Thoma Electric Inc.
It takes a lot more than luck to keep a business going strong for 50 years. Since 1962, Thoma Electric Inc. (Thoma) has maintained family ownership, a dedicated, professional team and comprehensive services; all of which have contributed to the California-based company’s half-a-century of success.
In 1962, Clarence “Bud” Thoma founded Thoma as a small contracting company, performing electrical construction for some of central California’s most notable landmarks. “My father started our business with a partner in 1952, but the company was under a different name,” recalls Bill Thoma, president of Thoma and licensed professional engineer (PE). “In 1962, the firm split and my father and mother continued the company under the Thoma name and officially incorporated the business in 1971.”
All in the Family
In 1981, Thoma expanded into electrical consulting, engineering and design and has continued to grow dramatically throughout California and the West Coast. Bud continued Thoma’s legacy by passing the company onto his sons, Ed and Bill.
“I joined the business when I was just a youngster, but then went on to college and earned my degree in electrical engineering,” shares Bill. “I came back to Thoma in 1981 when my father retired and Ed returned in 1985, and we’ve been running the company in partnership ever since.”
Since taking Thoma’s reins, Bill and Ed have led the company with tenacity. The duo has created staying power by having a vision of growing the company into new sectors and tackling new challenges; the company is vastly different and enhanced from its early days.
Bill and Ed have diversified the company’s range of services further, adding a full-service engineering department to the lineup. “We have a bona fide engineering division that does design and design-build work throughout the state for agencies and contractors,” notes Bill. “We have it all in-house, adopting the cradle to the grave project delivery method. We’re all one entity so we work together; we’re not fighting over who’s going to make the money and I think that’s unique in this area and in our industry.”
Thoma remains based in San Luis Obispo, Calif., between Los Angeles and San Francisco. “We have averaged approximately 60 to 70 employees over the past decade, but we were at the peak about a year and a half ago, topping out at 150,” details Bill. “We hit 150 employees while doing the five-story Marian Hospital Medical Center in Santa Maria, Calif. We performed $22.5 million in electrical work for the acute care hospital with 180 patient beds and significant emergency power systems.”
One through Done
The Thoma team delivers design and construction services in-house, under one roof. “We have licensed PE’s, six engineers and CAD-certified professionals,” reveals Bill. “We perform electrical construction in nearly all facets of the business, as well as service and maintenance.”
He goes on to note that the company’s engineering division, which formed in 1981, allows the team to perform design-only projects, as well as design-build. “Design-build is our forte,” he explains. “All of our engineers and designers are in-house and under the same roof as our project managers and estimators and construction supervisors.”
At Thoma, the work is distributed across a team of experts. “We work diligently to design buildable systems from our engineering department,” shares Bill. “Each department shares the successes and challenges with new products and processes to enhance our ability to deliver value engineered and constructed projects.”
While contracts are often awarded to separate companies for design, engineering and construction, Thoma offers the efficiency of a one-stop shop. “Thoma provides services in power distribution, lighting, data and telecommunications, fire alarm, emergency and standby systems with a strong focus on energy conservation and renewable energy sources,” adds Bill.
Adding Value while Streamlining the Process
By bringing a range of services under one roof, Thoma shortens the design process, construction planning and timelines and in turn, cuts costs and adds value. In-house service improves communication, minimizes mistakes and reduces change orders.
Thoma’s professionals strive to add value from the beginning of a project through its full life cycle. “We know what works and what does not and we try to implement the best solutions into a cradle to grave, cohesive strategy,” explains Bill. “We believe we’re very good at this and the fact that most of our design-build customers are repeat customers shows it.”
Bill explains that Thoma’s new and repeat clients come from all kinds of industries, ranging from health care to winery and agricultural operations, to financial institutions, public safety, industrial, recreation, office and retail, technology, education, general commercial and government sectors. “We serve commercial, industrial and institutional clients,” he notes. “We are well-known for our fire station work; we’ve done close to 150 fire stations in the last 15 years throughout California.”
