TUSCOLA — The J.L. Allen Co. — which does fabrication work for natural gas and oil pipeline projects across the nation — is getting a big upgrade this summer with construction of a new headquarters west of Tuscola.
The company, located just west of LyondellBasell's Equistar Chemicals complex, has been around since 1954.
With the new building project, J.L. Allen will nearly triple its manufacturing capacity, said Jason Krieg, the company's vice president and chief operating officer.
That will enable the company not only to fabricate parts for its own construction projects, but also to sell parts to other construction companies, he said.
J.L. Allen's clients tend to be natural gas and oil pipeline companies. Recent customers include Spectra Energy, El Paso Corp., TransCanada and Kinder Morgan, according to the company's website.
At the Tuscola facility, J.L. Allen welders assemble parts for compressor stations and meter stations along natural gas pipelines — and for pump stations along oil pipelines.
J.L. Allen builds those stations for pipeline companies, as well as fabricating parts for them.
Most of the company's construction projects last year were in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and West Virginia, Krieg said.
This year, the company's work is concentrated in New York and New Jersey, he said.
Plus, a continued boom in the energy field is expected to create new opportunities down the road, Krieg said.
"The energy and pipeline industry is experiencing substantial growth, and it intends to sustain large growth for many years to come," he said.
According to a report from the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, the natural gas and oil industry in the United States and Canada is expected to spend an average of $8 billion a year on infrastructure projects between 2011 and 2035.
When completed later this summer, J.L. Allen's new headquarters will have 17,500 square feet, with roughly half the space devoted to manufacturing and the other half to offices.
Total cost of the project, including equipment, is about $2 million, Krieg said.
Design work started last fall, with construction getting under way about 10 weeks ago, he said.
The manufacturing portion of the company is expected to complete its move into the building this week, and "we're hoping this fall we'll be in the offices," Krieg said.
Once the move is made, the old office — located just west of the new bright blue building — will be demolished, he said.
J.L. Allen employs about 10 in its fabrication shop, nine in the office and 11 in the field, Krieg said.
The company is a union shop, and its welders are members of the United Association, a union that serves the plumbing and pipe-fitting industry.
J.L. Allen is a division of Girard, Ohio-based VEC Inc., which acquired the pipeline fabrication company on Dec. 31, 2009.
Krieg said VEC considered moving J.L. Allen's operation to Ohio, near VEC's other facilities. But it eventually decided it was best for J.L. Allen to stay in Tuscola.
"We felt we had the right workforce and the experience here," he said, crediting VEC President Rex Ferry and VEC Chief Operating Officer Chris Jaskiewicz for giving the project the green light.
Work at J.L. Allen is somewhat seasonal, with construction for the natural gas industry usually going on between May and November, when there's not as much demand for natural gas.
As might be expected, manufacturing for the construction projects tends to come a little earlier in the year.
Krieg said J.L. Allen is in a hiring mode, looking to hire safety professionals, project managers and assistant project managers.
It's also interested in finding people with skills in building information modeling software and construction computer-aided design services.
The company's new manufacturing facility in Tuscola has two bays and is equipped with four cranes, needed for lifting pipeline segments that can weigh a ton or more.
The pipe — usually made of carbon steel and sometimes of stainless steel — is manufactured by other companies, with J.L. Allen assembling pieces according to project specifications.
One assembled piece at the Tuscola site — welded and painted — weighs more than 30,000 pounds. Like other assembled pieces there, it eventually will be transferred to a construction site by truck.
Krieg said J.L. Allen has looked at parts of the Keystone XL pipeline project to see if there's a role for the company. He said he thinks J.L. Allen "can bring jobs to Illinois" as a result of the project.
One proposed portion of the pipeline would extend from Canada south into Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.
That segment has received a lot of political attention as a result of environmental concerns about the portion in Nebraska.