Mason Construction Ltd.
Mason Construction Ltd. (MCL) is a diversified family-owned construction firm based in Beaumont, Texas. W.K. Mason established the business in 1939, working alone and with no equipment. His first project was a contract to build a levee along the Houston Ship Channel between Houston and Galveston, Texas. In order to complete the project, he invested his life savings in a dragline and got to work.
Now, 75 years later, Charles “Chuck” Mason Jr., W.K.’s grandson and current president of MCL, applies the same philosophy of hard work and dedication to turn around complex concrete, site work, structural steel and piling contracts throughout southeast Texas.
Chuck operates the family business alongside his brother, Brad Mason, executive vice president of MCL. Together, the brothers oversee a strong and growing staff of more than 400 people. The company’s longtime evolution has also expanded the team’s geographic footprint. Most projects take place within 75 miles of company headquarters in Beaumont, Texas, although the new and growing piling division frequently travels as far as 150 miles from the office.
Building a niche
Over the last few years, Chuck says the construction market has been strong in the area. “We have been quite busy ourselves,” he explains. “There is a lot of development in our service area, because of the growth in oil and gas fields. A lot of the development has to do with getting fuel to the refineries. There is a real shortage on the transportation side, so we have seen a lot of work going on with pipelines.”
One of the more interesting projects the MCL team has been involved in for production of methanol. “OCI is building a methanol plant here in Beaumont,” Chuck elaborates. “The company announced $1 billion of work so far and it could certainly expand beyond that. We are doing a lot of site work, over the last six months. The new OCI plant will be the biggest methanol facility in the U.S. when the project is complete.”
Much of the new development stems from well production in western and upper east Texas. These processors do not yet have approval to ship overseas, so companies are putting more resources in finding use for the substance. “These companies are converting gas into to methane and methanol for use in the chemical industry,” Chuck details. “They also want to use it as a fuel for cars. We are on the ground floor of these developments, so we are going to be able to do quite a bit of the civil work in this growing market.”
Along the Gulf Coast, particularly in Beaumont, Port Arthur and Pasadena areas, Chuck and his team have also seen major growth in the petrochemical industry. “One plant we are doing a lot of work for is One Oak in Mont Belvieu, which is midway between Beaumont and Houston,” Chuck notes. “We have a lot of work going on in that area. Everything in petrochemical is blooming now, so we are in the right place.”
One of the company’s recent projects is a little outside of the team’s usual scope of work. “We didn’t make money any money on this one,” Chuck clarifies. “My Rotary Club decided for the organization’s centennial to build a handicap-accessible playground. My wife is the president so I ended up being the project manager. We did the entire project at cost and it ended up being more of a challenge than we imagined. We didn’t go in to make any money off of it, but we got it done and really it was more of a question of how much money we could raise to pay for it. Fortunately, my wife is good fundraiser, and we had the community involved. A couple hundred people were involved at one time or another.”
Of course, as with anything that is worth it, it wasn’t easy. “We learned just how hard it is to build a playground and satisfy all the different government agencies,” he continues. “My foreman said, ‘This is a whole lot harder than building an industrial plant.’ It was a fun project, but one you look at, think this shouldn’t be hard to do, but the manufacturers of playground equipment did not give us the level of detail we are used to in our engineering drawings. We got a good feeling out of it and good recognition in the community. Now, the local kids have a really nice handicap-accessible playground. In the past, many of these families would have to go to Houston or Baton Rouge. Whenever we go see it, people will come up to us when they find out we built it and tell us they bring their kids down every weekend from 75 miles away. We are really happy with it, but we are convinced that building playgrounds is not our next market venture.”
The challenging playground construction notwithstanding, Chuck says he and his team have a lot of opportunities coming up over the next few years. While the work is there, MCL and other contractors find that the new challenge is finding the manpower to take on the work.
To deal with this obstacle, the company has ramped up internal training. The company employs a person who works full time on training or certifying workers. The firm is also doing a lot more advertising for workers than ever before. According to Chuck, part of the issue is that construction is less attractive to young people. On top of that, many of the skilled workers formerly filling the roles on a jobsite have moved into the oil and gas industry.
“All in all, the market is strong,” Chuck says. “We have a lot of work and we are expanding a little further out than we did in the past. We are doing a fair amount of work in Passadena and Mont Belvieu, on the edge of where we have worked before.”
With every project, the company is building its reputation in new areas; MCL has started receiving bidding packages from new clients in those areas. Chuck recognizes that there is a boom and eventually the market will slow down a bit. When that happens, Mason Construction Ltd. will have a strong new network of clients to work for in the busy region.
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