The Landscape of Architecture

MG McGrath
Written by Mark Golombek

MG McGrath fabricates and installs architectural surfaces on some of the most distinctive new industrial and commercial buildings. Its unique exteriors and architectural sheet metal can be seen on some of the most recognizable buildings in the Twin Cities. Business in Focus spoke with MG McGrath President Mike P. McGrath of this Maplewood, Minnesota-based company.
Mike says that MG McGrath has been fortunate to be involved in “dynamic designs of buildings that become iconic for an organization or city.” Its 100,000 square foot office and production facility in Maplewood contains everything necessary to fabricate the sheet metal and glass needs of any project with quality craftsmanship.

One of the new projects on which MG McGrath is working is the $27 million exterior of the new U.S. Bank Stadium, which is not only the biggest contract in the company’s history but at $1 billion, is one of the largest construction projects that the state has ever seen. The construction of the new home of the Minnesota Vikings is seeing the company install VM Zinc interlocking metal paneling and framing as well as the metalwork throughout the concession stands, bars, concourses and locker rooms.

The Mall of America added a nine-storey office tower, a Marriott hotel and new retail and restaurant space. MG McGrath installed interior and exterior wall panels and column covers for the expansion. “It appears to be a freshening up of the brand, and they are doing some higher-end sections to attract higher-end tenants. It encompasses all of those things that are important in a retail environment.”

The company also just worked on a world-class research facility for 3M which is also a real showpiece of its talents. The $150 million facility provides space for roughly seven hundred 3M researchers.

Florida Polytechnic University’s Innovation, Science and Technology Building won ENR’s Global Best Projects in three categories including best overall project, in no small part due to the contributions of MG McGrath. MG McGrath furnished and installed the building’s arched aluminum pergola that encircles the building’s terrace walkway to frame and enclose the terrace walkway in a visual way, the Operable Louver Arms, the elliptical skylight and the aluminum fascias.

“We got this recognition because our most valuable asset is our team members. It is, by far, what sets us apart. I am so fortunate to have a great group of people all working together and really pulling in the same direction. It’s a good collaboration, and the people we work with really seem to like this approach.”

Due to its reputation in the industry, MG McGrath receives much repeat business. At the University of Minnesota, it has delivered consistently on more than thirty-five projects.

Mike McGrath has been running the company for about nine years. His father started the firm in 1985, and it has now grown to require a 100,000 square foot production facility that designs, engineers and creates custom structures, systems, finishes, wall panel systems of metal plate, composites and other materials. Further growth is likely as business picks up.

Many construction projects that were shelved around the time that the recession hit are now being built. The company is seeing the effect of this postponed building activity and should continue to do so over the next two years or so.

“I don’t see us slipping into another recession. Things will probably level out and plateau. I don’t know if it is going to impact us one way or another. For us, we try to do the best job we can at just managing our own work.”

One challenging aspect of the business is the shortage of skilled labor which puts the company into a difficult situation since projects are getting shorter schedules. There is a great deal of pressure to meet those tighter time frames and more resources are needed. However, Mike says there are more pressing matters than that.

“An equal or even bigger challenge is the work for hire laws. Most projects that we work on typically come with some pretty ambitious or high minority workforce goals. If you add up all the projects going on at any given time in a given city, we are finding it very difficult to find those percentages of minority craft workers and have them all readily available at the same time.”

Unfortunately, the pool of qualified workers in Minnesota is not quite adequate for the needs of the industry, although that has improved slightly over the past year. In taking on people that are not highly skilled or trained, MG McGrath is forced to perform in-house training, which can make it difficult to keep project deadlines. The company has had to get out of state workers over the last six months. Thankfully, being a union contractor means it can rely on the union to put out calls to other states for labor to come to Minnesota.

MG McGrath is a member of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) which brings several benefits. The construction industry association is an asset at the state legislative level as it represents the industry in backing relevant initiatives. “They are very good with future state funding, different contract languages, ongoing education. They offer [supervisory training program] classes for superintendents and project managers, along with craft workers and safety professionals.”

These courses keep MG McGrath apprised of any industry changes whether with OSHA or industry trends or training for estimators. The agency does quite a bit to help.

“Like anything in life, it really depends on how much you utilize any given resources that are available to you, and the more we learn about AGC and people are more deeply involved in AGC, we will continue to learn about other added benefits that are there which we were perhaps not capitalizing on.” Mike is currently a member of the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) on the local board and part of the council geared towards younger construction professionals.

The council provides networking opportunities to talk about what trends professionals see in the industry and what is effective. Mike is becoming more involved in the AGC board meetings as a non-voting member. “Maybe we’ll have an influence on some of the bigger things the AGC is working on at the state level.”

MG McGrath has had a big year and will continue to focus on maintaining quality work and the culture of excellence it has developed while improving efficiency and bringing in new equipment. McGrath says that 2016 will bring with it more “neat new things” as custom software applications are currently being built in-house to perform 3D modeling and digitally defined fabrication.

“At our core, we believe in treating people the right way. We firmly believe in our culture and reputation. We expect the best of our people, and this will keep us busy and continuing to grow, evolve and become a better company.”



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