Alan Jones, Business Manager
Protecting the Jacksonville Water Supply
Protecting the Jacksonville Water Supply: Cogburn Bros. Inc.
Cogburn Bros. Inc. is known throughout the Southeast as the proven experts in industrial pump and tank, the heavy-duty construction that powers and protects Jacksonville's precious water supply.
The brothers, Ronnie, Larry, and Doug, are recognized within the IBEW as the former apprentices who started from scratch and built a family electrical firm from the ground-up. Since 1977, Cogburn Bros. has specialized in the construction and management of waste-water treatment equipment and plants; now, their focus shifts to environmental upgrades and improvements of these facilities.
They're the good guys in a “tough, ultra-competitive business,” according to Mike Gibbons, a long-time IBEW member, and Cogburn employee. Gibbons works to identify new areas of growth and opportunity for the firm, articulating benefits for potential customers.
Now employed as Cogburn's in-house estimator, Gibbon's job is to identify the cost-savings achieved when working with Cogburn Bros. Beyond the typically-requested “sharpening of the pencil,” Gibbons says employing a superior-trained workforce is what makes the firm more competitive on bids.
Having worked as an electrician for both affiliated and non-affiliated electrical shops, Gibbons says “as a worker, it's no contest.” While the non-affiliated shops provide a “semblance of training,” the “emphasis here is completely different,” he says, citing the IBEW's insistence on rigorous professional qualifications and certifications for its electricians. 1
Cogburn's impressive resume of Fortune 500 type clients insists upon the exact training and certifications that IBEW/NJATC trained electricians are equipped with, in order to power and maintain waste-water pumps and other sophisticated pneumatic machinery. For a firm like Cogburn, guaranteed access to electricians trained in the company's specialty allows estimators like Gibbons to know the firm will deliver, on every project. By doing so consistently, Cogburn leverages its eagerly sought expertise in a “niche market,” establishing a solid reputation and a business model that endures.
For these customers, says Gibbons, working with Cogburn means quicker job turnaround, with less uncertainty, a clear recipe for more project wins. And like other IBEW-affiliated firms, reducing the risk of accident and worker injury is paramount. Gibbons points to the Owens-Corning plant in Savannah where the firm's safety record was instrumental in securing the work.
The focus on safety, emphasized by both the company and the IBEW-NECA training program says Gibbons, can result in customer value and gains in lower insurance premiums and worker compensation rates as well.
Success has bred more success. A recent acquisition of a “control-design firm” is expected to create added value for its customers, says Gibbons, as previously outsourced functions are taken in-house. Additionally, Cogburn's has expanded to include a mechanical division that now employs licensed and certified plumbers, in addition to the firm's 200 or so electricians. Being able to provide all essential services helps reduce overall project management costs and provides an “all in one” type shop for wastewater and water treatment customers in Jacksonville.
To Harper, Cogburn Bros. set the example as to what's possible when an electrical firm “gets the big picture,” and employs highly trained electricians who master not only the wires and connections but also understand the client's industry and business - leading to better results all around.
A Profound Sense of Community
For his fellow workers, Gibbons believes that affiliation with the IBEW provides another, more intangible but no less significant benefit: a profound sense of community.
“I traveled a lot, through-out the Northeast, across the country,” Gibbons reflects during a recent interview, “just the sense of knowing you're not alone, when you're on the road like that..that this brotherhood is there for you, no matter where you go, and you're going to be welcome...that was huge for me.”
Indeed, as Gibbons and Harper discuss opportunities for electrical and pump/tank work in Jacksonville, the talk moves back and forth between business and the human impact the IBEW plays in its members' lives.
Beyond his own experience, Gibbons notes IBEW 177's recent assistance to a member enduring a family medical crisis. In this instance, Harper and the IBEW 177 office team worked long hours to help navigate the tedious and stressful layers of healthcare bureaucracy to ensure that the member's daughter's chronic medical condition would be addressed. (link)
Gibbons believes that the firms affiliated with the IBEW, due to their own common history, share this sense of community. “If the company was started by a member, they want to help. I'm not sure you get that from every employer.”
Protecting the Jacksonville Watershed
In addition to serving Jacksonville's business community, Cogburn's wastewater expertise is now part of a major environmental initiative, backed by both Florida and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Part of Cogburn's mission these days is to assist with Jacksonville's recovery from industry techniques of a bygone era, such as those employed by paper mills.
The resulting environmental crisis must now be dealt with, in order to restore and preserve the critical Jacksonville watershed. Protection of this area falls, in part, to the team of electricians at Cogburn Brothers who must work to protect and preserve the neighboring creeks and tributaries, and ultimately, the St. John's River basin. Through its electrical and mechanical work and teaming with other community partners, such as the JEA, Cogburn Bros. is playing a key, contributing role in the remodeled distribution and protection of Jacksonville's water supply..
Of the many tributaries that flow into, and impact, the quality, and health of the Lower St. John's River, Rice Creek has been prioritized for clean-up by both the state and Federal Government.
Waste-water runoff from nearby mills here created a situation where water in the ground must now be pumped out, cleaned, and re-routed so that it is ultimately safe to the community. To accomplish this, Cogburn is employing new tools and new approaches to an age-old challenge: preventing toxic industrial wastewater from contaminating the ground and surrounding area.
Working with its clients like Georgia-Pacific, Cogburn is revitalizing the various pumping tanks, stations, and systems responsible for cleaning up the Creek and mitigating decades of industrial and environmental impacts. The latest solution calls for a pipeline to be constructed and run from the Palatka Paper Mill, traveling approximately 25 miles or so to the St. John's River, where any toxins associated with wastewater will be diluted by the much larger river - so the theory goes.
The clean-up process is not without controversy; the industry is often cast as the villain in the story of America's early industrialization and growth. Yet, whatever decisions are reached on a community level, Cogburn Bros.' electricians' must ensure that the most advanced environmental tools and solutions are effectively deployed, producing the desired results, and ensuring the health of both the watershed and its residents. Part of the role of IBEW affiliated-firms like Cogburn Bros. is to ensure that, moving forward, the industry's large players adopt and use the most technologically-advanced and environmentally-sound solutions for their energy and wastewater management and infrastructure.
Adoption of such standards, will not only improve those companies' community standing but also benefit their bottom-line, by reducing the risk of costly clean-ups and lawsuits, as well as the loss of revenues through bad publicity. At the same time, the opportunity exists in cleaner power and energy projects whose pace will only quicken. Companies like Cogburn Bros. and their clients, who perceive the value and act on this momentum will not only thrive, they will endure.
As Jacksonville's infrastructure transforms itself, environmental, political, and legal issues are likely to converge and will need to be resolved. As always, “old ways” gradually give way to newer processes, thought to be more environmentally sound, and, in the longer run, more cost-effective. As cleaner power sources and transformed industrial processes emerge, a new generation of Cogburn Bros. will keep the gears running to protect and preserve the water supply in Jacksonville.
Companies and Municipalities Seeking advanced ground-water piping, pumping, and protection work, as well as environmental upgrades, are encouraged to contact the Cogburn Bros. directly.
1(Note: According to IBEW 177 Business Manager Russell Harper, new programs are in place to recognize and incorporate, electrical training received from non-affiliated Florida electrical firms. The CW/CE Certification, for one, allows the IBEW to help Florida and Jacksonville electricians bring their skills immediately to affiliated contractors - while being able to earn higher wages and further advance their safety and electrical training.)