Skilled Tough Men Build Soft Energy
By: John W. Stevens
Special to the Newport Daily
WEST CHARLESTON- It takes tough men to build soft energy, as the Bancroft Contracting Corp. of South Paris, ME is demonstrating on the new power generating facility in West Charleston, VT.
The working environment in and around a fast flowing river is dangerous and demanding. Managing the work around the weather plays an important role in keeping the job on schedule. Pop-up storms and heavy rains can delay the work requiring overtime. The men performing the difficult work in West Charleston are skilled, hard working and determined to finish as scheduled.
The job provides work for many in this community, including engineers, surveyors, concrete contractors, such as Carroll Concrete, and others. The men stay in the area and constitute good customers for housing, food, medical and other services. A large amount of the energy and money generated by this project benefits this community. Clean, safe and reliable energy will flow from this facility for many, many years to come.
BayCorp Holdings acquired the riparian rights, through a wholly owned subsidiary called Great Bay Hydro, from Citizens Utilities in 2004. Included was a 4 megawatt generating system in Newport and non-operating hydroelectric facilities in Troy and West Charleston, VT. BayCorp is obligated to provide 9.06 megawatts of electric energy to Unitil under a long-term contract. The facilities are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Great Bay Hydro has contracted with Bancroft Contracting Corporation of South Paris, ME, to build the West Charleston facility. Bancroft, unlike many general contractors, employs a mobile workforce of multi-skilled craftsmen who design, estimate, engineer and construct facilities for pulp and paper manufacturers, power generating companies, state transportation departments, cement and plastics manufacturers and many other commercial and industrial customers.
While Bancroft has constructed facilities as far away as Chicago and Louisiana, most of the work is in New York, Massachusetts, Southern New England and the mid-Atlantic region with emphasis in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The on-site crews include code and structural welders, millwrights, pipe fitters, industrial electricians, riggers, ironworkers, form, frame and finish carpenters, equipment operators, fence installers and skilled laborers.
The Bancroft President, Mark Bancroft, purchased the company from founder and his father, Al Bancroft, in 2004 and has concentrated on creating a mutually beneficial, relation-based service built on repeat business. Mark was Maine’s Small Business Person of the year in 2009. The company also provides mechanical, civil and electrical engineering services to industrial and commercial markets throughout New England.
Last modified Oct. 03, 2011, at 12:17 p.m.
In times when many companies are retrenching, cutting employees to merely tread water in a challenging economy, the Small Business Administration has recognized two Maine firms that have managed to thrive in recent years and added at least 100 jobs.
Bancroft Contracting Corp. of South Paris and Care & Comfort Inc. of Waterville both were added to the SBA 100 list, which features 100 businesses that have created at least 100 jobs since receiving SBA assistance.
Owners of both companies said their quality work force was important in their businesses’ success. But beyond that, much of what they spoke about didn’t involve any great mysteries of management.
The keys to their individual successes were, in fact, pretty simple.
That’s true of many successful businesses, said Maurice Dube, the Maine SBA district director.
“What I find is each successful business, first of all, has to pay attention to the basics,” said Dube. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a new pizza shop or a high-tech business. To me, the basics are the basics are the basics.
“What’s your financial statement look like? If you don’t understand cash flow, it will eventually come back and bite you. You may survive it, but it will probably sink you.”
Leaders of both companies have learned lessons in doing business over the years — lessons they’ve applied successfully, and ones that can stand as examples to other entrepreneurs in the state.
Going for the bird in the hand
Bancroft Contracting first benefited from an SBA loan in 1977, when Al Bancroft founded the firm. His son Mark took over the business in 2004. In the same year, the self-insured company was hit by a series of high-price health claims. The company normally budgets for about $750,000 a year, but costs soared to $1.3 million in 2004.
The company used an SBA-secured loan to get through the rough patch. At the time, Bancroft employed a work force of a little more than 100. Today it employs 225.
The company traditionally did contract work in the paper industry, working on mill shutdowns and numerous power projects for companies. But the paper industry has shrunk in Maine in recent decades, and in 2004, Bancroft looked to diversify.
