In the aftermath of a hurricane like Ian, the second-highest insured loss on record, recovery is a multi-year effort.

While B&I Contractors sheet metal shop and associated distribution hub in Fort Myers, Florida, was closed for close to two days following the devastation of Hurricane Ian in Sept. 2022, it sent service crews out immediately to get hospitals and other facilities up and running; triaging repair work that continues to this day.

Chief Executive Officer Gary Griffin says he’s proud that his team, which includes regional offices throughout Florida that weren’t impacted by the hurricane, was ready to assist with relief the next morning.

Lee Memorial Hospital, for example, only had one boiler stack on its roof operating. This meant that only one of its redundant three boilers was functioning after the hurricane made landfall that Wednesday. The massive Category 4 hurricane had reached up to 150 mph wind speeds, but by Sunday, B&I techs were able to implement fixes that brought all three boilers back online.

“If I think of all the aspects of my life that were changed by the hurricane, and I had a few, I wasn’t alone. The company as a whole was in the position to just pick up and keep doing what we do,” Gary says, noting the techs who serviced the hospital went out despite significant water damage to their own homes.

Stopgap repairs and service follow-ups

Describing the metal cap to a hospital down blast fan that the hurricane ripped off, Sheet Metal Department Manager Jon Castro says, “we had our shop fabricate an exact match for that. Top rivets, aluminum and installed it for them until we could reorder the right parts and pieces to go out there and do it right. These were the Category 5 band-aids we were implementing.”

When it comes to collateral damage, not all exterior sheet metal installations are created equal. Installations from before Hurricane Andrew caused the state to adjust its building code for high wind speeds suffered the most damage from Ian, Castro says.

In general, all new mechanical equipment and material must be installed to withstand the appropriate max wind speed for the building type and location where it will be installed. They install RTUs, curbs, louvers, and fans, all designed to withstand very high wind speeds. All of the recently installed B&I equipment across multiple projects stayed in place during Ian because they were designed and installed properly.

“With that, we saw what we have been doing since Andrew works,” Castro says, noting the residential market of Fort Myers Beach provides a starker example. “It’s horrific. You see spots where houses that were built in ‘63, ‘72, and ‘89 used to be and they’re not standing anymore. Those structures that are still around are newer builds.” Castro notes that Hurricane Ian came within 1mph of being a Category 5 hurricane. “What we’re installing is extremely resilient,” added Castro.

What is B&I Contractors?

B&I is a full mechanical, electrical and plumbing contractor and its largest markets are education and healthcare. The Employee Stock Ownership Plan owns 100% of the company, founded in 1960 by Gordon Harbuck. The company's focus on company culture, core values, and career advancement are some of the reasons why B&I Contractors recently achieved a The Great Place to Work Certification.

In terms of employees, sheet metal is their largest department, manufacturing over 2 million pounds of sheet metal per year. Ranked among the top 20 sheet metal Firms in the nation, they produce about 90% of what their service technicians install in the field. “Sometimes it’s closer to 99%,” Griffin says, adding that the revenue-leading department is also where they’re spending the most on capital expenditure investment. This investment matches a significant growth in volume: From $10 million in annual sales in the mid ‘80s when the company first formed its employee ownership plan, to $160 million in sales in 2021.

“Six years ago, the sheet metal department alone was doing under $13 million in revenue, and we exceeded $39 million in 2021. So in our growth, we've had to add the types of machines that can help us with our productivity,” Castro says.

They upgraded from a four-station coil line to an Iowa Precision six-station with an in-line plasma cutting station in 2020 and a new 5ft x 20ft fiber laser that will be operational by February.

B&I Contractor’s dedication to service and quality while simultaneously achieving growth resulted in the company winning the Sheet Metal Fabrication Contractor of the Year award from SNIPS in Dec. 2022. B&I leadership sat down with SNIPS NEWS and answered questions for a video and Q&A.