Tim McCarthy, a new employee at Conquest MEP Services, works as the company’s project services coordinator.

WARREN, Mich. - In a state that has long led the nation in unemployment, it’s not easy to find companies that are hiring and investing in their operations.

That’s just one thing that makes Conquest MEP Services different.

The Michigan-based mechanical contractor, which has supplied its design know-how and duct-making capabilities to projects around Michigan and across the nation, recently purchased a new spiral duct machine and hired five experienced staffers from a former competitor.

It’s a signal that things are going well at Conquest, which many longtime area contractors may know by its other name, Duct Connection and Sheet Metal Supply Co. That name is still shown on a sign leading to its 95,000-square-foot building in an industrial park about 10 miles outside Detroit.

But James D. Miller, one of the company’s owners and managing partners, said it’s more accurate to say that the company supplies “services” rather than just sheet metal.

“What we do is allow customers to focus on the front end of their businesses,” Miller said.

Martin Freeman runs the Spiral-Helix Helix 3600 spiral-duct maker in Conquest’s sheet metal shop.

More than duct

And the company does much more than just supply sheet metal these days. Long a proponent of building information modeling technology, they offer customers three-dimensional detailing, virtual coordination and modeling, as well as direct-data exchange whether for sheet metal, piping or plumbing. It boasts that key staff has a combined 162 years of industry experience.

Conquest’s most recent brochure lists some of the high-profile projects the company has supplied ductwork or design expertise on: Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital, Miami’s historic Fontainebleau Hotel and the new version in Las Vegas, Miami International Airport, a Wachovia bank building in Virginia and a U.S. post office distribution facility among them.

In addition, as a shop that fabricates but doesn’t install what it makes, officials point out that they are able to quickly provide plenty of sheet metal ductwork if needed.

“We’ve been very busy through March,” Miller said. “Our backlog is still strong.”

Perhaps that’s why company officials made the decision earlier this year to hire five workers who lost their jobs when longtime Detroit-area sheet metal company Foremost Duct shut its doors.

That included Ron Finch, 43, a salesmen at Foremost for 21 years. He said when he arrived at Conquest, he “didn’t miss a beat.”

Also coming to Conquest were former Foremost employees Tim McCarthy, Robert Burnham, Martin Freeman and Paul Hilbert.

Paul Hilbert works on a piece of duct.

Bucking a trend

Finding a new job in such a tough market was a lucky break, Hilbert said.

Michigan’s unemployment rate is over 12 percent; metro Detroit’s is closing in on 15 percent, according to recent reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“I was a little worried” about finding a new position, said Hilbert, 49, who now works as a fabricator in Conquest’s large, brightly lit sheet metal shop. “But this is a great place. I love it.”

McCarthy is equally excited about his new position as Conquest’s project services coordinator.

“There’s a lot of opportunity here,” he said.

Although Miller declines to discuss revenue, the size of Conquest’s facility suggests it’s large. He did mention that the building sits in an enterprise zone, which gives the company a substantial break on rent and taxes. Its total payroll encompasses between 60 and 80 workers, depending on the season, many of whom are members of Detroit-based Sheet Metal Workers union Local 80. The company is also a member of the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association.

Besides the new staff, another addition to the sheet metal shop is a Helix 3600 spiral-duct machine from Spiral-Helix, which Freeman was running the day Snips visited. In addition, the shop contains an Iowa Precision Corner Matic, a Pittsburgh machine made by Engel Industries, and several other pieces. It also includes a large area where duct is stored awaiting shipment to jobsites.

At a time when other sheet metal shops are slowing - or shutting - down, what’s Conquest’s secret?  Miller credits the company’s forward-thinking and far-reaching approach to business.

“We’re getting calls and interest from a lot of people who have always viewed the future like the past,” he said.

The company is not done expanding. It plans to soon open another facility in the middle part of the state.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail devriesj@bnpmedia.com.