Great River Industries
People, safety, execution
Business View Magazine interviews Adam Bourgeois, VP of Sales at Great River Industries, for our focus on Manufacturing in the Steel Tank Industry.
Located at mile marker 360 on the Mississippi River, Great River Industries (GRI) is a recognized leader in specialized manufacturing, fabrication, and construction services in the Gulf coast region, Texas, and across the United States. Thanks to its strategic site on a deep water channel, GRI has access to any port across the globe. The number 360 represents more than a geographical reference point; it’s part of this innovative company’s 360° Solution used to approach every project. As a comprehensive, single-source provider, with ASME engineering expertise and state-of-the-art techniques, GRI ensures all work is completed on time and on budget, meeting the highest-quality standards. From a company culture standpoint, GRI embodies the priorities in its motto “People. Safety. Execution.”
Great River Industries is a fully-integrated and qualified field construction company with capabilities ranging from building new API-650 storage tanks, to repairing tanks to API-653, to specialty plant maintenance, ASME/API code shop-built tanks and vessels, ASME pipe fabrication and installation, and 24-HR Emergency maintenance. According to Adam Bourgeois, VP of Sales at GRI, “The company was founded Jan. 1, 2014. GRI’s owners wanted to get into the Gulf coast region, so they came down to Natchez, Mississippi, bought a company and its facility, and renamed it Great River Industries in 2014.”
The company’s head office and shop is in Natchez, with another construction office in Gonzales, Louisiana, and an office in Sugarland, Texas that handles most of the engineering, in-house. Employee numbers vary from 200 to 300, depending on the workload, which is spread out among private entities in many industry sectors – oil and gas, petrochemicals, power and process, water and wastewater, pulp and paper, food and beverage. The projects are very large scale with different degrees of complexity. Nothing is handed out on a stainless steel platter; GRI has to submit bids, turn in proposals, and go through contract negotiations, along with many other firms. Then, if their price is accepted, they sign the contracts. While they are licensed to work in all the states, except Washington and California, the majority of jobs are along the Gulf coast and up the east coast.
It’s a highly-competitive industry, however, as Bourgeois reports, “We separate ourselves by being very safe. We have a TRIR (Total Recordable Incident Rate) of zero over the last three years. And, we do what we say we’re going to do. We’re able to adapt to the customers’ needs quickly. Our quality is above and beyond the low cost environment that we’re working in. We work hard on developing and keeping relationships. We would love to win every time, but we don’t. There’s stiff competition out there, but the jobs we do we set us apart.” At Great River Industries, safety on the job site and in the shop is a huge part of the culture. That commitment is honored through a Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) program, the use of Human Performance Improvement (HPI) tools, and employee training requirements that exceed industry standards.
GRI is one of the largest employers in the Natchez area, even though about 150 of their workers never come to the office; they’re always out in the field, going from job to job. One of the biggest challenges is finding skilled labor that can meet the company’s quality, safety, and performance needs. In that regard, GRI works closely with the Bert S. Turner Department of Construction Management at Louisiana State University, as well as local trade schools in the Natchez area and Baton Rouge. Also, as a member of ABC (Associated Builders and Contractors), they have access to a wealth of that association’s training programs and technical college programs.
Bourgeois notes, “Every one of our customers is valuable. The way we do business is we want to be a lasting partner with customers, not just go in and do one job and leave. About 80 percent of our work is repeat business. And about 20 percent per year is new business. So, we like to develop those relationships based on doing good quality, safe work and being a partner our customers can depend on. We have very qualified people, in-house, that do safety training, engineering training, welding training – from top to bottom, training is one of our strongest assets. That’s how we’re able to maintain and keep the workforce we have; training them to be the best they can be.”
A $2 million expansion in 2018 made impressive upgrades to the Natchez hub. Improvements include: all new LED lighting in the facility; a separate shop for stainless and carbon; a new state-of-the-art cutting and plasma table; and new head pressing equipment using the latest technology. As far as robotics, much of the welding in the shop is sub-arc and automatic. These days, robotic welding is the standard throughout the industry if you want to be competitive. The GRI Natchez complex now incorporates 100,000 sq. ft. under roof, with a 15,000-sq.-ft., outdoor concrete, work pad, a 6,000-sq.-ft. enclosed, climate-and-dust-controlled coating facility, and over 100 acres of outdoor assembly space.
“We definitely have room to expand,” says Bourgeois. “We also have unobstructed access to the Natchez-Adams County Port, and a pedestal crane on the Natchez-Adams dock that’s owned by GRI. The big components of fabrication, we can ship anywhere in the world through that access to the Mississippi River. In addition, maintenance and repair is one of the largest divisions of our group. It allows us to be a one-stop-shop for our customers, but we also do those services for people we don’t build equipment for. Depending on what the scope of the project is. If you have a piece of equipment go down that’s in our expertise to repair, we can respond within 24 hours.”
A good deal of business arises from word-of-mouth advertising, but the GRI team also spends countless hours in business development meetings and lunches, doing presentations day in and day out around the country. “Our sales team is very large,” says Bourgeois. “We go to a lot of industry events and belong to many associations. Plus, we post daily updates on our projects, our people, and the business on our Facebook page. Social media is definitely a growth opportunity for us. Peak Media out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana manages our social channels – they are a valuable group because they know our industry. Not only do they do a great job at marketing, but they understand the content. So, it’s a seamless transition – when I give them basic general information and a photo, they can put it together well.”
GRI’s number one priority for the future is to keep growing. Bourgeois confirms, “We want to be a $250 million per year company within the next five years, with offices all throughout the Gulf coast and up the east coast. The idea is to expand and take over more market control. We’ve grown from a $30 million per year company in 2016 to $100 million, now. The primary reasons for that are the growth of our sales teams, and we’ve hired high-level management to develop our divisions; the procedures, the processes that go on when we execute the work. Sales and execution go hand in hand.”
Technically speaking, GRI is an industrial mechanical contractor that specializes in ASME pressure vessels and API tanks, among a multitude of other construction, maintenance, and EPC services. But at its very core is a culture of caring. As Bourgeois shares, “We care about our people. “People. Safety. Execution” is our new motto. We want to make sure our people know they are important. Every manager in our company goes to meeting after meeting on how to present what we’re doing as a business to our people, so they feel comfortable and know they have a long-standing future with us. And we’re always looking for more people to join our team.”
A final word from GRI President, Kenny Lawson, sums it up: “The most important statistic for our company is that every single person working with Great River Industries goes home safe at the end of the day, back to their families. Nothing else we do is more important. We owe it to the families who send our people to work every day, expecting them to come home safe.”
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AT A GLANCE
Who: Great River Industries
What: Steel fabrication, construction, and maintenance company
Where: Natchez, Mississippi