Banker Steel back on track after turnaround

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Print this page by Heather B. Hayes

Officials at Lynchburg-based Banker Steel Co. say they have all the work they need to keep busy for at least the next year.
In early January, the company announced that it has been awarded contracts worth $100 million to produce the structural steel framing for three major construction projects: the Southeast Louisiana Veteran’s Health Care System Replacement Medical Center in New Orleans, the new Whitney Museum of American Art building in New York City and the Public Safety Answering Center II in New York.
“It is significant in that we’ve been able to get such a large volume of work during a recession,” says Erick Petersen, marketing director for Banker Steel. “It is really interesting, challenging work as well.”
Banker Steel, which was founded in 1997, has two facilities in Lynchburg capable of fabricating 50,000 tons of steel per year. It is one of only 15 steel fabricators in the country with the capacity, technology and skill to bid on large, complicated commercial projects, such as baseball stadiums, museums, high-rises and other buildings that require unusual truss work, heavy welding and finished coatings. Its projects have included the World Trade Center Freedom Tower 1, Barclays Center, the International Gem Tower and the Marine Corps Monument.
This latest flurry of project awards, however,  represents the completion of a recession-era turnaround for the company. In fall 2008, Banker Steel officials were blindsided when the company’s two biggest projects, worth $130 million, were canceled within two weeks. “We had a major hole in our shop schedule that we couldn’t fill, and there was a period of time during the early part of the recession where we didn’t have a whole lot of work going on,” Petersen recalls.
CEO Don Banker and other executives, however, decided against layoffs. They kept the company’s 200 employees busy with other tasks that had been put off during the company’s boom years. By 2010, Banker Steel had regained its footing, and Petersen says 2011 was a “great” year.
Even with the new contracts, the company is positioning itself to grow through diversification. Banker Steel recently hired a vice president of industrial sales with an eye on providing steel support framing to coal and nuclear power plants, warehouses and other facilities. The company will continue to pursue commercial projects but now also plans to supply smaller metal components as well, such as handrails and stairs.
“We would traditionally subcontract that kind of stuff out, but where it makes sense when we’re providing the main structure, we want to also provide those smaller aspects as part of a total package,” Petersen says.
In the meantime, there are no plans to add to the company’s production staff. “We’ve always worked hard to sort of run lean where we should, but at the same time, we make sure that we are attracting and retaining the right kind of employees and making the right investments in technology,” Petersen says. “It makes us highly productive and able to adapt very quickly when we need to.”

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