The James T. Kay Company
In 1872 a Scottish sea captain immigrated to Meriden, Connecticut, from Scotland and started his own plumbing company. Nearly 145 years later, that plumbing company, The James T. Kay Company, is one of the three oldest continuously running companies in Connecticut.
In the beginning, James T. Kay and his son Frank would travel by horse and cart between their metal fabrication shop and the company’s job sites.
“What a difference today’s work arena is,” says Vice President Robert Berkmoes, who’s been with the company for 42 years.
The James T. Kay Company performs plumbing, heating, air conditioning, industrial piping and mechanical services throughout Connecticut. As it did in 1872, the field still requires hard work. Today, though, new materials have been introduced and those new materials require a technically savvy workforce.
“It is imperative that our trade keep up with the latest technology that affects our business,” Berkmoes says. “We are constantly improving the way we do things in order to be more efficient and competitive.”
The use of computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modeling (BIM) is standard in The James T. Kay Company’s work, and Berkmoes says the company embraced both technologies before they were the industry standard. The James T. Kay Company has one “extremely important, talented” employee, Alan Bassell, who manages its in-house CAD department, and Berkmoes says Bassell is “really on top of his game.”
Its use of CAD and BIM is part of the reason The James T. Kay Company can juggle as many as 30 projects at once, which is critical since, as Berkmoes says, the information is instantaneous now, and so are the construction schedules.
“The challenging portion of it is projects are being built now more quickly,” he says. “Construction schedules have shrunk, so many times you have a lot of work in a short amount of time. There’s a lot of coordination. There’s a lot of detail that has to be recognized and be done so you can fit everything together.”
Union labor and training
Another reason the company can take on so many projects and operate on tight timelines, is its highly skilled, smart and talented staff. Over the years The James T. Kay Company has developed a close relationship with its local plumber and pipefitters union, Local 777. Because the union does so much training, when The James T. Kay Company needs to staff up, it has access to a reliable pool of skilled labor. “That’s key to running a company for the last 144 years,” Berkmoes says.
“The skilled men and women with Local 777 know what is needed to produce a quality product,” he says.
The James T. Kay Company participates in the union’s Joint Apprenticeship Committee (JATC), which educates apprentices and journeypersons on pipe fitting, plumbing, welding, medical gas brazing, rigging and more. It also offers safety trainings like OHSA 10 and 30, CPR certification and courses on first aid and confined space. The JATC recently built a 14,000 square foot addition that will only enhance its offerings, Berkmoes says.
A steady supply of well-trained workers who are continually updating their skill sets to keep up with technology and ever-shortening timelines gives The James T. Kay Company security moving forward into the next 145 years.
The company also benefits from being a member of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Connecticut (MCAC), which offers additional training and support.
“We’re very excited that we’re members of MCAC and also with the union,” Berkmoes says. “I think our company is very strong, and I think being part of both [organizations] has made it probably a little bit easier for the path we’ve taken.”
Third oldest ‘roots’ in Connecticut
The continuous training has also been important for keeping employees around. Some foremen with The James T. Kay Company have been with the company for more than 35 years, and during that time, the trainings not only help them stay up-to-date, but feel valued and engaged, Berkmoes says.
“When they come to work, we want everybody going back home the same way, and that’s always been the commitment,” Berkmoes says. “That’s very important. We take our people very seriously.”
The James T. Kay Company owes many of its strong external business relationships to its office and field employees, Berkmoes says. For instance, the company and especially Steve Theriault, vice president of operations, have developed a close relationship with Turner Construction. As a result, The James T. Kay Company has contributed to several projects at Yale University, including work at the Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Yale School of Medicine.
Today The James T. Kay Company is installing the plumbing and piping that will support a new state of the art microscope at Yale’s West Campus in New Haven, Connecticut. Because the microscope is so high-tech, it needs specific environmental conditions. The work The James T. Kay Company is doing is critical as it will allow the university to carefully control the temperature around the microscope.
While the types of projects have certainly changed since The James T. Kay Company was founded in 1872, in many ways the industry is the same, or as Berkmoes puts it, “plumbing still needs to flow downhill.”
Even with the changes and challenges, Berkmoes views plumbing and HVAC work as rewarding. He compares it to mowing your lawn. It’s hard work, but afterwards there is a satisfaction in seeing the fruits of your labor.
“You’ve kind of got to look at things like it’s fun,” Berkmoes says. “Our business is challenging. You really have to love what you do.”
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