When owners need an electrical contractor to access some of Colorado’s most difficult mountain conditions, including access and transmission line work via a helicopter, not many companies clamor for the bid. Sturgeon Electric not only embraces the tricky factor but has also made a name for itself handling complexity—from mountain transmission and freeways to airports and data centers.
“The community sees Sturgeon as doing the very difficult work,” says Scott Greenhalge, senior vice president for the firm’s commercial and industrial division. “We get called [in] for the difficult stuff, and it is the reputation that those guys out in the field make for the rest of us.”
Sturgeon’s regional revenue grew to $486 million in 2021, up from $409 million in 2020. The growth surge is a result of the firm pushing its capabilities and embracing new technologies.
The 115-year-old company, with 1,800 employees working across multiple divisions, has three main units: the high-voltage transmission and distribution division, the commercial and industrial division and the transportation division. Having the different teams working in collaboration allows Sturgeon to tackle virtually any project. The teams share expertise in knowledge, manpower and equipment.
“We all support each other,” says Jim Bushnell, vice president of transportation for Sturgeon. “We are three separate business units, but we are united and overlap.”
The collaboration among its divisions allows Sturgeon to take on a growing list of unique projects, and each complex job begets new ones. Sturgeon completed an $8-million Denver International Airport runway project in 2021 on the heels of a concourse expansion and broke ground on the $20-million Schriever Space Force Base in Colorado Springs.
A $100-million Central Interstate 70 Corridor project for the Colorado Dept. of Transportation helped double its transportation division in the last four years.
Additional growth-oriented projects come from intensified work with Xcel Energy—from fire hardening deep in the mountains to the construction of more than 125 electrical vehicle charging stations at about 60 locations from 7-Eleven stores to schools—as well as with Swedish Hospital expansions and the Raghorn EPC Project for the Idaho National Laboratory.
Working at Denver International Airport required well-planned logistics to keep the airport operational during construction.
Photo courtesy of Sturgeon Electric
“We’ve had continuous growth even through some hard times,” Bushnell says. “Since 2012 we have had continuous growth. All through COVID we figured out a way to make it work.”
“We don’t have a lot of turnover,” adds Mark Sterkel, regional vice president for the contractor’s transmission and distribution division. “We have teams that keep building and mentoring and developing from our younger workforce. We have longevity and experience, and I think customers look at us and think about the quality and safety.”
Sterkel says the firm’s business units work together to make sure they can tackle a job safely and effectively. “If we don’t think we have the resources, whether manpower or equipment, we will pass on it,” he says.
“We have longevity and experience, and I think customers look at us and think about the quality and safety.”
—Jim Bushnell, Vice President of Transportation, Sturgeon Electric
The expanse of opportunities within the company, including the various apprenticeship programs, also helps Sturgeon attract and retain talent. Sterkel, Greenhalge and Bushnell all rose through the ranks as field craftsmen. Much of the Sturgeon leadership did the same, having learned on the job, even if that learning was in a division different from the one they work in now.
“Some of our leaders went through different apprenticeship programs and it opened up doors of opportunity to doing what they want to do now,” Sterkel says. “They wouldn’t know that if we didn’t have all these divisions.”
Bushnell says it makes the Sturgeon workforce more well-rounded and flexible, able to switch between jobs easily.
The U.S. 36 Managed Lanes Project added new express lanes and bus rapid transit lanes between Denver and Boulder and included tolling.
Sturgeon’s transportation growth includes partnering with Kraemer North America for more than 25 years, with $1 billion in successfully completed major infrastructure projects, says Timothy Maloney, Kraemer senior vice president. “I appreciate the attention to detail and the thorough approach to planning,” he says. “They focus on safety and quality, which is a core value of Kraemer’s and the reason for our success in this area.”
Maloney says Sturgeon is adept at taking plans that aren’t always clear and making them constructible, all while staying well ahead of scheduling work and material procurement. “They come to the weekly schedule meetings with solutions to keep work progressing and were actively working to ensure they were ready for tolling integration well before the integrators were on board,” he says about a recent Interstate 25 South Gap project.
Eric Kesti, special projects division manager for Turner Construction, says a recent concourse expansion at Denver International Airport and a Colorado Springs health care expansion are just two of their latest large-scale projects in more than two decades of partnering with Sturgeon.
He says a recent medical center project was 50% complete when they brought on Sturgeon. “This was a project with complex issues, and Sturgeon’s solution was to assess the project, provide resources where they were needed most for the benefit of the project and be completely transparent from a cost perspective,” he says.
“They continue to be a great partner for complex and challenging projects,” Kesti says.
Sturgeon Electric’s transportation division has evolved from focusing on small projects to large and complex ones.
Photo courtesy of Sturgeon Electric
Employee, Community Focused
While a storied company may be known for tradition, Sturgeon is the “furthest thing from traditional,” says Greenhalge. The adoption of technology—from onsite tablets tracking every step of a project to drones, 3D imaging and the use of VR applications—draws talent and gives the company a leading edge.
Bushnell says Sturgeon spares little expense to make sure crews have the best equipment, tools, information, manpower and materials. “We try to give them everything so they can be successful,” he says. “We have a lot of longevity in our groups and people see that and want to be a part of that.”
Jill Scott, engineer with the Colorado Dept. of Transportation, says she loves working with Sturgeon, as she has on multiple past projects and will again on a complex upgrade to tunneling equipment occurring this winter in the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel.
“I look forward to [working with] a company that is so organized in the tunnel, as we cannot have any mishaps in there,” she says. “I love their communication skills and high-quality workmanship. In these large projects we have weekly meetings, and they always have a look-ahead to see what might be a problem and [come up with] a solution before it becomes a problem. I really appreciate their willingness to go the extra mile, yet always bid appropriately so there are not a lot of change orders.”
The Rocky Mountain Regional Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Aurora, Colo., encompasses 1.5 million sq ft across 11 independent buildings, most six stories tall, all interconnected by a central concourse.
Sterkel says the contractor will continue to expand the electric vehicle market with Xcel. “We see that to be huge. When you look at the ways those work, there is a lot of amperage needed, not only to install the system but also to upgrade the distribution system to handle the load. We are poised and positioned to do that,” he says.
Sturgeon also expects plenty more work to come in health care and pharmaceuticals, data centers and mixed-use development markets and predicts that transmission infrastructure will expand greatly in the next five years.
To stay on top of current projects while planning ahead, Sturgeon is involved not only locally but also nationally as a leader in the industry to help build apprenticeship and training programs. “We are trying to reach out to these rural communities and get people interested in doing construction and getting involved in trades,” Sterkel says.
Sturgeon has also been an industry safety leader. The contractor worked through the Western Line chapter of NECA to assist in forming an OSHA recognized, accredited crane certification for the electrical industry. Any company or utility can use this certification throughout the U.S.
They also have worked with Milwaukee Tool to create custom products designed for safety in the electrical space.
Elsewhere in the community, Sturgeon contributes to initiatives that support health, youth, education and veterans. The firm donated $130,000 in 2021 to various charities in addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars in pro-bono electrical construction work and volunteer hours.