Pick Electric Inc.
Flying over Libby Dam in Montana, you see two things: 90 miles of slate blue water, winding below low, sloping mountains and an impressive span of concrete holding that water back.
What you don’t see is all the activity that happens inside the dam, activity that allows the 43-year-old structure—that’s more than half a mile long—to hold back some of the 5.8 million acre-feet of water. You don’t see crews like those from Pick Electric Inc., toiling away for 27 months, sometimes in a six-foot-wide concrete hallway that runs 2,500 feet.
While some electrical contractors opt for wiring new construction “cookie-cutter” projects, Pick Electric goes after complex projects with tight turnarounds, like those inside Libby Dam.
Defying the deadline odds
Based in Spokane, Washington, Pick Electric is a family-owned, full-service electrical contracting company run by three brothers: Ken, Brian and Todd Priddy. Pick Electric’s clients include banks, data centers, pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, food service companies and more, and it has construction, service and residential divisions.
The Priddy brothers treat clients with a “your success is our success” approach, which is especially helpful considering the kinds of commercial and industrial work Pick Electric performs.
“We want our customers to be successful and we wear that on our sleeve,” says Ken, Pick Electric’s president.
No matter who Pick Electric is working with, Ken says, “We can get in and take care of their problem without making a big scene. We’re willing to work around their schedule. We do what it takes to keep their business up and running.”
In one case, Pick Electric helped remodel a Fred Meyer supermarket in time for the fall and winter holidays. The work, which could have easily taken a year, began in July, and Pick Electric managed to complete it before Halloween. Because the store remained open throughout construction, much of the work had to be done at night, and each morning it had to look as if Pick Electric had never been there.
“Most of the project managers from Fred Meyer were kind of snickering because they didn’t think the job would be done that quickly,” Ken says.
Despite the odds, Pick Electric completed that work in the compressed timeline, using two shifts and as many as 25 electricians.
“The more complicated, the more we like them,” Ken says.
Craftsmen who cater to clients
That mentality serves the company well. Pick Electric tends to attract more skilled craftsmen electricians who have particular ways of doing things. “[They do] not transition well into a strip mall type of thing where they’re just knocking out all these cookie-cutter buildings one after another,” Ken says.
On such projects, any change in plans—relocating a light fixture, for instance—can result in paperwork-intensive change orders. Pick Electric develops strong relationships with its clients, and on more unique projects, its crews enjoy the flexibility they have to make changes without extensive change orders.
Plus, those “cookie-cutter” projects can be extremely competitive. They are often difficult to win through low bid and still turn a profit.
“It’s hard to get that and walk away from it and tell the customer, ‘enjoy your new building,’ because it seems like everything is designed around shortcuts and temporary stuff,” Ken says. “I understand sometimes that’s all they want to pay for and that’s fine. It’s just hard for us to do that kind of work and take any pride in it.”
The long haul at Libby Dam
The work Pick Electric did at Libby Dam, which is run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, certainly wasn’t cookie cutter. There, a crew of between five and eight electricians spent just over two years replacing five 480-volt electric substations and 16 motor control centers (MCCs). To do that, they had to pull and replace roughly 20 miles of cables.
The team worked in the confined space of the dam, first in the “power house,” which Brian Priddy describes as a giant open room with plenty of space to navigate. The second phase of the project was on a lower level, essentially a 2,500-foot-long, six-foot-wide hallway. Crews used a bridge crane to lower equipment—including the 10,000 pound substations—onto that level and then rolled it all through the hallway, under walkways and other pinch points.
Much of the equipment Pick Electric replaced was original to the dam, as old as 43 years, and to keep the dam fully operational, Pick Electric had to come up with elaborate temporary power plans.
“It’s kind of unique work,” says Project Manager Brian Priddy. “It’s definitely not something that you do at every box store that you see, where you’re just putting up lights and receptacles.”
Those long wire pulls and moving heavy equipment certainly present a number of challenges. The pace is slower, but more intricate.
“You kind of have to stop and scratch your head a lot,” Brian says.
Yet those challenges are what allow the 24-year-old company to thrive and to develop even more expertise, ultimately providing better service.
“Experience is a good teacher,” Ken says, laughing. “We call it the University of Life. Tuition is extremely expensive, but the education is really good.”
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