The floods that hit Iowa in June 2008 are sometimes called “Iowa’s Katrina.”
While they didn’t have the loss of life that accompanied that Category 5 hurricane which struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, Iowa’s flooding still caused an estimated $64 billion in damage.
Cedar Rapids, a city of 126,000, was among the cities hardest hit by the storms. The Cedar River reached its peak at 31.12 feet - 19 above flood level - June 13. Thousands of businesses and homes in the city were destroyed.
If officials with sheet metal contractor Climate Engineers Inc. thought they might be spared, those hopes were eliminated June 12. The storm waters had reached Climate Engineers at the company’s main location on Shaver Road. More than 5 feet of water flooded the facilities, which had been renovated just a few months earlier.
“All the buildings down there were flooded,” recalled Peter Watson, the company’s production manager and a co-owner of Climate Engineers with his brother, Mark. “All our main processing equipment for industrial was flooded.”
Water recedesIt took about a week for the water to recede and National Guard forces to allow company officials back to their facility. They immediately went to work getting the company back on line.
“Being in construction, we were able to get generators right away,” he said.
By having many of their own employees work on the water-soaked equipment, they were able to quickly get to customers, such as the nearby Mercy Medical Center, very quickly.
“Water was coming into the lower levels,” Watson recalled. “They were thinking of potentially having to move everybody out of the hospital. We were working around the clock to get them back up.”
At its Shaver Road location, the offices and shop had to be completely dried out and disinfected, including rebuilding inner walls.
“Within three weeks we had partial use of our facilities after the flood, which is pretty amazing,” he said.
HistoryBut to its many customers in the region, the quick recovery of Climate Engineers might not have been so surprising. The company was started about 60 years ago by James H. Maloney, a lumber broker who owned several other construction-related businesses. One of Maloney’s operations, Green Gable Builders Inc., was a manufacturer of prefabricated metal structures. Climate was created as a metal-forming operation to supply the metal for Green Gable’s construction projects.
In its earliest years, Climate concentrated mostly on residential heating and installation. Receipts in 1953 totaled about $105,000. But during the next six decades it grew to be a multimillion-dollar operation, with clients as large and varied as the University of Iowa, Mercy Medical Center and Quaker Oats.
Today, the company has more than $21 million in annual sales.
While Cedar Rapids is still recovering - “It’s taken quite a while for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to release monies and then drawings to get done so they could actually restructure the buildings and rebuild,” Watson said - it gave Climate Engineers the chance to become a major player in the city’s comeback.
Comeback“With the potential for flood-related work that was coming up … we felt that if any time was right to go ahead and renovate and our existing equipment on the HVAC side, this was the time if we wanted to be a player in the market,” he said.
The company purchased a Iowa Precision Pro-fabriduct line, a dual-head Cornermatic, a tie-rod crimping machine and had an Engel seam closer unit rebuilt, all bought from Richard Burkart, vice president of sales and administration at Mestek Machinery, which coincidentally, is also based in Cedar Rapids.
Watson said they were able to quickly put the equipment to work, bidding on projects.
“We felt it gave us an edge to get some of the work that has been released,” he said. “There is a substantial amount yet to be bid.”
Images courtesy of Climate Engineers. For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.