Dick Wheeler passed away on March 30, 2017. Click here to view his obituary.
When John Richard ("Dick") Wheeler founded his electrical contracting company in 1962, perhaps he didn't think about 2012.
But his business philosophies were transmitted to his children. One was, basically: "We're in Idaho Falls. We can't afford
to look away from any particular kind of electrical work."
Perhaps another thing he didn't speculate about was Wheeler's national standing. Based on 2010 sales, Engineering News-Record ranked the company as Number 567 on its list of the Top 600 Specialty Contractors (includes electrical, mechanical, roofing, plumbing, and other types of contractors). That probably puts Wheeler among the top 150 electrical contractors, in terms of sales - out of perhaps 70,000 nationwide.
Today, Wheeler Electric does all kinds of work - from 15 kV cable terminations to fiber optic installation, and just about any voltage or type of work that falls in between. Another legacy from the founder is that today, with perhaps 80-plus employees (a dozen in the office), there are four Wheeler children and three of Dick's grandchildren at work in the company.
How does this union electrical contractor compete in what, in 2011, is a difficult environment for most? VP Jeff Wheeler explained that the company loves to do design-build work, and to come back and provide more services to existing clients. "But we live in a part of the world where there are not a lot of people, and not a lot of customers," he said. "We will try to take advantage of competitive bid opportunities - and right now that's most of what we do."
Even Wheeler's one large steady customer, the Idaho National Laboratory (a unit of the U.S. Dept. of Energy), must, by law, seek competitive bids for every job. "We probably have 25 people working out there right now," Jeff said. "That's a good number for us, based on the history, but we always have a presence there. It's working at the Lab that has involved us in a lot of new types of work, such as fiber optics."
Note that the electrical business in Idaho is not necessarily like that elsewhere. The Lab is far from Wheeler's backyard - a 60-mile one-way drive from company HQ. Wheeler Electric will also travel elsewhere for other good opportunities!
Amazing Mix Of People
All those Wheelers include President Doug (like Jeff, one of Dick's sons), Diane Roberts and Peggy Parker (daughters, who work on accounting and payroll), and grandsons Josh (service manager/corporate secretary), Jeremy (now a journeyman), and Cody (in the estimating department).
However, they obviously are not the whole story. In terms of people (as well as types of work), Wheeler Electric pursues what you might call a wonderful mix. On the one hand, Jeff said, there are at least 15 employees who have been with the company for 20 years.
"And we have maybe 25 more who have been here at least 10 years," he added. "That's a lot of the reason we're successful - our people know how we operate, and they make our company go. That's why we really don't like to see people retire."
On the other hand, according to Josh, perhaps 15 of the 70 field workers Wheeler now employs are . . . apprentices. So the company's people mix ranges from those with lots of experience and savvy to electricians-in-training who are, literally, "wet behind the ears."
"We pride ourselves on using apprentices, and training them well," explained Josh. "Of course, that helps keep our labor cost down. But we are fortunate that our journeymen have demonstrated their willingness to help these new people in the training effort."
Another angle of employing so many apprentices, of course, is that Wheeler Electric is helping to shape the future of electrical construction in the Idaho Falls area. This is completely within character, as the company philosophy is to give back to the industry via active participation.
Just words? Not here. Doug Wheeler, president, chairs the local NECA-IBEW apprenticeship committee. Josh participates in the joint Labor-Management Cooperation Committee. And Jeff, the governor of NECA's Idaho Chapter, also serves the industry by sitting on the state electrical board.
(Adapted from McCormick Systems Article.)
The Leading Electrical Contractor in Idaho