Hometown hvac contractor lands job in China

May 15, 2000
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VISALIA, CA — How can an average-sized U.S. contractor get a job in the People’s Republic of China? The answer is easier than you think. With the development of the global economy, even small companies can do business internationally.

It could begin a trend for hvac businesses.

Richard Manley, president of Ram A/C, a 14-person firm here in Visalia, was recently invited to Beijing, China, to design an hvac system for a three-story office building in a luxury complex now going up in the city’s center.

It includes 20 large condominiums in addition to a commercial office building. Five of the 20 condos are owned by the Chinese government for visiting dignitaries. The remaining units are for multinational company executives. The office building will be rented to multinational corporations.

How he got it

Manley said, “I was at the right place at the right time and I took advantage of it. An equipment manufacturer that I do business with offered me a chance to bid on this contract.”

He won the job because of his hvac design expertise and confidence in his international commercial load calculation software. “I had no idea that I would actually get the job,” he added. “It was a real thrill. I had never been to China and it’s been exciting.

“Of course, everything in China is in metric units, and I had no experience with meters, so I had to rely on the software to translate into metric. The software let me put in the dimensions in metric, and then push a button to see the loads in U.S. units. I could switch back and forth so that I could always know what I was doing.”

Manley said he was quickly able to design the system with the Windows®-based program (Right-N from Wrightsoft Corp.).

He started the design by selecting Beijing from the ASHRAE international weather database and proceeded to pick construction materials. “I didn’t expect to be able to find Chinese construction tables in the database, but I didn’t have a problem,” he said.

Internal gains, ventilation, and other data were available in metric/U.S. units, as were the latest ASHRAE standards, which the Chinese construction officials accepted.

Manley ended up specifying 50 tons for the commercial building and 9 tons per unit for the residential buildings. He also specified 57 air handlers for the 52-room building.

“I probably would have specified exactly the same equipment if the project had been in the U.S.,” he added. “We ordered the equipment, shipped it to China, and trained their people on how to install, operate, and maintain it.

“The Chinese people are fun to work with,” he said. “There’s a thirst for knowledge that’s hard for Americans to imagine.

“Not only do they ask industry-related questions, but they are curious as to western ways of doing things.”

Stranger in a strange land

Manley has enjoyed learning about different business customs. For example, he said, “I was in Beijing for six days for a series of planned meetings held in a Chinese company’s offices. The meetings included over 30 company executives, and after six days of meetings, I thought we were done.

“Instead of leaving we all got up and went to another room. From the outside, the room looked like an ordinary meeting room. Once the doors opened I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a disco, fully equipped with the amenities of an American dance club. It had lights, a disco ball, and a karaoke machine.

“We all had a party. Even the president of the company got up and sang a song.”

Manley said the Beijing project was profitable for his firm and has brought recognition that helped him win additional projects in both the U.S. and overseas.

“We recently won another job in Beijing that involves retrofitting a heating system based on 1930s technology,” he said, “This project will also involve system design and training of local people to install and maintain the system.

“There’s a tremendous amount of business in China and other developing countries for contractors with the right skills that are willing to pursue it.”

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