OKLAHOMA CITY, OK — Air Engineering, Inc. is a third-generation firm currently run by Marc McCormick. His grandfather began the company in the late 1940s. His father took over in the 70s and ran the show until two-and-a-half years ago.

McCormick worked for his father for a while and then left to pursue other goals, gaining more experience working for Trane and Johnson Controls. After his father mentioned retirement, McCormick decided to return to Oklahoma City to run the family business, which employs seven people and has annual sales of $4 million to $5 million.

The company delves into several different commercial markets, such as plumbing, piping, sheet metal work, refrigeration service, and controls. It specializes in retrofit work and also has a service department.

“We do a lot of the upper-end commercial work, like hospitals, owner-occupied facilities, and some industrials,” he said. “We don’t compete for the low-end commercial work, such as schools. Most of our work is negotiated and we don’t do much bid work. We are not the low-cost provider.”

Third-generation owner Marc McCormick sits in the conference room of Air Engineering, Inc., founded by his grandfather in the 1940s.
McCormick likes the size of his company and is happy with the current mix of customers and referrals. He doesn’t plan for aggressive growth, and therefore he has not experienced the worker shortage problem that other area contractors have faced.

“We really haven’t seen a problem with the shortage of field workers because there hasn’t been a shortage of union workers in the area,” he added. “Staff positions are harder to fill. There just aren’t a lot of office workers available.

“There is a huge ‘brain drain’ here. People with skilled backgrounds graduate from college here and leave the area.”

A few local contractors have joined the consolidation movement, but McCormick has no plans to sell his business.

“We watch the consolidation movement and here is my observation,” he related. “It’s been tried a few times and it winds up the same way. If you look at the stock prices of consolidators, they have been taking it on the chin and the businesses haven’t grown to Wall Street’s expectations.

“I think you’ll see it [consolidation] fall apart again.”

The other big topic on the minds of Oklahoma City contractors is the impending deregulation of the natural gas industry. McCormick has taken a keen interest in that subject.

“That’s going to be interesting,” he said. “The future threat of deregulation has changed our business model somewhat. The thermal storage market was a booming part of our business but now it has slowed down to almost nothing because building owners will be able to put their electrical rates out for bid.”

McCormick tends to focus on the positive and the reasons why his company has enjoyed success over the years. “We focus heavily on our customers,” he said. “Because we are not a price-based bid business, our customers don’t make price an issue.

“If you deal with hospitals where lives are at stake, ability to perform is more important than price. For example, we are currently working in an occupied hospital where surgery is going on in the rooms right next to us.”

For more information on Air Engineering, Inc., visit the company’s Web site at www.aeiokc.com.

Editor’s Note: As consolidation and buyouts become familiar words in our industry, the role of the family-owned contracting business takes on new meaning. Independent owners continue to focus their attention on the future of their companies while keeping a watchful eye and open ear to offers to buy.

In the third and final installment of The News’ series on Oklahoma City hvacr contractors, we look at two independent, family-run businesses that are passing the torch to another generation. In the nation’s heartland, it is easy to understand why some things still remain “in the family.”

The words of Rescue Team 5 remain on the wall of the Journal Record Building

Sidebar: Trigen to serve memorial building

The Oklahoma City Industrial and Cultural Facilities Trust, which manages the historic Journal Record Building damaged in the Alfred P. Murrah Building bombing, will have its heating and cooling services provided by local energy provider Trigen-Oklahoma City Energy Corporation.

The Trigen plant, one of 52 across the country, is located in downtown Oklahoma City and uses gas-fired boilers and electrically and steam-powered chillers to create steam and cold water that is piped to 18 to 20 of the city’s buildings via underground pipes.

The Journal Record Building, which is undergoing massive renovation, will house the Oklahoma City National Memorial Center Museum. The building is scheduled to open in late 2000.

“We have an agreement to provide hot water and chilled water to the Journal Record Building which will contain a museum with bombing memorabilia,” said Ken Stone, Trigen vice-president and general manager.

“We are doing something interesting for that building, converting 150-lb steam to 8-lb steam through a back-pressure turbine while generating electricity. That 8-lb steam runs through a hot water converter and we are going to pump hot water from the south to the north [two blocks away] to the basement of the Journal Record Building.

“We’ll be supplying 42º chilled water to the building and 190º hot water.”

According to members of the Cultural Facilities Trust, Trigen’s solution was chosen instead of installing local heating and cooling equipment, because it could save taxpayers $25,000 a year.

Cost savings is an important issue, but Trigen is also providing heating and cooling to the building while renovation is going on. Stone downplayed his company’s role in donating services to the building, saying his company regularly donates cash to the memorial. However, he did ask his employees to help out.

“I asked myself what we might do that would be of greater service than dollars,” he added. “I asked the guys in the plant if they’d tighten their belts and do what it takes to maintain that building until the project was done. To a man, they all wanted to pitch in.”

It’s ironic that Trigen is contributing so much to help memorialize an event that had such a profound impact on its own service record.

Since 1989, the Oklahoma City plant has been 99.9% operational. It virtually never shuts down. The one exception? The catastrophic bombing that interrupted its service for three hours.

“Our sixteen-inch pipes going into the building were severed, but within three hours the system was secured and we resumed service,” said Stone.

“A lot of Trigen employees volunteered their time to help; and people all over the country rallied to save as many lives as possible.”