PITTSFIELD — If Cianbro Corp. had stuck to its roots and only built roads, bridges and foundations for the past 65 years, chances are it would not be as successful as it is today.

But thanks to diversifying gradually into fabrication, fuel transmission and distribution, power generation, industrial manufacturing and offshore marine services, the Pittsfield-based firm has been able to add 375 jobs since August 2011, according to Northeast Region Vice-President and General Manager Charlie Cianchette.

“It’s a lot more fun hiring than it is to figure out who to let go,” Cianchette told the Somerset Economic Development Council at its monthly meeting Wednesday in Pittsfield.

Cianchette outlined some of the innovative projects Cianbro has under way as well as some future ones.

With more than 2,400 employees, Cianbro has a strong presence as far away as Maryland and Texas. Cianchette emphasized that every company job site has a significant number of Mainers on the payroll.

“One recent project in Maryland had 1,200 workers, and 400 were from Maine,” Cianchette said.

Closer to its home base, Cianbro’s most high-profile undertakings have been the modular unit construction at the former Eastern Fine Paper Co. site in Brewer and the Maine Power Reliability Project Central Loop, where workers are building or upgrading 230 miles of electrical transmission line in a partnership with Irby Construction Co., of Jackson, Miss.

The company also has 75 to 150 workers at the coating and fabrication shops in Baltimore and Pittsfield, human resources manager Destiny Demo said.

“There is a lot of work coming out of our Pittsfield shop that most people aren’t aware of,” Demo said. “For example, we paint Fisher snowplows and (Department of Transportation) trucks. It keeps a lot of good jobs locally.”

The first major modular units, which weighed 600 to 800 tons, went to Texas from Brewer via barge in the summer of 2009.

“Today, we’re building them for a company out of Newfoundland — I can’t reveal the name — for a nickel mining operation. It’s a plug-and-play electrical room that’s going to run equipment at the mines. So we’ve got 50 of these to build and put on a barge to be shipped up there,” Cianchette said. “We’ve got 200 workers in Brewer now, and we’ve had as many as 600.”

The power line construction is a new venture for Cianbro, but that the type of work is just a variation on skills the company already has, Cianchette said.

“We’ve always dug holes to put bridge fittings in, and now we’re digging holes to put up poles and frames for the transmission lines,” he said. “What the Maine Power Reliability Project is doing in this state is amazing. There will be $15 billion worth of upgrades in northern New England before this is over, and we’ll have 10 years’ worth of work because of it.”

Some of the transmission lines are 50 years old or more, and while demand and technology have increased, the aging lines haven’t kept up, Cianchette said.

The company also is looking at natural gas.

“I see natural gas as being a huge deal for Maine. It’s another option for a lot of things like home heating to electrical generation. They recently found a whole bunch of it (natural gas) in Pennsylvania, and that’s pretty close to us,” Cianchette said. “And we know the cost of heating oil is not going down.”

He said one problem would be the expense of burying gas lines in Maine’s rocky soil.

“One company, Summit from Colorado, says they would like to put natural gas lines all over the state; but I live in Hartland, and I doubt if they’ll run it up there,” he joked.

Richard Willett, CEO of Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan, said natural gas would be a huge economic boon to Somerset County industries.

“If Sappi and Madison Paper or New Balance can be more competitive by lowering their energy costs, it’s a win-win for everyone,” Willett said.

Cianchette said he agreed. “We’re going to be involved. I just can’t say how or when yet.”


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