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Woman-owned construction company sets new standards for safety and innovation

Brex Enterprises logo

Based in Irwin, PA, Brex Enterprises provides pipeline maintenance and services; earthwork and development; trucking and hauling; and right-of-way services. A family business with a history of generations of construction experience, it operates mainly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York.

Founded in 2012 as Brentzel Excavation, the company attributes its growth and success to building upon a solid foundation comprised of five essential components, says Alicia Brentzel, president and co-owner with husband Andrew (A.J.).

The company was begun when A.J. - who had been working for a family member doing excavation - decided to form his own excavation business. Slowly, the company moved into also doing pipeline work for the oil and gas industry. In 2014, Brentzel Excavation changed its name to DBA (Doing Business As): Brex Enterprises. ‘Br' for Brentzel and ‘ex' for excavation.

A.J.'s family construction history spans back four generations and touches upon most aspects of construction.  

At the beginning of 2019, Brex Enterprises earned a Women Business Enterprise (WBE)certification from the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). It is a private third-party that certifies women-owned businesses on behalf of U.S. corporations or WBE certification through city, county or state programs.

"The certification gives us another tool in our toolbox to use to go after certain government contracts that require a minimum participation level of spend with small businesses and diverse business enterprises," she explains.

One part of the company's foundation is safety, says Alicia Brentzel. "Our employees are the company's greatest asset and their health and safety is the company's number one priority. Our safety record is amazing and we attribute that to truly establishing the priority that safety is first. We do not make any sacrifices to safety, period."

All employees receive comprehensive annual training from company management on all aspects of work Brex Enterprises does. A company safety committee - made up of employees and managers - meet monthly to monitor and address issues. The committee also conducts on-site inspections at random.

There is a company-wide commitment to safety on an employee and management level, she adds. This is achieved through initial training and annual training thereafter. The company's safety training programs comply with all clients' requests and regulatory agencies, including the U.S. DOT and OSHA.

Being in the oil and gas industry there are already additional safety measures that we must comply with, Brentzel points out. That includes SafeLandUSA training - a standardized orientation training for workers in the U.S. Onshore and Gas Exploration & Production industries.

"Part of our bidding process is to conduct a preliminary safety analysis of the job to determine if we need to add more time and additional safety measures. Things that would add cost or time to a job is accounted for upfront.

Up to 2018, the company had no lost work claims. Since then there has been only minor incidents.

"Another part of our solid foundation is customer satisfaction, which we pride ourselves on," says Brentzel. "One of the things we do to measure customer satisfaction, aside from ongoing checks, is that is after every project we do surveys. These are typically sent to the site supervisor and essentially everyone we have worked with on that job. The survey is just a couple of questions to seek feedback. We ask things like: how was our performance, what could we improve on, do you want to call out anything that was positive or negative? This enables us to continuously monitor and improve the customer experience we provide."

Innovation is another foundation component. The development and application of ideas, improvements and technologies improves processes, productivity, profitability and safety, which, in turn drives company growth, Brentzel points out. By way of example, the company has created a custom attachment for its excavating machines that increase safety and productivity.

Brex Enterprises has some 40 employees. In addition to company meetings and emails, they are kept engaged and "in the loop" with goings-on in the company through a company newsletter which is mailed monthly to everyone. A feature of the newsletter is recognition of a Performer of the Month and a Safety Performer of the Month, chosen by the company's foremen and leadership staff.

The newsletter also discusses the status of current projects and upcoming projects so that all employees know what is going on within the company, regardless of their position.

Among the things Brex Enterprises does to attract and retain workers is employee development, notes Brentzel. "We pride ourselves on this."

Employees are periodically asked if they are happy in their position, if they want to learn new skills, what are their goals and where they want to be in a year or two. "We are always looking to improve on this and that way we know how to develop our employees so that there are happy and are meeting their own personal goals, as well as aligning those goals with the company's goals. This is helping to retain employees as a happier employee is more inclined to stay."

Among the questions asked of recent new hires are: What motivates you? Is it money, moving up the ranks, trying new jobs or using new technology? This information helps the company create a personalized development plan for each new hire.

"We are in an extremely competitive environment and can only do so much with monetary incentives," Brentzel explains. Instead, we want to motivate people with such things as acknowledging they are a valuable member of the company, recognizing their hard work and providing opportunities for improving their skill sets and for growth advancement within the company."

An employee who feels stagnant in their role is much more likely to get restless and look elsewhere for opportunities, she adds.  

Brex Enterprises also does not mind hiring employees who have little or no experience in the excavation and pipeline maintenance and services industries. By hiring someone who lacks industry experience, they can train them to our way of doing things, notes Brentzel.

"Employers typically do not want to hire inexperienced people and put the money up to train new people," she maintains. "As an industry, if we do not start doing that, we are going to have a serious problem because the labor shortage is very real. In 10 years from now, we are not going to have workers with experience and expertise in anything we do."

All new employees are paired up with an experienced worker to more quickly get them acclimated to the job and the company ways. New employees are moved around to different positions so they are able to perform different duties.

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