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Jamar celebrates 100
PHOTO: MIKE MCPARLAN
This month, Jamar reaches a centennial milestone. From modest beginnings, the company has grown into a diverse specialty contractor with employment numbers that could peak during this year’s spring maintenance season at 1,500.
Duluth-based Jamar, which also has offices in Green Bay and Escanaba plus a strong presence in Idaho and North Dakota, is a wholly owned subsidiary under the billion-dollar APi Group, a St. Paul-based private holding company that includes 40 fire protection, industrial and specialty construction companies in North America and the United Kingdom. Lee Anderson Sr. is owner and chairman of the APi Group, while Russell Becker is its CEO and president.
APi acquired Jamar in the mid-1980s, but its beginnings date to 1906, when Walker Jamar Sr. came to Duluth. According to information from the company: “He (Walker Jamar, Sr.) found work as a timekeeper at A.H. Kreager, a pipe-covering firm. Walker quickly honed his business skills and bought A.H. Kreager for $600 in 1911. Two years later, he renamed it the Walker Jamar Company.”
Today, the company’s specialty contract services have expanded to include industrial construction, plant maintenance, boiler repair and retrofit, specialty fabrication, plumbing and HVAC, architectural metal, roofing, thermal insulation, service and tools and an in-house tools and equipment department.
“There’s good interplay between our divisions,” said Jamar President Mike McParlan, who started with the company in 2001 and became its president in 2002.
Although the firm doesn’t disclose its full client list, McParlan said customers include large industrial concerns such as New Page, Verso, Sappi, Murphy Oil and some of the region’s mines. A majority of annual revenues are generated by the power, mining, pulp/paper and, to some extent, the petro-chemical industries.
“We’ve been involved (with all the major commercial projects) in one way or another,” said McParlan.
Changing industry requires dynamic workforce
Company executives credit some of Jamar’s success to a positive teamwork atmosphere. There are approximately 90 to 100 persons employed out of its Duluth headquarters on Colalillo Drive. Jamar employs engineers and skilled trades workers in the field, among others. But, when executives talk about the skills they need most, it’s all about attitude. Construction-based industries are rapidly changing, say executives, and a rapidly changing environment requires new skill sets.
“The most important skill (we look for) is someone who can work as a team,” said McParlan, noting the company even conducts team-based interviews for applicants. “For the right people, it’s a hugely exciting environment. The industry of the future will definitely require more collaboration.”
That team-based approach not only applies to the task at hand, but also the workplace environment.
Cindy Luoma, the company’s human resource manager and lean coordinator, said employees have organized internal events like back-to-the-eighties and Hawaiian luau days. Such events are initiated by employees, not management, and are the result of trying to infuse fun into the job.
“Here, you don’t have to go through six layers of management to get an okay,” she said.
Fun isn’t the only employment perk. Jamar employees also often have a stake in the company.
An estimated 30 to 40 percent of Jamar’s ownership is through an employee stock ownership plan, which has been in place since the mid-1980s. Giving employees a stake in the company has been a positive, said McParlan, noting that it’s been a “great retention tool.”
While the accomplishments of Jamar may be well known internally, the company plans to raise its own visibility as part of the centennial celebration. An April 16 ribbon cutting with the Duluth Chamber of Commerce is planned and on that same date, Enger Tower will be lit with orange – the company’s signature color.
Other efforts to raise visibility around the centennial include launching a Facebook page and a new web site. Jamar officially kicked off its centennial celebration on Jan. 5, bringing together employees from a number of locations. Tours of the Duluth facilities will be offered, and the company plans several other employee and customer events.
Some of the more public events may provide opportunity for a greater understanding of what the company is and what it does.
“Jamar’s been here 100 years, but a lot of people don’t know what we do,” Luoma said.
The events are not only meant to raise visibility but as gestures of appreciation.
“We’re very thankful for 100 years in Duluth,” McParlan said.Previous BusinessNorth Exclusives Articles:
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