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Built on Family Values

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Cindy Adams-Amplo, President of J.C. Steel, sits behind her desk in a large but functional office. Next to her is her husband and the firm’s Vice President, Kristopher Amplo. Looking down on them from the wall behind is an impressively large portrait of the UBS Arena, a few months before its completion in the spring of 2021.

This, at least at the moment, is the project that they are both proudest of. And not just because of its size and prestige. Because when it officially opens in November of 2021, this will be the new home for the New York Islanders, the greatest ice hockey team on the planet. I am not myself an ice hockey fan, but Cindy assures me that anybody who knows anything about the sport will know that this is a categorical fact. And, as Cindy and her family have been monumental ice hockey fans for generations, I am happy to take her word for it.

Cindy is the daughter of Jim and Deborah Adams who are the husband and wife team who launched J.C. Steel some 44 years ago, back in 1977. Beginning with just three jobs, which they serviced using their one and only pick-up truck, today they have more than 100 full time employees, many of whom have been working at the company for over 20 years. And when you include the people they bring in to work on their various rolling projects, that number swells to an average of 200 employees.

JC Steel workers standing on steel beam

Ice hockey is not the only thing coursing through the family DNA. J.C. Steel was set up as a union-only construction company, and that ethos is very much the driving force powering the company forward. “Most of my relatives, on both sides of the family, were members of the Structural Steel Union”, Cindy says. “My mom and dad have been heavily involved in union activities for many, many years. And we are a hundred percent union operation. We don’t have any non-union workers, with the exception of our out of office staff.”

These days, the company has an annual turnover of around $65m. Which is a remarkable achievement given the challenges they were faced with, barely a decade ago, after the financial meltdown of 2008. Few sectors were affected quite so disastrously as the construction industry and the small number of businesses that manged to weather that storm did incredibly well just to survive. “There was a three or four year period where profit margins were very small to abysmal. Just to maintain the business and keep our employees employed during that time was very challenging.”

“J.C. Steel was set up as a union-only construction company, and that ethos is very much the driving force powering the company forward.”

It was at this point that the kinds of projects that they took on began to change. And the growth the company subsequently enjoyed was not just the result of hard work and careful planning. It was also a reflection of the larger projects that they were increasingly having to take on. “We were a medium sized company at that point, but we saw a drastic change as the private work completely dried up because developers stopped spending money. So, we had to make a decision as a company to move into the public sector a little bit more aggressively. That was how we were able to sustain any semblance of a business.”

At the same time, their determination to remain a strictly union only operation was another factor driving them to take on significantly larger projects. “In years past, the industry was heavily unionised, but over the course of the past two decades we’ve seen a large increase in the non-union factor in the New York area. And as the non-union side started to get more of the market-share, we were forced to grow as a company. Because the small to medium sized projects that we were accustomed to doing for decades were no longer available to us. We had to grow.”

All of which has meant that the company has seen average annual growth of more that fifteen percent over the last few years. As both the size of the firm, and of the projects that they take on has continued to increase. “Our average projects are in the $5-10m range. Just on the erection side, not on the overall construction side. I would say the average overall construction sum would be around $200m.” Because of course, J.C. Steel are just one part of the equation in any construction project.

The person or group who owns the site will partner up with a general contractor, and it will be up to them to appoint a series of sub-contractors to take responsibility for the various fit out and construction elements. One of which will be the steel needs. So, a steel fabricator will be appointed, and they in turn will sub-contract a company like J.C. Steel to erect the steel skeleton that the construction needs, in order for the project to be realised. They operate effectively then as a second-tier sub-contractor.

Given its size and scope, it is not surprising that they should be so proud to be part of the team responsible for putting up the UBS Arena. The $1 billion arena occupies 700,000 square feet and is part of a larger complex that will include a 340,000 square foot retail and hotel complex. And it is situated at Belmont Park in Nassau County, near the New York City borough of Queens.

Now that its construction has been completed, they can focus their attention on some of their other projects, some of which are every bit as impressive, and as complex, as the arena. “We are in the middle of a large project in Times Square in Manhattan, the TSX Broadway, which is a very large renovation project of an existing structure. And it will be the premier entertainment and retail complex in Times Square. We’ve been on that job for about 18 months and it’s now about a year away from completion. While our next major project is 141 Willoughby Street, which is a 24 story mixed use building in downtown Brooklyn. And we also have three New York public schools that are ongoing.”

On top of which, there is the infrastructure bill that the federal government is proposing which, assuming it gets through, is sure to lift the boats of everyone navigating the waters of the construction industry. All of which is certain to keep the members of the J.C. Steel extended family busy well into the foreseeable future. But it is reasonable to assume that the UBS Arena will continue to hold a special place in all of their hearts. After all, it is the home of the greatest ice hockey team on the planet. And that’s a fact.

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