Case Studies


Bringing electrical design and prefabrication in-house for fast-track delivery

In Fargo, North Dakota, Moorhead Electric (MEI) is growing at an unprecedented rate thanks to a 48-year strong reputation for superior electrical contracting, unique prefabrication capabilities and a reinforced backing by nationwide Parsons Electric. The firm is also implementing groundbreaking BIM modeling and real-time project access, from iPad to field.

MEI has quickly emerged as one of the largest commercial and industrial electrical contractors in the state, tackling major projects, such as the new Sanford Fargo Medical Center, Scheels Grand Forks and Minn-Dak Sugar expansion.

A partnership and platform for growth

In 1967, MEI opened its doors to provide Fargo-Moorhead, North Dakota, and the surrounding areas with electrical contracting and related technologies services. The firm continued to progress, but the last three years have been the most pivotal in the company’s growth.

“In October 2012, Parsons Electric, a national electrical and technologies contractor based in Minneapolis-St. Paul, acquired MEI,” tells Rich Ross, now president of MEI. Ross, who started with Parsons Electric nearly 22 years ago, worked his way up through the national firm and eventually moved to Fargo to oversee MEI.

With a well established reputation, MEI’s partnership with Parsons Electric has given the company a launch pad for record growth. “Joining Parsons Electric has given MEI the platform to grow and offer new services in this market,” measures Ross. “We’re now one of the largest, and most diversified electrical contractors in the state. We’ve expanded our service offerings to include design and installation of technology systems, such as security and audio-visual systems.”

Based in Fargo, with approximately 125 electricians on staff, MEI works across North Dakota and western Minnesota. Across the region, Ross says the labor shortage is a serious obstacle for MEI and the rest of the industry.

“The North Dakota labor market is limited,” he explains. “We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country – around 2 percent. So it’s quite competitive and we’ve had to find creative ways to keep up with the rate of construction with less labor.”


Tools of the trade, perfecting prefab

In response, MEI has turned to prefab electrical construction to accelerate timelines, increase production and safety, all while reducing labor costs. At MEI, each project begins with a prefabrication plan created by the project manager, superintendent and prefabrication department lead. Depending on the project schedule, most of the components, such as full patient room walls, can be prefabricated early on in the construction process.

“Using BIM modeling in our prefab shop we can put together complete fabrication drawings and create just about anything within our shop,” says Ross. “This flexibility allows us to get ahead of the curve while leveling the playing field with the labor shortage and increasing production to fast-track the project timeline.”

Another tool of the trade MEI has leveraged to its advantage is Auto Desk’s 360-Glue software, a cloud-based BIM coordination service that provides virtually anytime, anywhere access to connected project information.

“This program effectively glues all trades into one model,” tells Jason Byrne, assistant project manager at MEI. “With iPads in the field, our foremen can take a virtual reality tour of what everything will look like -conduit to duct work and everything in between. Before anything is installed in the field, it is all coordinated in this central model. This means you don’t have to stop to try to decide which way to go -up, down, left or right -it’s already determined in a 3D view.”

Savings for Sanford

MEI’s top-notch planning technology has delivered substantial project savings at the Sanford Fargo Medical Center (Sanford) in the heart of the growing west Fargo area. Sanford is one of the largest hospital projects in North Dakota, and the U.S.

For the massive undertaking, MEI has partnered with Mortenson-Norson, the general contractor on the project, and the design team of HKS, JLG and CCRD. “The Sanford project is easily the largest of its kind in the region and one of the top 10 largest hospital projects in the nation – with 1 million square feet of new construction,” details Ross.

“The medical center provides services for children and pediatric intensive care [PICU], 28 trauma/operating rooms, orthopedics/neurosurgery, heart surgery/interventional cardiology, a combination of 384 patient rooms once completely built out, as well as the region’s first level-one trauma center,” adds Ross.

Early involvement

Filling a design-assist role in the 11-story hospital and adjacent central energy plant build, worth $494 million in total, MEI’s crews were involved early on in the design process. Byrne was assigned to the Sanford project in early spring 2014 and was one of the first on-site.

“MEI had electricians getting power through the ground for job trailers in early 2014, but the modeling work started long before anyone was on-site,” shares Byrne. “Mortenson-Norson and various trades, such as mechanical subcontractors, all used the 360-Glue tool in this team effort. Everyone can view exactly what is going on and it helps all trades know they can’t deviate from the model.”

At Sanford, the heart of the electrical systems are housed within the central energy plant (CEP) and consist of three, 2.5MW, 12.47kV emergency generators and multiple double-ended 12.47kV medium voltage substations for distribution throughout the medical center. Additional services provided and managed by MEI include, nurse call, infant protection, fire alarm, structured cabling, MATV, security and synchronized and time-lapse clock systems.

Working in concert with the other trades, MEI has fabricated over 400 headwalls, including necessary medical gases and controls, all in a controlled environment. Byrne, who’s been a project manager for some 14 years says this method is one of the most efficient he’s seen. “When you look at the whole process it’s a huge time saver and produces greater consistency and accuracy,” he adds.

“The projected completion of Sanford is by the end of 2016,” notes Ross.

A team effort for safe progress

MEI is no stranger to hospital projects and sensitive environments, so the company’s safety record is nothing short of stellar. “At MEI, our employees are our number 1 asset,” says Ross. “Safety isn’t just a statistic – it’s a culture. MEI recognizes the fact that safety does not occur by chance, but rather is the result of careful attention from managers, supervisors, foremen and employees from all levels of the company.”

For this effort, MEI was awarded the Perfect Record recognition by the National Safety Council in 2013, for zero lost-time accidents or injuries throughout the entire year. According to Ross that culture continues into 2015.

“It’s all about the team we have in place here at MEI,” he says. “We have a fabulous group that has been together for a very long time. Our culture is really collaborative. We thrive on new ideas and innovations; this is what I believe sets us apart from other firms.”

It’s by team effort that MEI has set out on the fast-track to record growth as the company continues to be one of the biggest players in North Dakota’s electrical contracting sphere.

Published on: July 9, 2015

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