original size—seeks out new applicants, Morrell tells us that he is looking for candidates who are self-starters and enjoys working with those who are willing to learn. Because skilled workers deliver high-quality results, Southerntier works with its local sheet metal workers union to hire and train apprentices, who can then go on to develop in their careers at Southerntier.

“A lot of times when people start with us, they are not sure what they want to do because they are young. Our industry allows them to be upwardly mobile once they have gone through the apprenticeship program and become a mechanic. They can become a foreperson, draftsperson, project manager, or a superintendent,” Morrell lists. “Once they have been in the field and have the experience that they need, they can take that experience and apply that to other areas in the company.”

This is important, because as Morrell tells Construction in Focus, while the industry offers many opportunities, the hard but critical work can also pose challenges to staff as they get older. “You can only climb ladders and lifts and work in the cold for so long before it starts to catch up with you.”

A great aspect of working for a company like Southerntier is that employee appreciation is high. In the later years of a teammate’s career, they often become project managers or estimators.

As Morrell also values the knowledge of those ambitious self-starters who would like to continue to learn, Southerntier also offers incentives to encourage workers to do so. “We allow opportunities for our employees to continue their education after their apprenticeship is finished. We reimburse them based on the grade that they achieve, as long as it is something pertinent to the industry that they can bring back to help better the company.”

This is part of Southerntier Custom Fabricators’ commitment to reinvesting in itself in order to remain at the leading edge. Its 39,000+ square-foot facility has undergone multiple expansions since 2001, and the company just added another 10,000 square feet of manufacturing space in 2016 and purchased additional property for future expansion.

Southerntier has also recently purchased new production machinery. In 2017, the company replaced another spiral performing machine and added an automated seam welder to its welding department. Its state-of-the-art spiral machines fabricate diameters up to 108″ using up to 13-gauge material, and Southerntier stocks all materials and gauges.

“We continue to reinvest in ourselves and technology to stay on the cutting edge of our industry. It allows for our quick turnaround times and for us to be able to stop on a dime and go another direction in what the customer sees as a seamless transition,” Morrell says.

The family-oriented business is committed to future growth by always keeping up to date, maintaining long-term relationships with its valued customers, and providing a positive work atmosphere for its staff to further develop their expertise. Here’s to another 35 years and beyond!

More than Money

Attracting and retaining the best and brightest employees is a catch-22 of the construction industry. The best and brightest want to work for companies with stellar reputations, but companies achieve outstanding reputations only when they can attract and retain the best and brightest. We asked some of the successful companies we have interviewed what they are doing to recruit and retain. Here is what we found out.

October 17, 2018, 11:08 AM EDT