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Design Build | CM | GC

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Specialty Contracting

Steel

Construction in the Crucible

It requires people of a particular mindset to get excited by the prospect of taking on a fast-track construction project, that if you fail to execute, could result in missed deadlines and unsafe conditions. That’s high-stakes poker and only certain kinds of people choose to play. JGM, a Heavy industrial construction and fabrication contractor, is apparently full of such people. Based out of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, home of the oldest continuously operating Steel Mill in America, JGM specializes in jobs that not many are willing to take on. Time-sensitive, potentially hazardous jobs that require speed, effectiveness, and above all, safety. And it’s not just the company’s specialty, but the thing that has its founder and CEO, Joe Messner Jr, springing out of bed every morning. 

Celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year, JGM started out in similar fashion to many other construction shops, with what Messner called, “a truck and a trailer in a small garage.” Born into a family of serial entrepreneurs, it wasn’t long before Messner had aspirations of owning his own business. After a few years of learning the trades of fabrication and steel-erection, opportunity came knocking in the form of a 7,000 square foot liquor store construction job. The young and ambitious Messner submitted a proposal and was awarded the gig.

That was the springboard needed to set him on the path to his current success. According to Messner, “It grew from a one-man band to today, where we have over 120 employees. We began as a steel fabricator and erector and have evolved into a turnkey industrial contractor. We have a 65,000 square foot fabrication shop with tons of credentials: AISC, ASME, advanced bridge, and fracture critical. What that allows us to do is work on some of the largest industrial facilities, buildings, bridges, and stadiums in the world.” The days of the single truck and trailer are distinctly in the rear-view at this point.  

JGM has an unofficial motto – “When you need it yesterday”. Over the years the company has organically evolved into one of the North American leaders in emergency and “speed to market” work. 

When there is a five-alarm fire, sometimes metaphorically and sometimes literally, JGM is coiled and ready to spring into action. Speed to market opportunities is where the company has made its reputation. The jobs that might represent too much risk to other construction competitors are the ones that JGM leans into. Echoing that notion Messner said, “When others say it can’t be done, we’re gonna find a way.” It doesn’t much matter what corner of heavy industry the job is in, either. JGM provides its services across a vast array of markets. Steel mills, power plants, mining companies, and chemical plants all fall under its purview. Even the burgeoning E-commerce industry is in its sights.  

“When others say it can’t be done, we’re gonna find a way.”

Speed and quality in emergency work is how JGM stands out from the crowd. But paramount to both is safety. It’s why it is so insistent on transparent collaboration with its clients. Being aligned on that principle is key. That’s why we are are different than most. We don’t want to compromise and thing. We want to deliver projects safer, better and faster.  It isn’t playing the tight-fisted game of small margins and corner-cutting. It isn’t interested in that. Messner elaborated, “JGM’s 6 core values, uncompromising safety, family is our foundation, we plan-we adapt-we succeed, we create value through better solutions, whatever it takes and commitment to self improvement, are what we live by day in and day out.  We look for these core values in our clients, vendors, employees and partners. For JGM to successfully deliver a fast track proejct, it’s important that both our client and JGM are 100% aligned on our core values, most importantly, uncompromising safety! No job is worth hurting our people.”

Considering the scale of some of the operations JGM applies its expertise to, safety needs to be the first principle. Not long ago, the company got a phone call from one of its clients asking for help in the wake of a serious fire at their plant. One of their major buildings was structurally compromised with a massive crane above it. These aren’t the kinds of plants that can be shut down for long periods of time without catastrophic consequences. But, this is what JGM is built for. Messner recalled, “It required engineered and selective demolition of the building and the 125-ton overhead crane. And then rebuilding the building. All new structural steel, roofing, wall paneling, various pieces of electrical & mechanical equipment and final site paving. all of this in a tight timeframe to get the plant back up and running. We had boots on the ground within five hours of the phone call and people and equipment mobilized to site within one week.” 

Not hindered by the logistics of locations, JGM goes to where the problems are. They’ve already done work in 18 states spread across the country. A few years ago, they answered the bell in North Dakota, helping a mining outfit get their plant back up and running. Within seven days of the phone call a turnkey proposal was sent to the mining company and three days after that they were awarded the 12-million-dollar job. Speed to market, indeed. 

One aspect of the company Messner is quite proud of is its apprenticeship program they have implemented and continue to develop. JGM wants to provide not just a job for its employees but offer the opportunity to be trained to the highest level of their crafts. As Messner described it, “We’re very focused on developing a full-blown training program. We want JGM to be known across the country. If you want to learn and excel at a craft, then you come to JGM out of high school. That’s our goal – to have a world class training program where we’re training tomorrow’s builders.” 

JGM is similarly proud of their culture of family spread throughout the business. One of its core values is “Family is our foundation.” There are 10 or 12 families that have multiple members working in the company. And Messner is no exception. His brother, father and uncle all work alongside him, pushing the company to be better every day. That foundation starts at the very top. 

JGM is something of an outlier. They play a different game than others. Not many companies are comfortable operating in the high-stakes environment of emergency construction work. The risk is just too significant an obstacle. There are less intense ways to make a buck. But, it’s that very quality of the work that makes it so intriguing to Messner and JGM. It’s not only the fact that it’s a particular niche that allows its workers to ideally deploy their skills. It’s also something of a lure. When asked whether the intense pressure of these high-wire act jobs ever stressed him out, Messner gave a soft chuckle and replied, “That’s actually what gets most of us out of bed. We love that. When we get that phone call, the ‘When You Need it Yesterday’ phone call, we just naturally get into the mood of ‘all right, let’s figure it out and get it done’. And when we’re finished, there’s a huge sense of accomplishment and comradery.” For these folks, the juice is more than worth the squeeze.

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