Wegman Electric Co.
For more than 75 years, Wegman Electric Co. (WEC) has been providing diverse electrical services to clients around Alton, Ill. Chauncey Wegman founded the business in 1938, eventually passing it on to his sons, Bob and Don Wegman. When the brothers retired in 1987, WEC became a 100 percent employee-owned business and Terry Buhs stepped into his current role as president.
Buhs has been with the company since 1978. After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering in 1971, he then worked for Cunningham Electric and Anderson Electric. When WEC had an opening, he and his wife were eager to return to the area. WEC was a good fit and Buhs has been serving the business for 36 years. In his time as president, Buhs has fostered major growth for the business. Today WEC employs more than 140 people, over 20 of whom are eligible to be part of the employee stock ownership plan (ESOP).
With one office in East Alton, Ill., as well as WEC’s sister company Lowry Electric Co. in East St. Louis, Ill., the companies are able to serve customers in a 90-mile radius. The companies offer a diverse set of electrical services, performing all aspects of electrical contracting in-house.
“We also have a line crew, we do high voltage testing and instrumentation,” Buhs lists. “We work in commercial, institutional and industrial settings, not residential. We also have a communications division that we purchased Jan. 1, 2014. We can do all types of communication work, from industrial to small retail.”
The company’s clients include retailers, warehouses, schools and universities, pipe lines and refineries, among others. One of WEC’s largest clients is Phillips 66, a large energy manufacturing and logistics business specializing in natural gas liquids and chemicals. Recent work for Phillips 66 includes a major 138-kilovolt upgrade to the company’s refinery. Working as a subcontractor, WEC completed the $40 million expansion in 2012. The contract included upgrading 30 substations and pulling 68 miles of large high voltage three-conductor armored CLX cable. The project was further complicated, because Phillips 66 could obviously not shut down the refinery as the substations were put online.
“We’ve been at the Wood River Refinery since the 1960s,” Buhs says of his team’s relationship with the client. “The company used to be a Shell Oil Refinery. It is now Phillips 66. The refinery was the reason we started our instrumentation division in 1990. Shell was changing all their instrumentation from pneumatic to electric. We needed to keep up with the times, so we started our own classes to train instrument technicians. Our work with the refinery has made us a better, safer contractor and more versatile.”
The crew has also performed a number of design-build warehouse projects. Close to Interstate 255, WEC is located near several major distribution outposts. The team recently completed a major upgrade to the nearby Walgreen’s warehouse. With a large reliance on robotics, the Walgreen’s project brought unique controls and automation challenges.
WEC has held strong over the years, even despite the recent economic downturn. “We have kept our roots in the work we know we are good at,” Buhs explains. “We also emphasize safety at our company. We have three safety professionals who work for us full time. We realize that in our area, the basic local work is related to petroleum or it is industrial work. We keep up with the times and make sure our safety policies meet or exceed the stringent requirements. We always stay on top of it. Our prime goal is to work safely and provide our customers with a good product.”
To back up strong business practices, WEC is affiliated with the Illinois Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and is a union contractor hiring members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).
“The biggest benefit to NECA membership is probably the guidance that the organization gives us in helping with negotiating electrical contracts with the union,” Buhs explains. “We have a great relationship through NECA and with IBEW and are able to solve any of our problems without disruptions and without trips to Washington, D.C.”
Buhs goes on to note that he finds the IBEW to be very active in customer relations. “They make sure the customers know that, hey, our people live here in the community,” he continues. “The local contractors are NECA and IBEW contractors and they’re going to spend their money in the community. Every one of us are competitors, but through NECA we all realize that for the benefit of the industry, we need to share knowledge and work together. We want to work side by side with the unions, but we also must remain competitive with non-union contractors in our area.”
With a longstanding foundation of quality and the support of these associations, WEC continues to grow. “Our most important indicators of success are customer retention and fair profit margins,” Buhs explains. “We can do a lot with what we have now, so we don’t have any extreme growth plans over the coming years.” For now, the company’s communications division continues to grow. Increasingly diverse services allow Wegman Electric Co. to attract new and repeat customers all over the region.
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