Trident is erecting its own future

mjohnson@bradenton.comFebruary 17, 2014 

MANATEE -- If Trident Building Systems has a hole in its construction resume, the company is filling it with nearly 850 tons of steel construction.

Last year, the metal fabricator and erector manufactured and built the steel skeleton for the new Saks Fifth Avenue at the Mall at University Town Center. Right now, iron workers with the Tellavast Road company are bolting and welding the frame for one of the mall's other big anchors, Dillard's.

Together, the stores are among the highest-profile retail work for Trident during its 28-year history. The jobs come at a busy time: Trident has about 45 projects in progress on its fabrication floor, in its engineering department, and in the field. It's also expanding its workforce by more than 20 employees this year.

Nothing ensures success like momentum.

"Right now, we're seeing a lot of growth forward," said Emil Straubel, Trident project manager.

The family-owned company has come a long way. In 1986, the company's three owners and top officers -- Carl and Willard Petrat and Cindy Petrat-Hayden -- erected manufactured steel buildings themselves, along with other family members. Since then, the company has not only hired an assembly crew, but built a factory that manufactures prefabricated metal building components and custom steel for the construction industry. Its current workforce numbers 119.

The factory, and Trident's in-house engineering department, makes it the only steel erector company in the state that manufactures its own building materials. Starting from basic flat, round and angle steel direct from the foundry, Trident welds, bends, punches and cuts every component that goes into its building projects.

Straubel said the company makes exactly what it needs when it needs to get construction jobs done on time. It makes an impact with clients, including the general contractor in charge of the Saks project.

"Working with Trident was on par with the better steel contractors I've worked with," said Ben Wilson, project manager with Sarasota-based Kellogg & Kimsey.

Trident has a long list of high-profile local projects, including Palmetto High School, a 262,000-square foot Bealls distribution center in Bradenton, and Kinnan Elementary School.

Current projects include a field house at IMG Academy, an addition to Sarasota High School, and a new Sarasota public safety center.

Its manufacturing floor is busy, too. The company is welding 45 columns and rafter sections for an electrical substation in Baltimore and has started building hydraulic doors as wide as 160 feet for aircraft hangers.

The activity is a long way from the depths of the Great Recession. Trident laid off 65 percent of its 200-person workforce during the downturn. The company's competitors fared worse: Many went out of business, Straubel said.

Now, the company is growing rapidly, almost too rapidly. Its hiring pool is small, Straubel said, because many experienced iron workers, welders, and fabricators trained for different careers when laid off post-2006. With those workers out of the industry for good, Trident is searching nationwide for the right employees.

The openings Trident looking to fill can be strenuous, especially those for erectors. Hot Florida summers can make the work uncomfortable, prompting some new hires to quit.

"A lot of them don't make it," Straubel said.

Those who do stay with the company work in a tightly structured environment. Trident is among a minority of steel fabrication and construction companies in that it is regularly inspected and recertified by the American Institute of Steel Construction. Every piece of steel the company uses is tracked from when it arrives to when it becomes part of a building.

If there's a problem along the way, such as a failure or inaccurately drilled bolt holes, Trident managers can track it to the source.

AISC certification allows the company to bid on any kind of steel construction work, including military and federally funded projects, schools, public transportation jobs, and airport building construction.

"There isn't any job we can't bid on," said Gary Bergstrom, Trident's business development manager.

Trident doesn't get every project it bids. One of the biggest local steel building projects of the past year, the 233,000-square-foot SRQ Commerce Park, went to another company. Straubel said Trident has previously done work for the project's owner, Benderson Development Co.

Trident also missed out on bidding the steel work for the mall's third anchor, Macy's. The company did not receive a bid invite.

Benderson is a partner in the University mall development, but had nothing to do with the Saks or Dillard's projects. Those companies hire contractors directly to build their stores.

The coming year should remain busy for Trident. With the Dillard's project 60 percent complete, Trident is looking to bid more local work. That could include a rumored Bass Pro Shop near the Mall at University Town Center, Straubel said. Trident is currently erecting an Uncle Bucks Fish Bowl restaurant at a Bass Pro Shop in Destin.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.

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