Muska Electric Co.
Ask a general contractor what it’s looking for among its subcontractors and the answer’s likely to be a streamlined and versatile operator like Muska Electric Co., a fixture in the Upper Midwest’s building trades that will celebrate its centennial in 2019.
Based in the Twin Cities suburb of Roseville, Minnesota, and licensed in 15 states, Muska enhanced its operations in the last decade with plumbing and low-voltage divisions that further solidify its status as a one-stop contractor whose commercial and industrial clients include such high-profile brands as General Mills, Hy-Vee, Target, Petco, Kohl’s, Walgreens, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Porsche, Audi, Honda and Toro.
“We’re able to go in and bid the whole package,” says Vice President Jeffrey Marko, who’s been with Muska for nearly three decades. “Nothing gets held up.”
Getting to such an enviable position took some confidence. The Great Recession hit the region hard, but while other contractors were cutting back, Muska added a plumbing division in 2008.
Initially focusing on light commercial and residential service, Muska Plumbing expanded into heavier commercial projects as well as industrial piping, garnering projects from Walmart, Target, Costco and all levels of the public sector. Growing each year, the plumbing division increased its sales to $8.5 million last year and has a growing team of five office employees and another 35 in the field.
Then, in late 2014, Muska entered the low-voltage field by purchasing U.S. Intertec, a local provider of voice, data and video installation services that enables bidding on nearly all commercial low-voltage systems. The Muska technology team’s project revenue has continued to grow each year in excess of 30 percent, says Marko, adding that its 35 field employees provided just shy of $6 million in revenue last year. With ample work already under contract, the team is projected to grow the business again this year.
“This makes us more of a one-stop shop that can offer electricity, technology and plumbing as a package,” says Marko. “We leave a lot less integration to the general contractor. The GC doesn’t have to line up all the subcontractors and point to one to say, ‘you’re holding us up.’ We’ve got the whole project streamlined.”
All systems working
Since the end of the recession, the projects have been coming in as the money supply has loosened and private companies, as well as the public sector, tend to needs that had been shelved.
“We’ve got electricians who have been with us for an entire career; we pride ourselves on their longevity.”
Just west of the Twin Cities, in Northfield, Muska has completed two major projects for St. Olaf College. Working with general contractor Oscar Boldt Corp. of Appleton, Wisconsin, Muska designed and installed a 1.65-megawatt wind turbine with output connection to the campus’ electrical system, enhancing the private liberal arts college’s green credentials. Muska and Oscar Boldt also collaborated on a 200,000 square-foot LEED Platinum-compliant facility for the science department.
Muska also worked with general contractor Bovis Land Lease, of Charlotte, North Carolina, on a massive cold-storage Minnesota distribution center, covering 12 acres, for the Aldi discount grocery chain.
Currently, Muska is part of a team building Amazon’s 900,000 square-foot distribution center, a $25 million hi-tech project in Shakopee, where customer service will be enhanced by robots fetching items off the shelves.
Opportunity to be selective
An employee-owned company since the late 1970s, Muska hires out of the union halls; Marko explaining that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has long assured the competence of its workers. The flip side of a revived construction economy can be manpower shortages, and Marko feels that loyalty to his electricians and plumbers will be rewarded in kind.
“We’ve got electricians who have been with us for an entire career; we pride ourselves on their longevity,” he says. “We take care of our employees and keep them fresh with safety meetings four times a year. They know we’ll go the extra mile to keep them employed. We’ve had more than a few families working for us. That’s how we like to run a business.”
Marko’s selectiveness extends from his hiring practices to what projects he chooses to undertake. Although the upper Midwest economy tends to be steady, without the booms and busts other regions enjoy and endure, Marko says 2016 was an exception, and for the better. So far, at least, the current year is shaping up as a continuation.
“We thought it was crazy busy last year, but it could be more so this year,” he says. “We’re not hearing any doom and gloom. We’re hearing a lot of opportunity from the general counsels, architects and engineers. That’s great, but part of the challenge is to have sufficient manpower.”
With 220 electricians in addition to its plumbers and low-voltage technicians, Muska seems ready on that, but Marko still takes a cautionary approach.
“Our philosophy is not how big we can be, but to grow in a controlled manner and stay in a comfortable range,” says Marko. “I’ve seen too many people in construction working harder to make less because they jump at every opportunity. There are some rules of thumb I follow.”
The son of a journeyman electrician, Marko was a mechanical engineering major at the University of Minnesota when he opted to work for a general contractor one summer. He distinguished himself on a survey crew and as a reviewer of electric-shop drawings, and upon returning to college, got a full-time offer that was attractive enough for him to put his books aside for the time being.
As he honed his electrical skills, some of which he had learned from his father, his personal stock kept rising. When that contractor was absorbed by Muska in 1988, he was too.
Marko eventually got his degrees in electrical engineering and business administration, taking night classes at the University of Minnesota, and continues to enjoy his role at Muska.
“It’s a company that gives you a lot of independence,” Marko says, noting that he also serves as a project manager. “We’re well-coordinated, but we don’t hold people back. It’s nice to be able to work when you don’t feel like someone’s breathing down your shoulder. You feel appreciated.”
And as long as the electricians, plumbers and technicians also feel that appreciation, he feels that Muska Electric Co. will be around to celebrate many anniversaries beyond the 100th that’s just a couple of years away.
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