Building Zone Industries
An innovative company stretches the flexibility of steel
Building Zone Industries builds with speed and safety
Building Zone Industries (BZI), a steel erection and fabrication company based in Kanarraville, Utah, was founded in 2006 by five scrappy farmhands — brothers and cousins in their late teens and early twenties— who outgrew the family farm and were looking for opportunities to stay busy and earn money. They began building pole barns and pre-engineered metal buildings for their neighbors in southern Utah and eastern Nevada, and eventually segued into steel construction.
Today, the nationally-known BZI family of companies employs over 800 workers across its three primary divisions. Building Zone Industries, LLC is responsible for steel erection and has completed projects in all 48 lower U.S. states and Alaska; BZI Steel, LLC, with a 90,000-sq.-ft. facility in Cedar City, Utah, specializes in steel fabrication, using state-of-the art robotic and CNC cutting equipment. InnovaTech, LLC specializes in designing, engineering, and manufacturing innovative construction equipment and processes to enhance efficiency and safety on the job.
“The biggest segment of what we do is steel erection,” explains James Barlow, who has been the company’s CEO since 2016. “We also have the fabrication division, so, in some cases, we will provide the steel package as well as the steel erection. And recently, we started a wall division with insulated metal panels. Our current market offering is what we call a ‘core and shell’ package, which is supplying the structural steel, putting it up, and doing the wall systems. That’s the ideal package that we offer.”
A culture of innovation
BZI is well-regarded as one of the most innovative outfits in the industry. In fact, the firm’s slogan is: “It takes a flexible mindset to rethink steel.” “We’re a very innovative company,” says Barlow, “and rethinking steel is a commitment to always analyzing what we’re doing and determining if there’s an innovative solution that can make it even better. That’s really at the heart of the way we think and operate.”
Barlow notes that this culture of innovation stems from the farm-life experience of its founders who have, by necessity, learned how to improvise and improve upon procedures and practices in order to make their work easier and their farms more productive. “Early on, we developed what we call the ‘panel table,’” he relates. “This was an innovative new process for doing a lot of work on the ground, converting what would be aerial hours, or time spent in the air doing connections, and putting a lot of those man hours on the ground and then swinging assemblies into place.” That process, which saved time and labor, launched the company’s InnovaTech division in order to further develop processes and equipment that make steel go up faster with fewer man hours needed and in a safer work environment.
Efficiency and safety are paramount
“When we’re looking at new innovations, we’re always looking at two boxes that we want to check,” Barlow continues. “One is: ‘How can we make it safer? How can we engineer out the risk?’ Construction is inherently dangerous. Falls are a very high percentage of the fatalities in the construction industry. So, wherever possible, we try to reduce the amount of time that people are in those areas where they’re exposed to that kind of a hazard. The panelizing process helps us create a really safe environment; or as safe as you can get. That’s our goal.”
“Beyond engineering out the hazard, there’s another dimension to safety that we’ve been invested deeply into,” Barlow adds. “And that is the safety culture – thinking safe, educating team members, and building robust safety training programs. Part of what we’ve done in that regard is launching the Steel Tech Academy. We have comprehensive programs with certification that we take our team members through. We also think a lot about ergonomics. If there’s a repeatable path in our work process, we look at how we can build a tool, or a process, or something that changes that. It reduces the fatigue of our team members in those environments. Those are high points of focus for us.”
The other box, according to Barlow, is constantly determining how the company can make its building processes more efficient in order to speed up the production calendar. The success of those innovations over the years can be measured by how BZI has considerably diminished the time it has taken to erect a particular type of large project. “The secret to these reduced schedules is getting in early and supporting the preconstruction process,” he explains. “There’s a lot of energy that goes into sequencing and staging with other sub-trades so that we can work really efficiently. To get this kind of deliverable, we’re working closely with the engineers and fabricators to make sure all the steel is there, and then using our proprietary methods of panelization to accelerate the finished product. The first prototype project that we did, the client planned for 32 weeks for the steel erection portion; we did it in 24 weeks. Then we went from 24 to 22, to 20, to 18. The last of that series of prototypes was erected in only 16 weeks. It cut the schedule in half from what the client’s original projections were for what that project would take for standing the steel.”
Exploiting the latest technologies
Barlow relates that BZI is also very invested in acquiring and utilizing the latest in technology tools. “There are two dimensions to technology,” he states. “One is process technology. In our innovation, many times we’re developing forms of automation or semi-automation, working hand-in-hand with our team members where we’re reducing steps and taking the burden out of things wherever and whenever possible with automation. So, when we approach an innovative project, we’re looking at whatever forms of automation that we can bring to the construction site.