The company still does work for paper companies and also works on a number of other power-generation-related projects in Maine and other states.
In the past, the company wouldn’t take on any civil construction work in the summer that would begin too early in the spring or go into the fall — two periods when paper mill customers traditionally were doing shutdowns.
Essentially the company was ignoring work out for bid for a week’s worth of work in the slow seasons. That has changed, said Bancroft.
“We go for the bird in the hand,” Bancroft said.
There’s a takeaway for other businesses, said Bancroft — too many companies actually turn down work and limit themselves.
“Don’t let the old paradigm keep you from making the right decision,” said Bancroft. “You’ve got to re-evaluate every situation.”
Another reason for the company’s success is its reputation, said Bancroft. He points to a recent example related to a job he’s looking at in South Carolina. The hydroelectric project is having some problems and is over budget. Bancroft Contracting did similar work in Vermont last summer. The company Bancroft did the work for was so impressed with the company it has recommended the Maine firm be considered to take over the South Carolina job to get it done right.
“How do you build more work? You treat people nicely, you work hard, you try to make every job a resume builder for the next job — and this is what happens,” said Bancroft. “It’s a small world.”
His work force is an odd general contractor, said Bancroft, in that each of the employees will handle a number of different tasks rather than relying on subcontractors. The same men who are chipping away old concrete may be installing rebar, putting up forms and pouring concrete later in the job. The workers have learned on the job and the successful ones don’t mind switching tasks on the go.
“They recognize that the person that can do more things like that survive more winters without having to be laid off; they need to be versatile and flexible,” said Bancroft. “That’s my crew.”
And the crew is the face of the company for many repeat customers, he said.
“They don’t say, ‘Let’s go get Bancroft.’ They say, ‘Let’s get Dave York at Bancroft.’ They ask for our guys by name,” said Bancroft. “Our employees beget their own work.”
From home health to hammers and nails
Susan Giguere founded Care & Comfort in 1991, working out of a rented two-room office with two employees and a home computer sitting on a folding table. She worked with the SBA informally then, looking for advice. In 1996, the company got its first SBA-backed loan for $100,000. There were 12 employees at the time, and she created two new jobs. In 2000, she got a second SBA-guaranteed loan for $331,792 — and at that time, the company had 150 employees.
Today, she employs 475 from Biddeford to Madawaska, with five offices around the state. The company provides home health care, case management and mental health outpatient therapy services.
One reason the company has grown is because Giguere constantly has kept her eyes open for new business — built off the company’s core offerings, but untapped, said Lee Jellison, the company’s chief operating officer.
“Susan’s a go-getter — she runs out there and tries to find some untapped markets, something we can get into to be successful,” said Jellison. “We have a sense of urgency, which is what she instills in us and our staff.”
One example is a new venture that has turned into a full-fledged construction company. Giguere had the idea of offering in-home building modifications for clients. If an elderly client needed a wheelchair ramp or special handholds inside the house, the company could provide that, she said.
But the concept has expanded. The business is doing weatherization work, building garages and working as a subcontractor on larger projects.
“Whenever we saw opportunities, we tried not to say no,” said Giguere. “Someone a long time ago said, ‘follow the dollars.’”
The business has grown, in part, because of the market she’s in. Maine’s population is aging and more and more people need the home-based services Care & Comfort offers. But Giguere also positioned the company to be in that market a while ago. In the mid-1990s, big health care providers were dropping their long-term claim clients, and Giguere pushed the business further into that area.
Later, when new programs for behavioral health were coming online in Maine, Giguere was there, ready to take on clients.
And the company has developed a reputation for flexibility and compassion when it comes to helping clients, said Jellison.
“We know how to answer the phones at 10 minutes to 5 on a Friday,” said Giguere.
If a client calls at that late hour looking for help over the weekend, Care & Comfort will call every single employee it has to get the call covered, Jellison added.
“The returns were more referrals. We built a name — we’d take on any type of client,” said Jellison.
That care starts at the top and was the genesis of the business.
Giguere saw a need for a company to provide such support when she was caring for her elderly parents and family members with mental illness.
Her mother had Alzheimer’s disease and her father suffered multiple strokes, but there were no support firms like Care & Comfort to help her.
Another way she has been able to grow her business is by appreciating the employees she has, said Giguere. The company recognizes employees every month and names an employee of the year annually. They keep in touch with a newsletter and through social media, and Giguere said she tries to get out and visit the statewide offices and workers as much as she can “so they realize how important I think the role they play is.”
Focus on the basics
Dube, from the SBA, said the factors that Giguere and Bancroft consider when making business decisions are shared by other successful business owners he has known and worked with over the years. He recalled one group of prominent — and prosperous — Maine businessmen whom he analyzed years back, looking at common success traits.
“These guys knew what their business was, they were focused on not only their business but on its impact on the community,” said Dube. “They valued their employees; they took care of their employees.
“It does come back down to common sense, to basics.”
South Paris, ME
Bancroft Contracting Corporation received its first SBA guaranty loan in August of 1977 in the amount of $210,000. At that time they had 25 employees and created 2 new jobs. In February 2005 a second guaranty loan was disbursed in the amount of $1,800,000. By this time the company had 150 employees and created one new job. Both of these loans have been paid in full and continue to grow. Bancroft Contracting has had record years in both 2008 and 2009. The company currently has 175 employees. Bancroft Contracting Corporation was SBA’s Maine Small Business Person of the Year in 2009.
Bancroft Contracting Corporation is a family owned self-performing general contracting company headquartered in the western Maine town of South Paris. Al Bancroft founded the company in 1977. His son, Mark Bancroft, became president of the company in 2002 and purchased the company in 2004. Bancroft Contracting Corporation provides a comprehensive range of construction and industrial maintenance services to a variety of markets. Customers include pulp and paper manufacturers, power generating companies, state transportation departments, cement and plastics manufacturers and many other industrial and commercial customers. Bancroft also places thousands of cubic yards of reinforced concrete every season in projects including dams, bridges, and large commercial foundations.
The same core team of individuals came together to plan this project and then recruit other companies and volunteers to help make it happen. Jim Sysko, the “chief” engineer and his daughter Mandy Ottone, also an engineer, led the effort each day for just more than a month. Al and Mark Bancroft of Bancroft Contracting in South Paris, agreed to supply the crane and operator needed to build the structure, which was designed to surpass the 113’7” snowman built in 1999. Sunday River Ski Resort’s Bill Brown and Joe Aloisio agreed to put a team in place to provide the snowmaking services needed to produce at least a portion of the 13,000,000 lbs. of snow needed and to employ Boyne USA’s new fan gun technology. Jim Bennett of Computer Solutions of Maine and a local fireman, was helpful in getting the local contractors to help provide the equipment needed. Jim Mann of Mt. Mann Jewelers thought a SnowWoman would need some “bling” and offered to design and build a 6-7 ft. diameter snowflake pendant for the grand lady!
This core group got the project started, but it could not have been completed without the help of nearly 100 volunteers who helped make snow, shoveled & packed, and did a variety of other tasks needed to complete the project. The Mtn. Valley Middle School students, under the watchful guidance of consumer science teacher, Lorraine Tanguay, made the 16’ diameter fleece hat! The SAD #44 elementary school students, led by Woodstock School and Principal Jolene Littlehale, made the 8 ft. nose! The Mahoosuc Kids Association painted the tire “lips” red. It was terrific to have so many young members of our community help with the project!
On Feb. 27th, WBLM radio 102.9 Portland, Maine, announced the SnowWoman’s name. With more than 1,000 votes cast, the top choice was found to be “Olympia SnowWoman,” largely to commemorate Maine’s senior Senator, Olympia Snowe. Thursday found the construction crew putting the finishing touches on Olympia, and the community dedicated her on Friday, Feb. 29, 2008. She is a towering 122’1” tall, weighs 13,000,000 lbs., has 16 skis for eyelashes, 3 skidder tires for buttons, a gorgeous Maine mica pendant and 30 ft. spruce trees for arms. A live webcam has allowed people all over the world to watch the construction and a photo gallery will be available once the webcam is shut off.
