Case Studies

Universal Services

A 10-year growth spurt sets the sights on international prospects

For electrical, mechanical, HVAC and marine solutions, Universal Services (Universal) reigns true to its name, covering all facets of commercial, industrial, health care, marine and oil and gas construction throughout the southeast. Universal meets and exceeds a range of facility needs with a skilled team of project managers, estimators, pipefitters, welders, plumbers, electricians and service specialists.

An unexpected turn

Universal was established in 2004 by the husband and wife team of Ryan and Lana Dobbins as a means to earn money to put the couple through college. “My grandfather helped us start out with a small air conditioning business,” reveals Ryan. “It started as a part-time job while Lana was in school, and though we didn’t intend at that time to make a career out of it, the company continued to grow.”

Ryan goes on to note that he continued to work while Lana finished school. “Then I went on to get an engineering degree,” continues Ryan. “During this time we realized that we loved what we were doing and decided that we should continue to build Universal into a leading contracting company for the southeast and beyond.”

The Mississippi-based company started in the mechanical field, working on HVAC, piping and plumbing. “After several years we entered the electrical side of the business and formed an instrumentation branch, serving the oil and gas industry,” recalls Ryan. “Universal earned its American Society of Mechanical Engineers [ASME] pressure vessel stamps and we have begun designing, manufacturing and repairing pressure vessels from Alabama to Texas with mobilized crews.”

Serving the southeast

Universal started with two employees and now, after just a decade in business, the company employs some 100 professionals. “It varies from job to job, we may do a turnaround where we need to hire 30 people and tomorrow we need to lay off 30 people, it depends on the workflow,” notes Ryan.

Today, Universal remains based in Leakesville, Miss.; however, the company has branched out all across the southeast. “The majority of our pressure vessel manufacturing is in Leakesville, but we also have a satellite office in Jackson, Miss., that we started up about a year-and-a-half ago,” details Ryan. “Universal also holds a marine division on the Gulf Coast, where we offer mechanical and electrical services for marine environments. We’ve been doing that for five years. We now cover Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama, but approximately 60 percent of our work is in Mississippi and Alabama.”

Running the gamut in commercial and industrial service

Universal provides a total range of repair, maintenance and emergency response services for commercial and industrial clients. “We provide planned, preventative maintenance programs, which minimize costly downtime and extend the life of our client’s mechanical and electrical equipment,” adds Ryan.

The company truly runs the gamut when it comes to the size and scope of work. “We were the general contractor for a significant geothermal energy project consisting of some 400 drilled wells and liquid chillers and we have also done several plant retrofits for plastic manufacturing companies,” shares Ryan.

In the Gulf, Universal is heavily involved in marine mechanical and electrical projects. “Our most notable marine project is our involvement with the construction of the American Phoenix, an oil tanker for the Mid Ocean Tanker Company,” reveals Ryan. “It was one of the first ships of its class coming out of Mobile, Ala.”

An international demand

According to Ryan, Universal is setting its sights on international clients and expansion. “Our ASME vessel shop is attracting a lot of attention – global attention at that,” he admits. “For several months we’ve been in the design and development process for a client in Singapore. If that happens it will give Universal a global edge that we’re very excited about.”

The international client was directed to Universal by way of the Mississippi Development Authority, and Ryan says the company was in the right place at the right time. “I had my first international business call a few months ago and that was especially exciting,” he details.

After only one decade in business, from two employees to 100, Universal’s skyrocketing startup growth is nothing short of impressive in a post-recession economy. “We never imagined we would be where we are today but we just try to work smarter every day,” says Ryan. “You have to be aggressive and watch your overhead.” With new markets on the horizon and an appetite for more, Universal Services is well-positioned to continue to expand and thrive.

Published on: July 9, 2014

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