ARB Inc. (ARB) has been around since 1946. The specialty contractor has since established a niche in pipeline and utility construction. With headquarters in Lake Forest, Calif., the business operates out of eight locations throughout the state, stretching between San Diego to north of Sacramento. ARB operates under parent company, Primoris Services Corporation (Primoris), along with other businesses throughout the country.
A strong leadership team has led the company through a period of steady growth. Greg Dahl, head of the ARB Underground Distribution division, has led countless projects and worked with the region’s largest utility companies. “We are a diverse construction company,” he explains. “Our group performs utility work, including gas, electric and water and sewer pipeline rehabilitation.”
The company strives to offer value to each client, which is in part evolving to work both smarter and more efficiently. Dahl and his team have developed diverse capabilities when it comes to utility work. “We do directional drilling, pipe splitting, we do pipeline rehabilitation and slip lining, where we put a new line inside the older, aging pipeline,” Dahl explains. “We employ any technology that is of benefit or reduces the construction impact, especially in high-density population areas. We have been doing that for years.”
The company’s affiliations with trade organizations and unions offer networking and educational opportunities, as well as the opportunities to develop better practices through technology. Dahl touts many benefits of participation and says his team has built many new relationships through these organizations. These affiliations also allow ARB to contribute to the general improvement of the industry.
“In California, we self-perform most of our work,” Dahl explains. “But we also enter into strategic partnerships and alliances with companies. Many of them are smaller and otherwise might not have the ability to work on larger utilities. Many are also what we call Diverse Business Enterprises.”
Dahl goes on to explain that ARB participates in a mentoring program. “Sometimes we provide companies with equipment at competitive rates that would cost more elsewhere,” he continues. “We have early pay programs so that they don’t have to wait for money for a month or two or three. With smaller companies there are typically cash flow issues. The program seems to work well for all parties. Utilities out here are asking for more and more participation from smaller companies to offer better opportunities. We are a big participant and proponent of that. Sometimes this is work we could do ourselves, but in the long run, this creates more work for us and others in our industry.”
Applying best practices
ARB has several union agreements, employing highly skilled, organized labor to address the challenges of the industry. These partnerships, as well as support from Primoris, help the business stay on top of new technology, safety standards and best practices.
“We utilize a combination of training options,” says Dahl. “We try to engage the unions we are working with on contracts. If they offer the training programs we need, we will try to partner with them more going forward. We also provide training in-house and the two methods mesh well.”
As requirements and guidelines evolve, ARB is consistently updating the training program. “Of course many common tasks require specific, consistent training,” Dahl elaborates. “There are a lot of different scenarios when our team is working on gas lines or operating equipment around these lines. There are requirements we have to fulfill for specific roles if our employees are not already certified, such as basic operator training.”
However, Dahl acknowledges that the industry has evolved. “Of course, your typical worker of today is not the ditch digger of 20 years ago,” he continues. “The training today is more stringent. Workers are required to know more, so the result is a safer employee than ever before. On top of that training, you can’t underestimate the experience factor. It’s a combination. By working with unions, with organized labor, we have a pool of experienced, trained workers.”
Addressing the utility deficit
With aging infrastructure becoming a larger problem throughout the United States, ARB has taken on a number of recent projects to address utilities beyond their prime. In cooperative alliance with Pacific Gas & Electric (PGE), Dahl and his team have taken on the replacement of thousands of miles of copper service utilities. “At this point, our contract has come to an end,” Dahl clarifies. “This was a large, multi-year project.”
When PGE discovered that many of these copper pipes were leaking, the utility company decided to do a total replacement just to be safe. “These older copper services may or may not have issues,” Dahl notes. “PGE decided to replace all of them, which was between 40,000 and 50,000 services in the region. At our high point, we were replacing 900 each month. The project has been very successful. We were able to drive down the price and provide value to our client while efficiently performing the work.”
In the near future, ARB will be looking to be involved on other replacement programs. The team is taking on projects with both PGE and Southern California Gas & Electric (SCGE) to replace aging plastic gas piping, known throughout the industry as Aldyl A. Many of these plastic services have been in the ground since the late 1960s or early 1970s. With evidence that some of these pipes have not held up to the test of time, Dahl explains that the nation’s utilities are evaluating these systems and taking steps to replace the older generation plastic pipe.
Dahl goes on to express that with newer regulations scrupulous maintenance records are required to be kept. “The goal is to operate efficiently, safely and with minimal impact to the public at large,” he details. “Nobody knows exactly what the extent of the replacement will be. There is a huge initiative going forward for the next several years. We have already seen it in the last several years on large transmission lines, which will filter into distribution lines.”
The necessary overhaul of utilities around the country has had ARB busy for several years and will continue to provide opportunities for years to come. “We have been very fortunate,” Dahl notes. “We were busy when the economy was down and now the country is in recovery mode. What I usually tell people is that the greatest factor to our stability has been maintaining a stable and competent workforce.”
To address that, Dahl and his team continue to pursue state-of-the-art training to maintain the capabilities that give the business a competitive edge. ARB remains committed to providing value to customers through efficient and safe work. Furthermore, Dahl is seeking more multi-year contracts, finding success with a number of regional utility companies. With a strong schedule of work down the line, ARB Inc. will continue on a path of steady growth for years to come.
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