By Janice Hoppe

Article Source: Construction Today,

A premier mechanical contracting company in Cleveland, Coleman Spohn Corp. has played a significant role in projects over the past decade that has changed the skyline of its hometown. This year is no different, as the company and its team were selected to perform the HVAC work in the new Hilton Cleveland Downtown Hotel. The 600-room premier hotel will be the lead hotel for the Republican National Convention coming to Cleveland in July.

“It is a pretty straightforward project that has its challenges,” owner Lonnie Coleman says. “Challenge number one is the aggressive schedule. We are on a very tight timeframe with a hard date to complete the project. Missing the date will have a snowball effect creating issues we cannot begin to comprehend. Completing the HVAC systems in a timely fashion allowing the other trades on the project the ability to maintain their schedules and keep the project moving at a very positive pace.

“Cleveland is very excited about having The Republican National Convention and we, along with our partners Mechanical Inc., will put our best foot forward to make it a success.”

The HVAC work for the 600-room hotel accounts for $20 million of the $272 million project. Coleman Spohn had 35 employees on site at the peak to complete the HVAC systems by the end of March 2016 and maintain the schedule. “We started work over a year ago and so far it’s been a successful project,” Coleman adds. “The tight schedule and weather conditions of 2014 created lost time, but working with the CM, Turner Construction Company, we were able to make up the lost time. We did so by working overtime and second shift time over the summer months to accomplish what needed to be done to recover. To date, the project is moving along quite well and all expectations are for it to be completed on time and within budget.”

Coleman Spohn prides itself on staying active in community development and civic affairs. Coleman says he created the company with a degree of social consciousness in mind. “We have always felt that a contract awarded to our company was like an investment in our company and it would behoove us to take a piece of that investment and reinvest it back into our communities through their civil, cultural and educational institutions,” he explains.

One of the ways Coleman plans to continue building the legacy of the company is by forming more relationships with community organizations. “We think the opportunity to do business in our communities is important, and as we become successful with those opportunities we would like to share that success by helping others with their growth and development.” he adds.

Building a Reputation

Coleman got his start in the industry in 1969 when he took a five-year apprenticeship with Pipefitters Local Union #120. Two years after completion of his apprenticeship, Coleman started Cleveland-based mechanical contracting business, ColeJon Mechanical Corp., with partner Jim Jones. “We were looking for an opportunity for upward mobility and decided to create a mechanical contracting company,” Coleman remembers. “We started with $10,000 and two employees.”

Over the next few years, ColeJon grew into a $40 million business with 750 employees operating in seven cities, six states and Puerto Rico. ColeJon Mechanical mainly performed facilities management work for the Federal Government, including EPA facilities, as well as Army, Navy and Air Force bases. “We grew to become a successful company,” Coleman notes. “We ended with a lot of recognition and were named the Small Business Administration’s Minority Contractor of the Year in 1983.”

Coleman had the opportunity in 1994 to buy the assets of Spohn Corp., a mechanical contracting company founded in 1911 that had run into financial difficulties. “We performed an asset purchase and restructured the organization to what it is today. In 1997, I bought the interest of my partner out of the company and it became Coleman Spohn Corporation.,” Coleman explains. “We have been able to take that company from the difficulties it had in 1994 and grow it into a $20 million mechanical company that performs its work in Cleveland, Columbus and St. Louis.”

Today, 75 percent of Coleman Spohn’s work is HVAC and 25 percent of it is plumbing services. The company also offers emergency service and maintenance of mechanical and plumbing systems. “We are a diversified company and can perform jobs that take a couple hours to a couple years,” Coleman says. “Having that flexibility and the ability to embrace the new technologies entering our industry along with fitting the right person to the job, has enabled our organization to be called upon over and over again by our customer base to perform their projects This is what sets us apart from our competition.”

Attracting Laborers

Coleman attributes the company’s success to its 65 pipefitters, plumbers and 14 management employees. One of the largest challenges it faces as a company – and the industry faces overall – is finding skilled laborers. “There is so much work going on in Cleveland that labor is becoming difficult to come by,” he explains.

Coleman attributes the labor shortage to the retirement of the baby boomers and the lack of apprenticeships available during the economic downturn. “Working as a team, labor and management is making a concerted effort to get more young people involved in the mechanical contracting industry,” Coleman says. “The shortages we faced today will hopefully be overcome by the union’s willingness to put on more apprenticeship classes to ease the burden.”

To assist the plumbers and pipefitters unions in their recruitment of new talent, Coleman Spohn visits local high schools to expose students to the benefits of apprenticeship as an option as they prepare to make their continuing educational choices upon graduating. “It is important that we not talk about replacing college but establishing apprenticeship as an option taken with college prerequisites can lead to an associate’s college degree,” Coleman says.

In addition to highlighting the average salary of a journeyman and the demand for skilled laborers throughout the country, Coleman Spohn attracts laborers with technology. “One of the things we have done is embraced the new technology permeating throughout our industry,” Coleman adds. “We use Building Information Modeling (BIM), the latest in AutoCAD and we fabricate as much of our piping systems as we can because those are the things that drive efficiency in the market. We are on the lookout every day as new technology becomes available for our marketplace. We understand the technologies are there for a reason and those that don’t adopt it will become dinosaurs and will disappear.”

Continuous Development

In addition to performing the HVAC work for the new Hilton this year, Coleman Spohn has been selected as part of a team that will provide that same service for a new multi-use development along Cleveland’s lakefront. The development will encompass 28 acres of leased land from the City and will consist of apartments, offices, a hotel, restaurants, shops, parking and recreation.

“The lake runs the length of our city and it’s a great place to be in the summer,” Coleman says. “This development will add to the changes taking place in our city and once again reestablish Cleveland as ‘the best location in the nation.’”

As Coleman Spohn looks to the future, it sees a continued increase in healthcare projects. Recently, the company completed a $26 million HVAC contract for a seven-story hospital addition, emergency wing and medical office building for University Hospitals of Cleveland. “We see healthcare driving a lot of the construction market in Cleveland and St. Louis, and think it’s going to continue to be a driver in our industry for a few more years,” Coleman adds.

As we move forward, Coleman Spohn’s long-term goals are to continue building the legacy of the company, continue to build and strengthen the relationships it has in the communities in which it serves and to introduce more young people to our industry.