Based in Eau Claire, Wis., Market & Johnson Inc. offers construction management, general contracting and design/build services to a broad range of markets, including healthcare, educational, industrial manufacturing, food processing and frac sand. Founders Juel Market and Milt Johnson started the company in 1948.
The two previously worked at Walker Bros. Construction and built homes in the Eau Claire area. When Market and Johnson set out on their own, they initially built homes. But they changed their focus to the commercial market when they built the high school in Altoona, Wis., in 1952.
Market & Johnson now is known as the highest-quality contractor in western Wisconsin, and the fifth-biggest construction firm in the state. “We pride ourselves in providing the highest-quality construction services in the industry while still maintaining the high ethical standards that the Market family instilled in all of us,” Vice President Jason Plante says.
Approximately half of Market & Johnson’s work consists of projects for the frac sand market, Plante says. The company offers turnkey services for its clients and can assist by providing leadership from property procurement and permitting to engineering and plant design. “The planning phase services we offer in combination with our strong construction management skills provide a winning combination,” Plante says.
Market & Johnson entered the frac sand market when it took on work for Hi-Crush Partners LP, a monocrystalline producer and supplier based in Houston. Through that project, “We built some strong partnerships and alliances, formed a turnkey design/construction team that has extraordinary sand experience and it blossomed from there,” Plante recalls.
Today, Market & Johnson brings a sophisticated system to sand projects, he says. “The overall construction management service is something unique to the industry,” he says. “Our ability to manage subcontractors, develop aggressive schedules and meet them along with our unique buying power on equipment provides our team a tremendous competitive advantage.”
Market & Johnson’s labor skillset also sets it apart, Plante says. “When you think about frac sand plants, there’s a significant amount of equipment, steel and concrete,” he says. “We can go in and do all the concrete, steel and equipment setting with our own professionals, eliminating a layer of subcontractors. That gives us a tremendous competitive advantage.”
Some general contractors have to subcontract out work when serving the frac sand market, but Market & Johnson Inc. does not, Plante says. “Labor is such a big component of this type of construction,” he declares. “When you control the labor, you can control the speed, quality and costs, and that’s a big advantage.”
Coping With the Boom
The frac sand market is booming in Wisconsin, Plante says. “There’s such a demand to get projects permitted, up and done,” he says. “The biggest challenge is how quickly can you get them done.
“That puts a big strain on equipment suppliers,” he says, noting that equipment lead times have increased and that is putting a large burden on project schedules. Other challenges that the industry faces include the unique demands that winter in the Midwest puts on the operations of the plants and the time frame in which they can operate. “We have been working with some of our clients to develop unique solutions to maximize the plant’s operational season,” Plante explains.
Working Out Well
Market & Johnson’s current projects include more than eight dry processing plants, six wet plants, four transload facilities and numerous plant renovations. The Northern Frac Proppants (NFP) processing facility in Alma Center, Wis., is a good example of the contractor’s ability to collaborate. “Our team worked closely with the NFP leadership team to balance construction cost with operational costs and developed a very efficient plant,” Plante says.
Not only does Market & Johnson worked closely with its clients, but also with EnDeCo Engineers Inc., an engineering firm based in Marshall, Texas. With EnDeCo’s insight, “Our designs of the plants are more efficient and less costly to build,” he says. “Our design really looks into the upkeep, maintenance, utility and staffing costs for the operators and incorporates all their needs into the design.”
Although some contractors would simply offer up a design, “Our process provides an effective maintenance layout that a lot of these plants lack,” he says. “EnDeCo has a lot of expertise. Their plant designs are as efficient as can be.”
Brains of the Operation
Plante has been with Market & Johnson for 15 years and credits its staff and family environment for its success. “Our employees are really what makes Market & Johnson different,” he says, noting that this is demonstrated in the field by its projects.
Among its key members are project managers Patrick Sullivan and Mike Shea, who oversee the company’s material handling and industrial sand division. “Those guys are really the brains of the group as far as the design and the building of the plants,” Plante says. “Our strategic alliances with EnDeCo Engineers and equipment procurement professionals are also important but the most important attribute is our ability to work as a team to solve client’s problems.”
Market & Johnson plans to expand nationally, Plante says. “We’ve basically gone from the frac sand leader in Wisconsin and Minnesota to clients asking us to travel with them,” he says.
“We’re going out to do a lot of trans load facilities,” he says. “There are also some dry plant opportunities in Texas and Arkansas. The opportunities are endless.”
Plante adds that the company also wants to build on its reputation with clients, including NFP, Superior Silica, TerraCor and others. “We’re expanding our services within those client bases,” he says.