WOOLWICH – On Thursday, a 65-ton concrete segment dangled over the Fore River from a $4 million, 440-ton capacity crane.

Slowly, workers lowered the segment onto a vertical pier, completing another section of Portland’s new Veterans Memorial Bridge.

The construction firm in charge, Woolwich-based Reed & Reed Inc., has been building bridges in Maine and New England for more than 80 years.

Reed & Reed executives say a skilled Maine work force, multi-year projects and booming demand for wind power have kept the company profitable during recession and helped generate annual revenue of more than $100 million.

“It’s like the little engine that could. We still think of ourselves as a small Maine company,” said President and Chief Executive Officer Jackson Parker, of Reed & Reed’s growth. “It has been a pretty steady upward trend.”

Reed & Reed builds many heavy structures, including bridges, marine terminals, fish piers, industrial buildings, parking garages and, recently, wind farms.

Reed & Reed has worked on the $75 million cable-stayed Penobscot Narrows Bridge near Bucksport, the Casco Bay Bridge, a marine research pier at the University of New Hampshire, the Webber Oil marine terminal in Bucksport, and Portland’s Ocean Gateway marine terminal. The company’s latest bridge project, Veterans Memorial Bridge, is expected to be complete by summer 2012.

Reed & Reed employs a non-unionized work force of 200 staff, most of them based in Maine, and operates heavy industrial equipment, including barges, backhoes, bulldozers and cranes.

Sea Captain Josiah W. Reed and his son Carlton Day Reed founded Reed & Reed in 1928 with $2,000. The company stayed in the Reed family, and is currently owned by Josiah Reed’s great-grandson Thomas Reed and Parker, who is married to Josiah Reed’s great-granddaughter Susan.

When Parker joined the company in 1982 as chief financial officer, Reed & Reed had 50 to 60 employees and revenue of roughly $5 million.

But the company’s finances were tight.

Parker remembers one day after joining the company, Ed Hunter, a former Reed & Reed partner, said to him, “Let’s go over to KeyBank and get a loan for payroll.”

In those days, the business was seasonal, and every year the company shut down for the month of February.

STRUCTURE REORGANIZED

Shortly after Parker became CEO in 1985, the February break ended, and he reorganized the firm’s management structure to allow staff to tackle more and larger projects.

In the past, employees were responsible for similar parts of multiple construction jobs. But Parker hired project managers, who are in charge of specific projects. As a result, he said, staff had more accountability and the company grew.

Reed & Reed landed what Parker called a “milestone” project in 1985, when the company won a $5 million contract to widen and refurbish Tukey’s Bridge on Interstate 295 in Portland.

In 1992, Reed & Reed expanded with the launch of R.R. Caribbean Inc., a startup construction company on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. At that time, local companies and a few large U.S. builders, like Bechtel Corp., dominated the islands’ construction industry.

Parker said local builders lacked extensive resources, while the U.S. firms were expensive. There appeared to be opportunity for a medium-sized company like Reed & Reed.

At its height, R.R. Caribbean employed roughly 100 people. The firm built a $1.8 million boardwalk circling the town of Christiansted on the island of St. Croix.

But Parker said the island operation distracted the company from its primary domestic business, and Reed & Reed closed the subsidiary in 2007.

The company’s next big step was into the wind farm business.

Since 2006, Reed & Reed has installed nearly 200 wind turbines in Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and at multiple sites in Maine, including the Stetson wind power site in Danforth, the Beaver Ridge wind farm in Freedom and the Kibby Mountain site.

Wind farms have faced vocal opposition in Maine from those who claim the structures hurt wildlife, sully views and emit obnoxious noise.

WIND POWER IS GROWTH INDUSTRY

But Abigail Parker, Reed & Reed’s risk manager and Jackson Parker’s daughter, called wind power an exciting, burgeoning industry that creates a variety of well-paying jobs. She said young professionals, who might previously have left Maine to find work, can now look for wind power jobs.

“It’s the first time I can remember that there is something exciting going on in Maine. It’s the first time we are the leader in something,” she said.

Jackson Parker said the wind business has helped Reed & Reed diversify outside of bridges.

The bridge-building industry nationwide has struggled in the last few years, as states delayed major construction projects, said Jeff Solsby, director of public affairs for Washington, D.C.-based American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

“Some members are saying bridge work is nonexistent,” he said. “Many competitors have closed their doors. Profits are off. Overall, there is not much optimism.”

Solsby said the federal government invested in the federal highway system after the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35 Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis, which killed 13 people. At the same time, states cut spending during the recession.

As a result, “there was a net deduction” in highway funding, said Solsby.

In addition, Congress has not allocated federal highway funds for two years, and states have hesitated to invest without federal assistance.

Despite those challenges, Reed & Reed’s business actually doubled during the recession, Parker said. The company’s revenue now tops $100 million yearly.

Parker attributed the growth partly to the wind farm business, but also to the hard work of the company’s employees and to the long-term nature of major construction work. He said bridge and wind projects can take 2 1/2 years from planning to completion, enough time for a recession to run its course.

LEADER IN MIDSIZE PROJECTS

Thomas Reed said the company has established itself as a leader in medium-size heavy projects, like the $63 million Veterans Memorial Bridge. He said companies such as Freeport-based CPM Constructors tend to handle smaller projects, while others like Cianbro often tackle larger jobs.

Reed & Reed still competes with those companies, but Thomas called the competition healthy.

“It keeps you efficient. And when you get a project, you feel good knowing you beat good competition,” he said.

And sometimes a competitor becomes a partner: In 2006, Reed & Reed worked with Cianbro on the $75 million Penobscot Narrows Bridge project.

Today, wind farms generate more than half of Reed & Reed’s revenue, while roughly one-third of revenue comes from bridge building. The rest, Parker said, is from a mix of marine and other projects.

He said the company’s strategy is to continue focusing on what Reed & Reed does best: building bridges and installing wind turbines.

“We are sticking to our knitting,” he said. “We will keep doing what we are doing, and do it better.” 

Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or:
[email protected]