Behind the List with James L. Craft
president of James Craft & Son Inc.
Q: How has your company evolved during its 112 years?
A: The company was founded in 1900 by Faros Craft, my great-grandfather. He was a blacksmith, table maker and carpenter in York Haven.
The biggest change came in the late '50s and early '60s when my grandfather and father made the decision to pick a specialty. Up until then, they were general contractors, but they felt if they were going to continue to grow, they had to pick one trade. They had more plumbing and heating than general construction work, so they decided to focus on that.
What does your company offer these days?
We focus on the mechanical systems involved in production and sanitation in commercial, industrial and institutional buildings — to make them functional inside. That includes HVAC, plumbing and sheet metal work, as well as mechanical contracting.
We have two locations — York Haven and Chambersburg — and we serve Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia.
What has changed in your industry?
I think the biggest trend we have seen is growth in preconstruction services. There's a lot more engineering and planning upfront that goes into a project than there was years ago. You are building the project on paper before doing it on-site, and that saves time and money.
We use a lot of off-site labor to ensure what we do on the job site is minimized because of the speed that things have to be built these days. We're doing things in months that in the past would have taken years.
Energy efficiency is a big thing now, and the types of materials we have to work with are greatly improved. Projects are not as labor intensive as they were years ago because of the technology of newer mechanical systems.
Is the training to work in this field different?
The days of the butt-crack plumber you think of are gone. Young professionals are coming up who are schooled in not only sanitary systems and potable water, but energy efficiency and safety.
Training is probably more critical now than ever before because of technology. Who would have thought 20 years ago that a plumber or sheet-metal mechanic would be working with computers and lasers?
What are you most proud of?
There are an awful lot of names in the greater Harrisburg, York and Lancaster market. I'm proud that we're able to continue to earn business and trust as the mechanical contractor of choice. We are a service organization, so whatever our customers need, we help them solve their problems. We're only as good as the last job we did.
What are some of the challenges your company or industry has been facing recently?
I think my biggest disappointment the last several years is that the construction industry has been so hot and cold. You can be so busy for months at a time, then things will cool off. It's not always a steady flow of work.
That's awful tough on your people and your workforce. Are we going to blame the economy, the region, the types of projects, or just accept that's how it is now and learn how to make the best of it?
What are some of your company's plans for the future?
I don't see us growing geographically, but we would like to find ways to offer more services to our existing customers and make others in our area more aware of what we do. Both of my children and my niece and nephew are now the fifth generation in the family to work for the company.
About James L. Craft
Time with the company: 37 years
Education: Elizabethtown College, licensed master plumber (worked in the trade since he was 15)
Professional involvement: Membership in Associated Builders & Contractors Inc., Mechanical Contractors Association of America, York County Regional Chamber of Commerce, Mid Atlantic Builders Exchange
Family: Wife Debbie; daughter Jessica Schlosberg, 30; son James P., 27.
Hobbies: Golf, land-development business interests
Little-known fact: He runs a coin-operated laundromat that has been in his family since the 1960s