A Diverse Portfolio
From the operating room to the courthouse, Thoma is capable of a huge scope of work. “We recently delivered a hybrid operating room/catheterization laboratory,” shares Bill. “This was a unique job because the project combines the features of both rooms into one; something that is a very new concept and on the cutting edge of medicine. We worked together as a design-build team and we were selected based on the high importance of the project. The client wasn’t looking for the lowest-bid option, but the value associated with highest quality of on-time and on-budget work.”
The $3.4 million Bakersfield Federal Courthouse is another of Thoma’s well recognized design-build projects. “This job consisted of 40,000 square feet with secure facilities, standby power distribution and a renewable energy solar array on the roof,” reveals Bill. “The project also came in with a LEED Gold rating and the occupants are extremely pleased with the design.”
In its home city, Thoma delivered a design-build retrofit for a local credit reporting agency’s existing commercial building. “We added a new power distribution system and standby power generation for the critical operations data processing facility,” notes Bill. “The communications and data cabling infrastructure were also significantly upgraded and expanded.”
In the private sector, Thoma also performs renowned winery work. “We’re currently working on a winery project in Paso Robles, Calif., developed by the director and producer of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and other Hollywood shows,” continues Bill. “We have designed and constructed approximately 30 to 40 winery projects over the past 15 years as the San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara County areas have become prominent wine regions.”
Thoma frequents the public sector, more recently for the $3.2 million Angeles Nation Forest Headquarters Office in Arcadia, Calif. “This project features a solar array on the roof and has been very well received by the owners and occupants,” details Bill. “We provided standby emergency power systems to support critical communications and radio functions.”
The company is aggressively tackling the public sector, as Thoma has provided design and construction services on many large high school projects throughout California. “We have also completed universities, community colleges and elementary schools,” adds Bill. “Education work has been a very important portion of our design work over the past decade and is continuing to keep us busy.”
Thoma is also currently in the early stages of a $3.4 million electrical contract at a large waste water collection project and a $1.5 million contract at a local credit union. “We also work regularly at the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant and local oil refineries,” notes Bill.
Much Needed Service
It’s this diversity that’s kept the ball rolling throughout the economic downturn for Thoma. “The educational sector slowed down but continuing contracts at California Polytechnic and local community colleges have kept things going,” reveals Bill. “The government sector work remained strong with courthouses, county and city agencies.”
Bill, Ed and the team are optimistic, and they feel that is spread throughout the industry. “We’re beginning to see renewed enthusiasm for development projects,” continues Bill. “Luckily, we operate in a much-needed industry. When people are building a facility for themselves they care about systems, power quality, energy savings, backup power and related technologies; it’s all very important to people today.”
Bill says Thoma continues to stay ahead of the curve with the latest technologies and delivering the best value for the right price. “We might be a little more expensive than the next guy but we bring the best value to our customers in the long run,” he explains.
Being well-connected throughout the industry also adds to Thoma’s solid reputation. “We’ve been a member of the National Electrical Contracting Association [NECA] of the California Central Coast for 50 years,” shares Bill. “We, as contractors and laborers, can do a lot more for our industry together than we can apart. We believe that you can only get out of an organization what you put into it. We have valued our longstanding relationship with NECA. From education and legislative action, to tools, materials and safety, we all benefit from the collective wisdom of the whole industry.”
The right connections, a willingness to be flexible, as well as a comprehensive team have helped Thoma earn one of the most respected reputations in central California. “We are one of the premier contractors in our area,” adds Bill. “We’re the guys you go to when there’s a tough job because we have some of the best talent in the region. We’re not the cheapest but we’ll guarantee the best value and service.”
What started as a small-scale electrical contracting company back in 1962 has grown into one of the best names in the business. Thoma Electric Inc. continues to deliver the most value in complete design, engineering and construction while maintaining family ownership and numerous repeat clients.
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