Burke Electric is an electrical contractor and subcontractor based out of Bellevue, Washington. It is a small family business, owned by Dominic Burke. “We are your heavy industrial electrical solution,” he explains. “We cover all facets of power generation, substations, wastewater, pumping plants, fish bypass systems, fish traps, and government contracts.”
From three hundred feet above the ground, Snoqualmie Falls – made famous by the cult TV show Twin Peaks – thunders down in endlessly cascading layers. Men and women are scattered around the base of the falls. Crews are working on the water, underwater, and underground transporting electrical cables, tools, and building supplies to a hydroelectric facility.
In a cavern below the falls is the world’s first underground powerhouse. Built in 1898, it was placed out-of-sight as to not be an eyesore to tourists. Burke Electric was contracted to install the new electrical efficiencies that led to an overall increase of ten megawatts. Incredibly, this was achieved without diverting any additional water from the river.
Burke Electric is an award-winning commercial and industrial electrical contractor with a wide range of expertise, from small commercial projects to highly complex industrial construction. What was once a small company based out of Bellevue, Washington, has since expanded into an effective national industry professional that still has a family-run atmosphere for clients, and care and safety for its staff.
“Securing the contract for the redevelopment of Snoqualmie Falls was a really big milestone for us,” says Dominic’s wife and Burke Electric Manager Tina Burke. “This is a historical site that drives tourism to the Pacific Northwest.”
The Snoqualmie Falls Hydroelectric Redevelopment Project was awarded for ‘Excellence in Constructed Project’ by the U.S. Society on Dams in 2014. Burke Electric worked with other companies and the local utility to make it a success.
“We believe that shared values in this industry are integral in the success of a project,” says Dominic, “and we strive to meet and exceed the expectations of those we work alongside.” With three generations of knowledge and participation on both state and national levels, Dominic is carrying a legacy that was built on a foundation of small business accessibility and family values.
Burke Electric’s values were woven into the company in the late fifties by Dominic’s grandfather Paul. Paul Burke was an electrician in the Navy and was wiring ships when he happened to visit a hydroelectric dam for the first time. His life was forever changed. In 1958, Paul founded Burke Electric. Paul’s son Randy Burke joined and managed it for over forty years.
Dominic Burke, who is now the sole owner, has been with the company for twenty years. Trained as a journeyman and foreman, Dominic is on the Washington State Electrical Board and also serves as Vice President of the Puget Sound Chapter National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), for which he was awarded the NECA President’s Award in 2017 for bringing “a fresh perspective to the industry and reflect[ing] the highest standards of NECA contractors.”
“We’re a small company, so you get direct access to management, including ownership,” says Dominic. Burke Electric has completed projects for Puget Sound Energy, Seattle City Light, Microsoft and Boeing, as well as number of water and wastewater treatment projects for municipalities such as King County. Projects vary in scale from a hundred-thousand to multi-million-dollar jobs.
One of its most recent collaborations with government and businesses was Seattle’s spaceship-like Denny Substation, dubbed “the coolest electrical substation ever,” by Slate Magazine. Burke Electric was a subcontractor on the project and aided with the transformers, switchgear, capacitor, and grounding banks.
The four-year project was completed in early 2019 and features a community center, interpretive exhibits, open space, and public art. The substation is also installed with solar power and a heat recovery system to provide all of the heating. The unique substation will power homes and technology giants like Amazon, Facebook, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The company is proud of its work in increasing electrical efficiency and working on sustainable projects. “Burke has created a path to sustainability through market specialization. This includes projects designed for renewable energy through new and existing technologies like solar, wind, and hydro,” says Dominic.
So how does Burke Electric become involved in so many interesting and prominent projects? “Our bandwidth to work on low voltage to high voltage on concurrent projects is key,” says Dominic. “We have heavy equipment; we have equipment operators; employees hold DOT certifications, apprentices, electricians, and linemen.”
“Over the past sixty years, Burke Electric has developed long-lasting relationships with bonding, banking, and insurance companies,” Dominic continues. “Our bonding and banking capacity gives general contractors and owners confidence in our abilities and allows us to bid on numerous projects.”
Burke Electric plans its jobs with a small crew of ten office staff. “This includes accounting, safety manager, shop and purchasing manager, project engineer, estimator, project manager, and office support staff,” says Tina. Burke Electric offers competitive wages, profit-sharing, and pays for health care coverage for its office staff.
“Then we have a core group of electricians in the field,” continues Tina, “maybe thirty-five to forty in the field, which is a mix of apprentices and electricians.” The numbers fluctuate depending on the workload, “and if we travel somewhere, we would typically send one of our foremen to a destination and call the local electricians out of the [union] hall.”
The field staff that work for Burke Electric are under union contract. “We are members of a variety of unions,” says Dominic. “We are able to travel and call electricians out of the hall of another union, like when we travel to places like South Dakota, Idaho, and Montana.”
“We have the ability to travel all over the world,” Tina adds. Burke Electric will obtain business licenses and work directly with local unionized labor wherever the project is located. “Maybe we call electricians out, and it will be a two-week stint on a project, so you kind of have to figure out how to make them feel like they’re still a part of the team”, explains Tina, “and I feel like our guys do a great job of doing that, especially when it comes to safety.”
Safety is of prime importance when working with industrial equipment and power sources, and something which Burke Electric takes very seriously. “Over the past five years, we have really dug in and revamped and solidified our safety program,” explains Tina.
“We have developed a safety culture within our small business that all employees have been active participants in,” explains Dominic. The company has both online training and quarterly safety meetings in which outside professionals come in to train foremen. Weekly meetings, safety checklists, and site-specific safety plans are all ways in which Burke Electric ensures the attention to safety is on everyone’s mind.
Burke Electric has been acknowledged for its high safety standards. “We have been acknowledged in 2015, 2016, and 2018 by the Puget Sound Chapter NECA’s safety awards,” says Tina. “We have been noticed for our zero injury years by NECA as well.”
“We have over sixty years of small business success,” says Dominic. “We are three generations of family-owned and operated business, with experience in government contracts and privately owned projects. This is very rare in our industry.”
It is in fact uncommon for companies to go past three generations; only fifty percent of companies do. “The dream is that a fourth generation would run the company and keep it a family business,” says Tina. “Our kids are five and seven, so Dominic is going to have to work for a while longer.”
For a few years, the office staff included all three generations of Burkes, and each one has brought a different energy to the company. “There has been change and growth in different ways during each family member’s tenure,” explains Tina, “from when Paul Burke opened the doors to Randy Burke running it by his side for forty years, and now it has transitioned fully into Dominic Burke’s hands. We are proud that we have survived and flourished and will continue to do so while honoring the past.”
“We value long-term success in production as it reflects in the relationships we build with general contractors and owners, as we continue to deliver the best possible pledge of excellence in workmanship for our customers,” says Dominic.
Tina agrees, “We are reliable and flexible as a subcontractor and general contractor. The experience of our field employees is unparalleled.”