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Published: Monday, 11/26/2001

Firm's status surges building power plants


But the two have more in common than one might think, said Kevin Gray.

‘‘Comparing us to a roofing contractor is a perfect analogy because we both depend on our reputations,'' said Mr. Gray, president of Industrial Power Systems, Inc., a Toledo firm that specializes in mechanical and electrical systems for plants, refineries, and other large construction projects.

The company employs about 200 skilled tradesmen, including pipefitters, millwrights, electricians, welders, and ironworkers to move and install electrical, heating and cooling, and other large industrial systems.

Its customers are in the petrochemical, food processing, institutional, manufacturing, and electric industries.

"Often, it's fluff to say your reputation is everything,” Mr. Gray said.

“But in this industry, it's true. A client wants to take a chance on you, so you have to be very careful how you bid your jobs, and that's from cradle to grave.''

Do a good job and you could earn more multimillion contracts and long-term maintenance agreements. Do a poor job that causes delays or cost overruns, and you could be out of business, he said.

Over the last five years, his business has landed contracts on several large projects in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. About 75 percent of the firm's projects are in the Great Lakes region and customers include USS/Kobe Steel, Manville Corp., Sauder Woodworking, Plaskon Resins, and BP PLC just to name a few.

The company has done piping and furnace repair work for Pilkington North America at its glass-making operation in Rossford.

From left, George Stuller, Industrial Power Systems President Kevin Gray, Ray Linn, Larry McCauley and Bill Norris chat at the electric peaking plant in Troy Township. From left, George Stuller, Industrial Power Systems President Kevin Gray, Ray Linn, Larry McCauley and Bill Norris chat at the electric peaking plant in Troy Township.
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‘‘One of the governing reasons for using them was financial competitiveness,'' said John Ankney, a maintenance supervisor at the Pilkington plant. “They were here for several months and they worked well.”

Industrial Power's latest coup is a contract to oversee a $35 million construction phase at an electric “peaking” plant - a gas-fired power plant designed to supplement a utility's energy during peak usage.

General Electric Corp. hired Industrial Power to install and connect four 150-megawatt generator turbines at the plant, which is in Troy Township near U.S. 20 and Pemberville Road. Owned by Dominion Resources, Inc., of Richmond, Va., and Consolidated Natural Gas Co. of Pittsburgh, the plant will supply power to Toledo Edison Co. and other utilities as needed.

‘‘The kind of contractor GE looked for is a company with a strong industrial power background. That's us,'' Mr. Gray said.

Industrial Power has helped build four other peaking plants and hopes to be involved in a Dominion Resources power plant planned for the Dundee, Mich., area.

During the 1990s, the Toledo firm helped construct the North Star/BHP steel plant near Delta; a Panasonic picture tube plant near Troy, Ohio; a new Ford Motor Co. generating plant in River Rouge, Mich.; and a Nissan plant in Tennessee.

While Industrial Power doesn't build buildings, it installs the “brain and the heart and the nerves” of the project, referring to the heating, cooling, and electrical control systems it handles, Mr. Gray said.

The company was founded in 1985 after Mr. Gray, a former union pipefitter, left his brother's Toledo mechanical contracting firm and sought work in Cleveland. The firm insists on using union tradesmen for all its projects. Its first job was doing piping for a German auto parts maker near Twinsburg, Ohio. That led to more automotive work.

Industrial Power moved from a small location into the former Bostleman Corp. headquarters on Ryder Road in 1993.

All along, the reputation, Mr. Gray said, was the key to the company's growth. ‘‘Take the North Star Steel plant in Delta. We got that job because we were doing maintenance work at their Monroe plant,'' he said.

The industrial systems work is fairly recession-proof for established companies, he said. Still, a recent trend is for large companies, especially utilities, to buy firms like Industrial Power and use them to service their plants and bid on ancillary projects. As part of a large utility, the company would have huge resources behind it when bidding on projects, but that doesn't interest Mr. Gray.

‘‘We've been approached to sell, but I really have no plans to sell,'' he said.

Small Business Profile is a weekly feature on local companies. To be considered, send information about your company to Small Business Profiles, Business News, The Blade, 541 North Superior St., Toledo, Ohio 43660.

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