SOUTH PORTLAND — On the south side of the city, in an area off Route 1, Casco Bay Steel Structures has grown into the largest fabricator of bridge girders in New England without drawing much attention.

Now, the 19-year-old company is in the midst of a cross-city, multimillion-dollar expansion to acquire coveted railroad and harbor access that’s expected to push Casco Bay Steel into wider markets along the Eastern Seaboard.

Over the last two years, the company has spent $3 million buying two industrial properties near its plant on Wallace Avenue to establish rail access at Rigby Yard. Construction of a 1,200-foot rail spur is scheduled to be completed this summer at a cost of $300,000, said Bryon Tait, president and CEO of Casco Bay Steel.

In the same period, the company has invested $3.5 million in new equipment and nearly doubled its production of precision steel girders used to build bridges throughout the Northeast, reaching a yearly output of 15,000 tons, or 30 million pounds, Tait said.

Casco Bay Steel owner Bryon Tait talks about his plans to develop rail access to the waterfront.

Casco Bay Steel owner Bryon Tait talks about his plans to develop rail access to the waterfront.

Next month, in a move that will triple its original land holdings in South Portland to 49 acres, the company will close on a $3 million purchase of the former Megquier & Jones steel fabrication plant at 1156 Broadway, just across Rigby Yard and down the tracks from the Turners Island Marine-Rail Terminal on Portland Harbor.

That’s where Casco Bay Steel plans to ship out the massive plate and box girders that it’s making for the $170 million Sarah Mildred Long Bridge replacement project, which Cianbro Corp. of Pittsfield is building over the Piscataqua River between Kittery and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The girders are expected to be on barges by next fall.


“When you’re doing projects over water or near the coast, contractors usually like to have their product delivered by water because it’s easier to install,” Tait said. “We’re going to be able to load steel here and ship it wherever.”

The ability to get 170-foot-long girders off the road and onto rail cars and barges is expected to save Casco Bay Steel time and money, open new markets, and double again its annual production to 30,000 tons within five years, Tait said.

The company’s payroll also would double to about 240 workers, many of them welders who earn $16 to $30 an hour with full benefits – good pay in a state where the median hourly wage was $16.69 in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Tait rattles off business projections with confidence expected in a man who started a now-booming precision steel fabrication company from scratch in 1997. But he still shows the humility and work ethic he had when he started welding bridge steel 38 years ago, fresh out of a six-month welding course at the former Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute.

“I never dreamt when I started this that it would get as big as it is,” said Tait, 57. “Never in my wildest dreams.”



Casco Bay Steel’s success doesn’t surprise Mark Buckbee, director of bridge and marine construction at Reed & Reed Inc. in Woolwich, one of the largest civil contractors in northern New England. Reed & Reed regularly hires Casco Bay Steel for its projects, including the Richmond Dresden Bridge completed in December 2014. It’s a simple but demanding recipe.

“Their work is cost-competitive, it shows up on time and it’s done correctly,” Buckbee said. “Our construction has very distinct deadlines and strict specifications. If somebody doesn’t meet a deadline or doesn’t provide quality materials, it can have costly consequences. We have to get it done on time or we’re assessed penalties.”

 Workers at Casco Bay Steel Structures work on the deck for the Sarah Long Bridge in Portsmouth, N.H.

Workers at Casco Bay Steel Structures work on the deck for the Sarah Long Bridge in Portsmouth, N.H.

Buckbee said Casco Bay Steel’s expansion comes at an opportune time, after Congress approved a $305 billion transportation bill in November to fund highway, bridge and transit projects for the next five years. With the federal gasoline tax set at 18.4 cents since 1993, federally funded road work hasn’t kept up with demand and transportation infrastructure has continued to age despite low prices at the gas pump.

“That additional funding is important for businesses like Reed & Reed and Casco Bay Steel,” Buckbee said. “If you don’t know how much (work) is going to be available next year, it’s difficult to know how much you can invest in your company and still stay competitive.”

Tait said he’s trying to strike that balance but wouldn’t discuss his company’s annual revenues. He said his biggest competitor is High Steel in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, whose proximity to bridge jobs in its home state, Maryland and Delaware has made it tough for Casco Bay Steel to win contracts beyond New York and New Jersey.