The Bethel Area Chamber is running a “When Will She Melt?” 50/50 raffle and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Town of Bethel’s General Assistance Fund. Just a clue…the SnowMan, who weighed 8,000,000 lbs. melted in the middle of June. Olympia weighs 13,000,000!
GORHAM – The new tissue machine for Gorham Paper and Tissue has been purchased and company officials hope to have it operating by the end of September 2012.
“Our focus is to get this installed and running as quickly as possible,” said Dick Arnold, president of both Gorham Paper and Tissue and Old Town Fiber and Fuel. “It’s a real aggressive quick installation,” he added.
Arnold said the Italian company, ABK Italia, manufactured the 100-ton per day machine. The estimated cost of the project is in the $35 million range.
Bancroft Construction Company of South Paris, Maine has been hired to install the machine and Arnold said site and demolition work is underway. He said Gorham Paper and Tissue is not allowed to start construction until it obtains an air permit from the N.H. Department of Environmental Services. Arnold said DES officials have indicated they are confident the permit will be issued in mid-December. The mill also needs a building permit from the town of Gorham.
The tissue machine will produce tissue paper, paper towels, and napkins but Arnold said the mill will focus on bath tissue sold on the private label market. He said the company is already talking to potential customers.
Tissue production is not new to the Gorham mill. Arnold noted they use to produce tissue on the old No. 10 machine before it was removed.
Arnold said the tissue machine will be a nice complement to the No. 9 towel machine, which produces towels for the away-from-home travel market. He said the towel market tends to be somewhat seasonal while tissue is designed for every day use. A variety of products selling in multiple markets, he noted, will help make the mill sustainable.
Adding the tissue machine will increase the demand for pulp, produced by Old Town Fiber and Fuel. Arnold said Old Town has the capacity to meet the increased demand as well as serve its other customers. Both plants are owned by Patriarch Partners and Arnold said CEO Lynn Tilton likes to see vertical integration within her companies.
The company is already reaping the savings from converting its boiler from No.6 fuel oil to natural gas this fall. Arnold said next spring he expects the gas line from the Androscoggin Valley Regional Refuse Disposal District Mount Carberry landfill will be installed and the mill will also burn its methane gas. He said the methane gas will be a nice addition to the mill’s efforts to be environmentally friendly.
Plant Manager Willis Blevins said the No. 9 towel machine is continuing to run steady and No. 4 is back up after a two-day shut down. Before the shutdown, he said No. 4 had run for 25 days.
Tilton yesterday was the keynote speaker at the New Hampshire Advanced Manufacturing and High Technology Summit in Manchester. She spoke on “How to Save American Manufacturing”.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) today congratulated two Maine-based companies recently recognized by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for their ongoing efforts to create jobs and grow. Waterville-based Care and Comfort, Inc., and South Paris-based Bancroft Contracting Corp. both created at least 100 jobs and have been recognized in the past by SBA for exemplary small business achievements.
Senator Snowe, the lead Republican of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, said:
“Maine’s small businesses are leading the way when it comes to growing the economy and creating jobs. I applaud Bancroft Contracting Corporation and Care & Comfort for their tremendous leadership in economic growth initiatives that have benefited communities throughout the state of Maine. I am enormously proud to represent a state so full of vibrant and innovative entrepreneurs like Mark Bancroft and Susan Giguere, who are truly engines of economic growth in Maine.”
BACKGROUND: Bancroft Contracting, which provides general contracting assistance to a variety of Maine firms, was founded in 1977 with 25 employees, a number which has since grown to 175. Company president Mark Bancroft was recognized as the SBA’s Maine Small Business Person of the Year in 2009. Care & Comfort opened its doors in 1991 with two employees; it now employs over 425 people, and serves over 1,500 families each year at its five locations in Maine. The firm, founded by Susan Giguere, offers assistance to clients in three distinct areas: Home Health Services, Mental Health Services, and Home Modifications.