Case Studies

Big State Electric Ltd.

Rising to the labor challenge and demand for design-build and prefab electrical

Big things are happening for Big State Electric Ltd. based in San Antonio, Texas. The commercial and industrial firm has emerged as a leading electrical contractor in South and Central Texas by pushing the envelope in employee training, time-and-cost saving prefabrication and design-build electrical engineering. “In 2014, Big State did nearly $76 million in all facets of electrical work,” shares Vincent Real, president and CEO of Big State.

With offices in San Antonio and Austin, Big State has performed electrical construction for nearly 50 years and has continued to expand services to meet today’s market demands. From full electrical service to complete fire alarm and security, sound systems and tele data services, Big State runs the gamut in electrical contracting.

Big State ElectricIn-house technical expertise

Founded in 1966, Big State’s 250 to 400 employees are some of the most talented in the electrical industry, consisting of master electricians and National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) stamped Journeymen. “Our most recent addition to Big State team is a new resident electrical engineer,” says Real. “In an effort to deliver more design-build electrical service, Big State filled this position in December 2014. We realized the need after doing arc-flash services in various facilities and quick response to customers for design-build projects.”

With an in-house engineer, Big State has ramped up design-build services, including BIM and AutoCAD modeling, but the company offers a whole range of additional services, including; low-and-medium voltage electrical, factory automotive electrical applications, infrared testing, excavation, fiber optics, data and call center service, 24-hour emergency service and more.

“Anything that has wire -we’re doing it,” explains Real. “Fire alarm, security and tele data to controls for HVAC and unique underground excavations – for the most part, we self-perform all of these services in-house.” But, one of Big State’s shining capabilities lies within its 38,000-square-foot warehouse prefabrication facility.

Fast-tracking with prefab

Inside this facility, Big State prefabricates a range of electrical components and controls, effectively jumpstarting project timelines. “By taking some work out of the field and into a controlled environment, we can shave down labor, time and steps off the job,” explains Real. “Sometimes when you’re in the field it’s like an Easter egg hunt to find the materials or the tools you need to get something done -prefab takes this guesswork out and really drives productivity.”

“By taking steps out of the job, it also helps with safety,” adds Real. “A guy may go up a ladder multiple times in the field to put a box and conduit up, but in the controlled prefab environment everything is available to do this one time. Anytime you’re doing that, you’re taking risk out of the job.”

With more prefab work, careful attention to protocol and adherence to stringent safety standards, Big State’s workforce has achieved an average experience modifier of 0.75 over the last five years.

Prefab has been the go-to for Big State in the case of the Frost Bank Complex in San Antonio. “The scope of this job includes two standalone buildings; a north and south tower and more than 465,000 square feet of design-build office space and a 555,100-square-foot parking garage,” tells Real. “We currently have 135 employees on site but we’ve been able to accelerate the timeline with design build and heavy prefab. It’s on the fast track for 18 months- that’s where it really stands out.”

“It’s going very well and we’ve received praise on our guys from the owner and the GC,” adds Real. “Big State is about 80 percent complete with this project.”

Big State has also been an ongoing presence, yet seemingly undetected at the Christus Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital. “We work in a lot of sensitive environments, such as an active hospital like Santa Rosa Children’s,” says Real. “This is a three-year, $8.9 million remodel and Big State has been on-site for almost two years while the hospital remains operational. We’re doing electrical, fire alarm and nurse call systems.”

The firm has also assisted Texas A&M with a major satellite campus addition and recently landed a job in Houston with Beck Corporation. “We’ve worked with many of our client’s for 20 years or more -even some big names such as AT&T and Toyota,” adds Real.

The NECA stamp of excellence

One factor that draws big names to Big State is the company’s affiliation with the NECA South Texas chapter. “I’ve been a board member for 18 years and I am currently the South Texas chapter president,” shares Real.

“The benefits of being a member contractor are virtually limitless; from the round-table discussions with fellow contractors all over the country to giving us a voice for negotiations with the IBEW,” says Real. “I’ve also been very active in the Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (JATC) for 15 years and now serve as committee chairman. We’re changing the curriculum to meet today’s needs and targeting it to the next generation.”

Real says apprentices in the region now go to day school, which allows them to further develop important skills, but also takes manpower off the job several days out of the month. One way Big State is compensating for the lost time is to implement a relatively new class of NECA labor -the construction wireman-construction electrician (CW/CE).

“We’re currently running at 400 field employees, of which, 60 are CW/CEs,” tells Real. “Although their skills are not comparable to an apprentice or journeyman, CW/CEs are a tool to get our composite rates lower because our burdens are a little lower on these guys. We can put them on underground-type projects where you don’t need a skilled journeyman. Also, we’re not losing CW/CEs to day school, which helps us keep a full staff.”

Real says Big State is even putting some CW/CEs on prefab projects. “We’re utilizing them a lot in prefab and the reasoning behind that is we want indentured apprentices to have field experience and more on the job training,” he explains. “The CW/CEs we’ve found are talented young men and women, just without the desire to do apprenticeship— it’s been a great asset to us and steppingstone for future labor issues.”

Learning to adapt and meet today’s market demands, both in terms of labor, technology and service, is the hallmark of a viable business and one reason Big State Electric is making a big impression in south central Texas.

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Spring 2018



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