Case Studies

Lawson Steel Erection LLC & Continental Steel Fabricators

The one-two punch in structural steel

Structural steel erector and assembler Lawson Steel Erection LLC (LSE) and Kansas City-based steel fabricator Continental Steel Fabrication (CSF) combine for a one-two punch. The two businesses teamed up in 2011 to offer the full scope in structural steel fabrication and erection services.

Founded by Larry Lawson in 1983, LSE offers a full-service approach to structural steel projects. Meanwhile, CFS offers leading fabrication services for a number of purposes, including structural, mechanical and ornamental. “The way we manage projects from start to finish in-house really sets LSE and CSF apart,” explains Joe Fortner, president of both companies. “We know what’s required to complete the project so all of our processes and procedures are driven to meet the end goal.”

Wide-ranging experience

This knowledge of step-one-through-done project management stems from LSE’s leaders and their experience. For example, Fortner, who draws experience from the erection side of the industry, has been in the business for more than a decade.

Fortner began his venture in 1998, performing drafting and detailing work using design technology, such as AutoCAD. “I started working as a draftsman and engineer on aggregate conveyors,” he recounts. From there, Fortner’s role transitioned into sales.

Fortner spent the majority of his early career managing large scale retail projects, schools, multistory office buildings, military hangers and stadiums. “I grew into the commercial side in St. Louis working for an erector and joined LSE in 2001 as an estimator and project manager,” he details.

By 2006, he was performing many of the day-to-day management duties for the company and by 2007 was managing the business under the direction Kamal Mikhail, owner of LSE.  Fortner has extensive experience in all facets of steel construction and has served in most, if not all, key positions in the steel business.

Fortner assumed his position as president of both LSE and CSF in 2012. “The companies were purchased by new ownership Jan. 1, 2011, and we’re now coming up on three years under this new ownership,” shares Fortner.

Transitioning with the same vision

With the addition of CSF in 2011 and change of ownership, the two companies have been growing steadily but still, 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.”

And LSE and CSF are doing exactly that. “Since 2012, we’ve doubled our volume and that growth has continued into 2014 and I think there’s no stopping it in 2015 as we get into more industrial prefabrication,” assures Fortner

Amid new ownership, united forces and considerable growth, a shared vision remains. “We’re an organization that values its employees, our community and our profession,” reads LSE’s website.

Commitment, craftsmanship and tradition are all key elements of the company’s success. “We’re driven by these principles and our unwavering commitment to safety, quality and performance,” adds Fortner. “Our mission is to strive to exceed expectations with superior performance, professional conduct and unparalleled value.”

Lawson Steel Erection LLC

Breaking it down

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 120 includes Local 10 ironworkers, Local 520 shop ironworkers, Local 101 operators and engineers; the company is all union.

Bringing more under the LSE, CSF umbrella

The coinciding companies still serve a 500-mile range of Kansas City, often extending into St. Louis, Topeka, Kan., as well as regions of Nebraska. “We have even shipped to Colorado in the past,” adds Fortner.

As Kansas City’s pre-eminent steel fabrication and erection companies, clients call on LSE and CSF for all steel needs under one roof. “We’re currently underway at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, a branch of FBI headquarters in Topeka,” shares Fortner. “We’ve also started a 25-story building in downtown Kansas City.”

In a recent effort to bring even more in-house under LSE and CSF, Fortner says the companies are teaming up to build and assemble large beam box trusses for steel mills. The massive 11-footwide by 50-footlong trusses weigh, on average, 40,000 to 50,000 pounds per truss.

“We’re fabricating industrial steel for the steel mill in Nebraska,” details Fortner. “By fabricating the individual pieces and assembling the units, they’re ready to be set in one piece, rather than the traditional piece-by-piece assembly in the field. This is saving our customers time and money in the field. We’ve also developed a way to assemble in two days using special bracing.”

Fortner says the overlapping companies are also making their mark in the precast erection market from the North Kansas City Hospital garage panel replacement to the Moyes Eye Care Center (Moyes) in Kansas City. “At Moyes, we’re erecting a total of 140 precast wall panels, about 15-per-day,” he cites. “The average precast panel weighs right around 20,000 pounds.”

Back to his roots

Fortner, who got his start in the industry in designing aggregate conveyors, has found a way to further diversify LSE’s services by going back to his roots. “In 2013, we started doing some work for the Missouri River Port Authority,” he shares. “They had conveyors that were sitting on the lot for more than 20 years and they called LSE for my experience in aggregate conveyors. We redid several last year and we’ve been asked to do more this year. Not a lot of companies can go out and make an old conveyor run. We’re bringing in specialized millwrights to assist in this work.”

Although Fortner says 2014 got off to a slower start in the first two quarters, he says LSE continues to diversify its scope of services and land more work. “Last year, the Kansas City construction market was better than it was starting off in 2014,” he recalls. “It’s been a challenge to push through the slow start and make it a profitable year with a strong finish, but that’s the way this trade goes, it has its ups and downs.”

At the end of the day, hitting key performance indicators and building on the shared vision of LSE and CSF is the goal. “If we can maintain our relationships with general contractors, completing the schedule on time and meeting our budget, while everyone goes home safe, then it’s a win-win,” says Fortner.

He proudly says the companies have improved their safety record, reducing the EMR to a .77; “Safety has been a big factor for us,” Fortner assures. “Our safety director Rob Tresse does a great job making it a company culture.”

Fortner says the next couple of years hold continued diversification for LSE and CSF. “We’re looking at developing new ways to keep more and more work in-house rather than subcontracting it,” he explains. “In areas such as our bending and rolling capabilities; stuff we’d typically buy out, we’re now doing in-house. We’re going to have to expand our union workforce and add more onto our eight-acre property.”

For Lawson Steel Erection LLC and Continental Steel Fabrication, demand is high from customers seeking the one-two punch in structural steel fabrication, assembly and erection for all types of commercial construction.

Published on: April 3, 2015

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