Commercial construction is well off of its historic levels of the early 2000s, largely because of over-building, lack of commercial financing and the post-Great Recession sluggish economy.
Over the last several years, many commercial construction firms have struggled because of the falling numbers of projects – whether they deal with office, industrial, retail or other segments of the commercial real estate industry.
However, not all firms are hurting.
Brookfield-based Environmental Systems Inc. (ESI) saw demand for its services continue throughout the recession, largely because of the continued demand for increasing performance from existing commercial buildings.
“Our fates haven’t risen or fallen on the wave of new construction,” said Paul Oswald, president of ESI. “Three years ago (during the height of the commercial construction boom), our business was steady. Conversely, now that new construction has fallen to a standstill, our business has not fallen substantially.”
ESI specializes in the design, installation and support of heating, cooling and ventilation, automation, security and safety and energy management systems in commercial buildings. Many of the systems that ESI sells help its customers use less electricity and natural gas by using motion sensors and timers, which has helped the company continue sales even in a down economy.
“Who doesn’t want to talk about saving money on their operating costs?” Oswald said.
Demand for ESI’s services is rising because of a desire by commercial building owners to save on energy costs and increase security.
“Our 2010 has been strong. We’re up about four or five percent from this point last year,” Oswald said. “If we can hit our marks in our forecast we’ll be very happy. Anything with (energy) efficiency is hot now, and there’s still a high interest in security. There needs to be a balance between sustainability, efficiency and intelligent systems, using applied technology to add value to our customers’ business.”
Earlier this year, ESI moved into a new, 34,000-square-foot headquarters. The company also operates facilities in Chicago and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In total, ESI has 65 employees. The company plans to hire two or three new sales engineers and at least one project manager and project engineer this year.
ESI begins most of its work with commercial clients with an audit of the building’s operations, measuring and analyzing how much power is used in lighting, HVAC operations and related applications. The company also recalibrates those same systems to ensure they operate in the specified ranges they are designed to.
“We’re fixing things that are broken, changing filters that haven’t been changed,” Oswald said. “It really does get that simple.”
However, ESI’s capabilities allow it to offer much more sophisticated services to customers who want to maximize the efficiency of their existing buildings. The company uses off-the-shelf software to coordinate controls, motors, mechanical and electrical upgrades with motion sensors, thermostats and timers. Software systems are integrated into building operations servers, which can automatically control operations in commercial buildings, turning lights on when people walk into a room or at specific times, changing temperatures in certain parts of a building at different times and controlling access to different parts of buildings for specific persons.
“The platform we use is open,” said Joe Fueling, director of sales and business development. “All of these devices speak different languages and don’t naturally speak together. Our platform turns it all into English so the devices can speak to each other.”
“The technology isn’t the issue – anyone can buy it anywhere,” Oswald said. “We don’t have the corner on the technology. But we do have the knowledge on how to use it.”