Case Studies

Metrocell Construction Inc.

Going to Great Heights

As the capacity of smart phones to deliver incredible technology to the hands of the user has increased rapidly – from text to email to high definition television streamed live – so has the need for cell sites (i.e., towers) to support such activities. This is where Metrocell Construction Inc. (Metrocell) steps in with expertise.

Strictly a cell-site contractor, Metrocell has more than enough work serving one market niche in southern California. “People could lose their job, their home, everything,” says James Culwell, founder and president of Metrocell. “But they’ll still have a cellphone in their pocket.”

Founded in 2004 in Chino, Calif., Metrocell offers cell site construction, modification, repair and maintenance, as well as radio frequency installation and maintenance. The same big-name service providers – Verizon, AT&T, MobilePCS and T-Mobile – rely on Metrocell time and again. As technology and cellphone use increases, these companies are continually calling on Metrocell to modify cell sites in order to handle more capacity and install new cell sites to boost networks.

Industry Potential on the Roof

It’s a booming industry and Culwell knew the potential it had when he began his business. “We doubled in size in the first four to five years, even as more contractors entered the field during the recession,” he details. Despite increased competition, Metrocell pulled in a tremendous amount of clients in its service range (which is 95 percent of the time in Los Angeles County) and grew exponentially.

In 1999, Culwell left the arena of residential construction and began working on building cell sites. “Within four years, I got my license and started my own company,” says Culwell. The business began in a tiny rental about one-sixth the size of the company’s current headquarters – a new building recently purchased by Culwell. “When we started out it was just me and my brother,” he notes. “And over the years we just kept hiring more and more people.” Now, the company employs around five dozen.

Cell sites tend to increase with population density and in urban areas like Los Angeles County, sites abound; sites may be found with a half-mile of each other. This increase in cell sites led to the desire for concealed, or stealth, cell sites: sites that blend in with the surrounding area.

In southern California this tends to be the monopalm: a monopole disguised as a palm tree. And, the white Irvine Spectrum obelisk prominently visible from Interstate 5 encloses a Verizon cell tower. Other than clever disguises, cell sites can blend into a city by being installed on existing structures, such as church spires, rooftops, water towers and freeway overpasses.

Metrocell honors long-lasting relationships. Additionally, due to its commitment to quality construction, ethical business practices and competitive pricing structures, steady repeat business coming in means the company has earned the trust of its clients.

Metrocell completes most all its work – the steel structure, framing, stucco and/or FRP – but will sub out work on rooftop projects. Most projects take on average six weeks to complete, and the subsequent change of scenery keeps things interesting for installers in the field. There are exceptions, such as the job Metrocell completed in April 2013 on a new Verizon cell site atop a Harley Davidson building in Baldwin Park; the $550,000 project took four months to complete.

Currently, Verizon is Metrocell’s biggest customer followed closely by T-Mobile and AT&T. Next year, Culwell will continue to expand the Metrocell operation and claim some federal work in addition to commercial. “I enjoy building the business,” says Culwell. “So do the service providers. As cell phones become more data hungry, service providers scramble to boost the capacities of their networks, and the commercial work will be there.”

The Future is Here

Culwell is pleased with the success of Metrocell. He was smart to enter the industry in 2004, and with solid relationships in place, the future of his company is secure. When cell service was launched in the 1980s, the Los Angeles metropolitan area had less than a dozen cellphone towers and today there are thousands for each provider.

With a bounty of work, Metrocell maintains strong employees, including superintendents and project managers with a high level of expertise in order to ensure accurate estimating, efficient project management and effective cost-control. The circle of trust extends from Metrocell employees to its regular subcontracts and its repeat customers, as well. With the ever-increasing technology industry, and more cellphone users by the day, Metrocell Construction Inc. is sitting pretty – on an inconspicuous monopalm – atop the bustling southern California market.

Published on: July 10, 2014

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