Lawson Steel Erection LLC
Lawson Steel Erection LLC (LSE) has been in business since 1983. Founded by Larry Lawson, the successful steel erector operated independently for 28 years. In 2011, the business partnered with Continental Steel Fabrication Company (CSF), a fabrication business in Kansas City, Mo., founded by Robert and Carol Bisbee in 1971.
CSF offers leading fabrication services for a number of purposes, including structural, mechanical and ornamental. Meanwhile, LSE offers a full service approach to structural steel projects.
Joe Fortner, president of LSE since 2011, has been in the industry for more than a decade. He began his venture in 1998, performing drafting and detailing work using design technology such as AutoCAD. His role eventually grew into sales.
In 2001, he saw an opportunity with LSE, and came to work with the business as an estimator and project manager. His experience grew into a management role; in 2007, he was fully managing the business under the direction of Kamal Mikhail, owner of LSE.
LSE’s project managers for each site work with general contractors and architects to create measurable goals on a weekly basis and keep everything on track to achieve those steps in the process. “Our competitors have one guy going through a jobsite,” Fortner elaborates. “We have multiple people looking at each project and developing an outline of goals and the timeframe for each one. We relay that schedule to the field crews so that they know the exact timeline of when materials arrive and when each component needs to be together.”
In collaboration with CSF, LSE has broad fabrication capabilities. Contractors can rely on a turnkey solution for structural steel needs, all under one roof. “We can do all of the processing work, too,” Fortner elaborates. “We have steel dropped at our facility and we can fabricate all of the components for the structure.” A large staff of 100 to 200 includes Local 10 ironworkers, Local 520 shop ironworkers, Local 101 operators and engineers; the company is all union.
Putting Up Steel
The business operates within a 500-mile radius of Kansas City, performing fabrication, delivery and installation work. “We are usually the first ones on the site because we perform the beginning stages of horizontal construction,” Fortner explains. “We have performed a number of major builds, including a recent five-story build for a 250,000-square-foot office for Perceptive Software. That was a six or seven month job, just doing the steel.”
The team’s other tackled projects include a 250,000-square-foot, single-story manufacturing facility. The structure will house a manufacturer for General Motors Corp. parts, Yanfeng. The steel work took an estimated two to three months.
The crew also worked for Homeland Security, building a bio facility on the Kansas State Campus. “It is basically a research facility,” Fortner says. “This was a $600 million project all together. We constructed the research lab building, as well as a generator building to house all of the mechanical equipment. Everything we do is unique. There isn’t really anything cookie cutter about our projects.”
With the addition of CSF in 2011, LSE has been growing steadily. Still, the crew faced several challenges throughout the recession. “In 2010, there was a major slowdown,” Fortner explains. “At that point we were operating independently, just as an erector business. Now that we have combined with CSF, we have better in-house capabilities. 2011 wasn’t bad, but we were doing a lot more public work. Schools and churches seem to be the only projects to bid on when the economy is down. During the slow period, we made investments and now we are ready to produce at much higher levels.”
While the company continues to prosper, Fortner’s job still isn’t easy. “We still have to manage finances,” he explains. “We have some large expenses, especially purchasing steel. With vendors and mills, we have to float all of the money up front. We work with a number of vendors and make decisions based on price per pound. We also pay for consumables and repair on our cranes and other machines. We own all of the welders and trucks that keep our jobsites running.”
In order to keep reinvesting in the business, LSE continues to offer premium service. “We tend to come off as a little pushy at first,” Fortner notes, “Because we push our general contractors and architects to provide information up front so we can put together a timeline. Once the work is scheduled and presented, however, everyone is happy. Our biggest indicator of success is hitting our deadlines on a weekly schedule. That drives the whole process. We deal with some really qualified tradesmen, which is really rewarding. They care about the quality of their work and they always make it happen. Our crews continue to exceed our expectations.”
LSE is celebrating 30 years of business in 2013, demonstrating impressive longevity in the industry. In the coming years, Fortner and his team are looking forward to continued growth. “We want to expand on our niche in processing and fabrication,” he says. “We will continue to build key relationships with general contractors and architects. We also want to get into design-build so we can help more with the process by tapping into our experience.” Fortner and his team have never had an issue with achieving goals, so Lawson Steel Erection LLC continues to press forward making continued growth a reality.
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