829379_992008 CascoBaySteelRigbyYa.jpgStill, Casco Bay Steel is busy.


“We bring in a lot of federal money from other states and our work in Maine represents about 10 percent of the work that we do,” Tait said.

Casco Bay Steel workers have already moved into the former Megquier & Jones plant, where the lighting and railroad tracks have been refurbished and the rusted 70,000-square-foot manufacturing shed will soon get new siding.

South Portland officials are glad that the Broadway property has returned to manufacturing after Megquier & Jones shut down in December. Founded in 1895, it had struggled financially for several years.

For city officials, Casco Bay Steel’s expansion contradicts public criticism that they’re fostering an anti-business atmosphere, based on recent City Council actions against the Portland Pipe Line Corp. and a proposed propane depot at Rigby Yard.

“(We’re) very pleased to see a great local business occupy and invest in that property,” Joshua Reny, assistant city manager and economic development director, said in a prepared statement.

“We’re also happy about the prospect of additional jobs being created in the community,” Reny said. “Despite some recent comments to the contrary, South Portland remains an excellent place for businesses seeking to expand or relocate.”



Tait lives in Cape Elizabeth, where he grew up in working-class family with a strong work ethic but no college aspirations. When he graduated from high school, his mother talked him into taking a welding course at SMVTI, today’s Southern Maine Community College.

He got his first welding job at the Bancroft & Martin Rolling Mills Co. in the Wallace Avenue plant where Casco Bay Steel is located today. The former steel fabricator was once Maine’s “only complete steel service,” according to a 1955 Maine Turnpike commemorative publication.

“For some reason, they put me on bridges and I fell in love with it,” Tait said. “I was 18, but I worked really hard and I moved up the ladder really fast.”

Dustin Ford grinds a steel girder at Casco Bay Steel.

Dustin Ford grinds a steel girder at Casco Bay Steel.

He eventually became general manager of East Coast Steel, the company that took over the Wallace Avenue plant, where his boss provided some important lessons on how to run a successful business.

“He was the type to say we should tell customers what they want to hear and then do whatever we wanted,” Tait said. “I learned more about how not to do business than anything else.”


When Tait decided to strike out on his own, he started Casco Bay Steel with a couple of employees. His wife, Wendy, was a full-time registered nurse who did the company’s books once a week in a notebook.

Within a year, he convinced her to give up her nursing career and become his business partner and chief financial officer. Soon, they moved the company to a Saco site, where they still have a precision machine shop.

“I had a business plan,” Tait said. “I thought within five years, I would have five to eight employees, but we outgrew that. In five years, we had 20 employees.”

In 2009, Tait returned to Wallace Avenue, expanding production to the 120,000-square-foot plant where he got his start. Vacant at the time, it overlooked Rigby Yard. He moved the company’s headquarters there in 2012 and started actively looking for ways to establish direct rail access.

In 2014, he bought the former W.H. Shurtleff Co. property at 1 Runway Road – 13 acres of land and buildings right along the rail yard – for $2.5 million, according to tax records. Monson, a specialty chemical company, still operates there.

Last year, he bought a 4.5-acre wedge of vacant land from Pan Am Railways for $466,200. Negotiating with the notoriously tough rail company proved challenging.


“I should have read Donald Trump’s ‘The Art of the Deal’ first,” Tait said.


Once a rail spur is built at the Wallace Avenue plant, the company will be able to bring in raw steel and other building materials – all made in the United States, according to federal procurement laws – and ship out with greater ease and at lower cost than by road.

Tait plans to sell the brick office building that was Megquier and Jones’ headquarters at 1156 Broadway, and he sees potential to develop more fabrication space on the remaining 15 acres. He also looks forward to hiring more workers, though his company already struggles to find qualified, dependable applicants.

“I could probably hire eight people today,” Tait said. “We’re always looking for people.”

But many applicants don’t know how to read a tape measure, Tait said, let alone operate the precision digital equipment that’s used to produce girders according to strict specifications, sometimes within 1/10,000th of an inch.

That’s why keeping good employees happy is a critical part of Tait’s overall strategy to stay competitive and continue to grow Casco Bay Steel.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re making hamburgers or plate girders, you gotta have a good product and good customer service, and you gotta treat your employees well,” Tait said. “Everything’s gotta be done right every time.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: