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Builder looks to cold storage for steady work in a weak economy

December 5, 2009

Not many industries are able to grow at a time so many other sectors of the economy contract. But Mike Webster, co-owner and chief financial officer of Enterprise Electrical and Mechanical Co., a Fishers-based building contractor, believes he has found one.

With the acquisition of The Freije Co. in September, Webster plans to build more cold-storage facilities.

Cold storage, where supplies can be kept at specific temperatures, is essential for companies specializing in industrial and medical distribution, and someone has to build large facilities to serve such companies as Eli Lilly and Co. and Indianapolis Fruit Co.

Cold storage differs from regular refrigerated space in that it needs to meet colder and specific temperatures commercial refrigerant products cannot handle. Webster said this often includes using naturally processed ammonia refrigeration and specific temperature control.

Webster looked to cold storage after Enterprise’s revenue fell 14 percent in 2008. Taking on Freije gives Enterprise the ability to build the facilities and capitalize on what he believes is a recession-resistant business.

“I wanted to be prepared to capture the business,” he said. “We’re a company that looks for these types of niches.”

Interest in building cold storage facilities hasn’t been uncommon in recent years in both the Indianapolis area and the rest of the state.

“We are seeing a continued interest,” said Cinda Kelly, executive director of Hendricks County Economic Development Partnership. “We are a prime location for distribution because of our access to transportation, and those facilities are often being built here when they are being placed in Indiana.”

Kelly agreed keeping things cold is a business that doesn’t go away.

“Medical supplies and food are two things people cannot go without,” she said. “That’s an industry that hasn’t seen a slowdown.”

Doug Brown, plant manager at Indianapolis-based McFarling Foods Inc., said his company is looking to use more cold storage to cut costs.

“The margins are so tight now, you can’t afford to waste product,” Brown said. “It’s cheaper to buy a semi load of product and store it in cold storage. It seems like cold storage will continue to be a booming business.”

Tim Siddiq, chairman and CEO of Merchandise Multi-Temp Warehouse, an Indianapolis-based warehouse and distribution management company supplying cold storage, believes Indianapolis is especially qualified to attract the business.

Siddiq said, “We are centrally located. You can reach a large portion of the population within a day or a day and a half.”

In the last year, Siddiq said he had to convert 20,000 square feet of refrigerated space to freezer space to fill demand.

Webster expects Enterprise to double Freije’s 2008 revenue to $20 million.

Webster said the only setback in business is with pharmaceutical products. As Congress debates a new health care bill, Webster said some companies are hesitant to produce more drugs until they see the legislation’s outcome.•

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