“The other part of technology is software and technical tools. We jumped in with Procore (a provider of construction management software) several years ago and have built on their platform, but we’ve also built out a very strong and robust technology team that works the information technology segment to pair it with our innovation. So, we’re working in both directions – the mechanical technology in the processes, as well as information technologies for data sharing and utilization of bid models and other tools. There’s no paper out there; it’s all done digitally. We have hundreds of iPads and have ensured that all of our team members, onsite, have access to the technology tools and data to do their jobs efficiently. I would say that it’s been a high point of investment for us.”
The company’s values
BZI’s company culture is another high point of investment. Barlow explains: “When we asked our team members why they want to work for us, they all say ‘culture, culture, culture.’ What does that mean? The culture of the organization is our core values, which are trust, respect, and integrity. And our motto is: teamwork, innovation, and action. That’s the chassis we build on. When we’re looking at hires and promotions, we’re looking deeply at those who demonstrate those qualities. There’s always a competency element; we want people with experience and technical knowledge, but we don’t make decisions entirely based on that. We look hard at how they model these qualities when it comes to teamwork, innovation, and action. And do they bring those things out in others? And when we say trust, we expect our team members to trust each other. Respect is how we treat each other; we believe in each other and what we can do together in the business. Integrity is about walking the talk. Are you teamwork? Are you innovation? Are you action? Are you trust and are you respect? That’s what integrity means to us.”
BZI’s sterling record for innovation, safety, growth, and worker satisfaction was recognized this past year with several industry awards, including: the #1 spot in the Salt Lake Tribune’s Top Workplace Award in the Large Business Category; the American Institute of Steel Construction’s “Erector Award of Honor” Safety Award; and several rankings in Inc. 5000’s Fastest Growing Company’s list: the #1795 overall fastest growing company in the country, the #82 fastest-growing construction company in Utah, and the #1 fastest-growing company in the Cedar City region, where the fabrication plant is located.
Spending, marketing, and partnering
When it comes to BZI’s capital investments, Barlow says a certain amount of capital is always being allocated to growth in its steel erection and steel fabrication divisions. “And in the next couple of years, we’re going to be building out a new headquarters, so there’s some investment into expansion from a real estate standpoint. We also invest into the training of our team members. About $3.5 million was spent this year in training initiatives to help them level up, take the next step, improve their technical skills, and become leaders.”
Regarding the company’s marketing approach, Barlow stresses that it’s very relationship-based. “We’re not out there just trying to win a job,” he asserts. “We’re trying to win a relationship. Most of our work is repeat work with the same network of clients and so we benefit a lot from the quality of those relationships and the ability to continue to grow through those relationships.”
Providing superior product and value-added services are key to keeping those relationships strong. “We work with some of the biggest contractors in the U.S., and many of them value the quality of the deliverables,” Barlow notes. “We’re shortening schedules and we’re doing it very safely. And when clients are out looking for partners, they want to find these high-value opportunities where they’re getting a benefit that the general industry doesn’t offer, and I think that’s our sweet spot. We have a broad range of services in fabrication, steel erection, and wall systems, and that gives us an edge. We can do it safer and then deliver in an accelerated manner compared to what the industry might normally see. We’re also scaled up, so we can take very large projects and we can take reasonably small projects; we have a broad range of competencies in that regard. It’s really about the whole package that’s given us robust relationships and continues to give us those opportunities to keep growing.”
Barlow is keen to share that BZI’s suppliers and vendors are integral partners in keeping those opportunities for growth consistent. “Because we are innovative, a lot of times, we’re asking for something different or something more than the general industry is used to seeing,” he explains. “So, we’re operating outside of the status quo a lot. In order for us to deliver effectively, many times we have to build robust relationships with these supplier partners. And we think of them as partners and not just as a vendor or someone that isn’t significant. We feel that they’re part of our team and having suppliers that are willing to go the distance with you, to explore options, to sometimes do something that’s a little more customized for our demand, is extremely important.”
Two of BZI’s most important supplier partners are the Nucor Corporation, the country’s largest steel producer, and Hilti, a supplier of steel fastening solutions. “Nucor is a big supplier that touches many different product types that we work with and they’ve been a fantastic partner, working through engineering reviews and elements. They’ve made what we do very possible. Without a partner like that, it would be very difficult; they came in early in our relationship and demonstrated a willingness to go the distance with us and it’s been a great fit. And we have a great partnership with Hilti over many years, as well.”
More innovation to come
Going forward, Barlow says that he would like to see BZI continue to move from its traditional market segment, which was largely in the warehouse distribution space, and venture into more diversified areas, including food and beverage, retail, EV and battery manufacturing, data centers, microchip manufacturing, and E-commerce. “We’d like to be a quality partner to that client base; to build out our ‘core and shell’ offering where we can supply steel, put it in place, and clad the building out. There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity with these new product types and our goal is to be a player in that. We’d like to get into a position that through our innovation we actually shape how that rolls out in the future. That’s our aspiration.”
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AT A GLANCE
Building Zone Industries
WHAT: A steel erection and fabrication company
WHERE: Headquarters in Kanarraville, Utah