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Family Business

Mcn  Success Story  Oct16 1

Pushing the limits of what a metal building can do

Andy Batzer, president of J.B. Steel Inc., Medford, Ore., was born on the very day that his father Jack Batzer got his very first bonded construction job. Now, 60 years later, J.B. Steel has earned a solid reputation for innovation and creativity, providing high-complexity metal building solutions for its West Coast customers. "The best way to describe us is a hands-on company," Andy Batzer says. "A lot of companies similar to what we see in the marketplace subcontract the actual construction services and mark those trade services up with a fee. We take this process a few steps further; we actually fabricate structural steel, design and sell pre-engineered steel, and provide all the erection for these products. In addition, we can provide self-performed site work, concrete and carpentry trades."


Legacy of Construction

Andy's father Jack loved construction. Originally J.B. Steel simply did steel fabrication, but when Jack and Andy's brother John bought a steel crane and their own steel for a sawmill project, that all changed. "At the time, they were drinking J&B Scotch Whisky and that's how we got our name," Andy Batzer says. "[It happened] either that way or by combining the first initials of their names." Since then, J.B. Steel has evolved and thrived as a legacy family business. In addition to patriarch Jack, Andy grew the business with his four brothers. "Each brother took up a different trade," Andy says. "One brother did general construction management. I did the design and structural parts of it. One brother did finance; another brother did site work. This gave us a lot of expertise in a lot of different areas. Having that many family members meant there was a high level of trust. Having a business partner you can trust is hugely important."

Currently, Andy and his brothers Russ and Bill, remain to provide overall management of the company. "We had a leveraged buyout of family members when they retired," Andy says. "We are getting ready for the next generation and the next buyout plan. Currently the third generation of family members is coming up through the ranks." Andy's daughter Tara Fisher provides sales, estimating and design services. Russ' son Ryan Offenbacher is an up-and-coming field foreman.


In-house Architects

J.B. Steel employs an in-house design team consisting of two licensed architects, Gary Caperna and Bruce Anderson, both members of the AIA. Additionally, Andy McHugh, Mike Thibeault, Larry Rux and John Williams lead the shop and field staff with combined experience of more than 140 years. Andy Batzer claims having two licensed architects in-house helps J.B. Steel understand what the customer needs and react a lot quicker. "Frankly, if you are a contractor and don't understand all the design elements and don't have the expertise in-house, you are at a disadvantage when customers are looking for construction services," he says. "We have people who are in contact with the building officials and bring in the various trades and figure out the best way to meet customers' needs. That's advantageous to us, plus the design side is really a fun side. We enjoy it. It's fun to create and be part of the process."


Pushing the Limits

Working together as a talented team, J.B. Steel has produced many metal building projects that truly push the limits of what a metal building can do. The Ochoco Hangar at Hillsboro Airport, Hillsboro, Ore., is an example. It required Andy and his team to come up with creative solutions to complicated design-build challenges that ultimately resulted in the hangar's successful completion.

"The architect and original structural team saw this as a conventional project," Andy says. "They did not consider or take advantage of the pre-engineered design capabilities, which was the most cost-effective solution. They just didn't understand how a metal building person would approach the problem. When we got involved in it, found out what they were trying to accomplish and understood their challenges, we were able to come up with a solution that worked for them; a workable design."

The project has a 160-foot hangar door, a 15-foot cantilevered roof on one side and a 19-foot cantilevered roof off its end walls. "Those were tapered sections," Andy says, "[the owner's original team of designers] couldn't understand that we could actually build a tapered section to build this curtainwall on the back sidewall. The public can now see the magnificent aircraft inside." It's successful metal-based projects like this that earned J.B. Steel Houston-based Metallic Building Co. 2015 Builder of the Year award. J.B. Steel has been an authorized Metallic builder since 1997. "Andy Batzer and his team do very impressive and innovative work in the pre-engineered metal building construction industry, exemplifying what a Metallic Builder of the Year represents: ingenuity, creativity, collaboration and a spirit of community," says Tom Boal, president, Metallic Building,.

Andy Batzer says everyone at J.B. Steel was surprised and quite happy that Metallic recognized its hard work and efforts. "We have had a series of projects that worked well between us," Andy says. "We helped them market and sell their projects and that's what they recognized. We've taken projects that had their own unique challenges and we've been able to change that project to fit the project that they sell. If you're just selling metal building after metal building, [the challenge is] how do you take that project and adapt it to something else?"



It's J.B. Steel's adaptability that has been one key to its success. "The construction industry is in a constant state of change," Andy says. "We've always been adapting to the market and our customers' needs. "That's our strong suit. We recognize this constant change and we are not afraid of it. The great recession just accelerated that."

Because of the great recession, J.B. Steel adapted by increasing its public works projects. Generally its public works was never more than 30 percent, but because of economic conditions, rose to almost 90 percent. "We were doing fine selling our design-build and development services," Andy says. "Design-build was great; then the recession hit and all of that market came to a halt. The only market left was public bid-a different market-but all that was available. If you think you are going to sell retail space in the middle of a recession you are just kidding yourself. We had the expertise to jump into the public bid market and we got through it."

Looking to the future, J.B. Steel will continue with its usual metal-based projects but also remain involved with several non-profit groups focused on helping children in its area. A longtime contributor to its southern Oregon community, the J.B. Steel team has partnered with Medford Rogue Rotary club to install nearly 20 playgrounds at local area schools and parks. "As a business owner, regardless of whom you are, you need to be involved in your community; it's essential," Andy says. "[Also,] I was pretty good with erector sets as a kid and that's all a playground is. They are fun to put together.


Sidebar: Company Profile
Year Founded: 1955
Location: Medford, Ore.
Geographic Areas of Service: West Coast

Quantity of Metallic Building products fabricated/installed:
2016 (estimated): 1,600 tons
2015: 210 tons
2014: 458 tons
2013: 380 tons

Number of employees: 80
Management team:
Andy Batzer, president
Andy McHugh, vice president of operations
John Williams, manufacturing supervisor
Larry Rux, sales and steel construction services
Tara Fisher, sales and pre-engineered metal building construction services