By Shannon Furniss
“A lot of people who work at the company are very talented and could live anywhere, but they choose to live in Montana because the quality of people and the quality of life.” – Jeff Southworth, president of Allied Steel
From the shop in rural Lewistown, Allied Steel workers are busily manufacturing structural steel for malls, schools, hospitals, sports arenas, power plants, and other buildings in places as far away as Alaska or Hawaii.
The fact that Allied Steel is located in a small town in Montana away from big city-centers, is irrelevant to clients, according to Allied Steel’s president, Jeff Southworth, whose company does business all over the U.S. “The clients don’t feel like we’re remote,” he said. “Most places we work are very remote. We’re a long way from any job.”
Lewistown has always been home for Allied Steel’s president, Jeff Southworth. His father, Jim Southworth, started Allied Steel about 40 years ago, and Jeff has been working there for the past 16 years. In that time he has seen the business grow from a “nice little company with great vision” to something that is 40 times bigger, he said. Allied Steel has projects going on throughout the U.S. and takes on “anything that needs structural steel work,” from malls to movie theaters. The company employs 190 people – 90 in its Lewistown shop and 100 in different locations in-state and out-of-state.
The project that “put Allied Steel on the map” was the the Stillwater mine expansion in the late 90s, said Southworth, adding that from that point on, the company has experienced high growth rates. Right now, the company has 20 active jobs, which involve 11,343 tons of structural steel and a total of 193,640 shop hours. This year, the company’s president says he expects around 1,000 semi-trucks to carry full loads of product to different jobs.
Technology has helped propel Allied Steel from a small shop to a major operation. From bidding jobs to fabricating the steel and delivering the product, the process is complex, said Southworth. Sophisticated software and high-tech equipment help Allied Steel with the process.
When bidding on a job, many issues have to be considered, he said. “Every piece of steel in the building has to be detailed individually. We have to break down a building. Every piece is an individualized piece. Everything is customized.”
Then, Allied Steel works with team members and clients via email and GoToMeeting software to figure out potential bugs in a project, Southworth said. “We get the building correct, and then we zone it so that it can be erectible. We buy all the raw steel, we bring it here, we cut it, we shape it, we weld to it, we put the holes in it, we do everything. It goes out the door and is loaded into trucks in erectible sequence. What we deliver has to be the exact right piece, and it has to be delivered on the exact right day.”
Some of Southworth’s favorite jobs are in remote areas under challenging circumstances. “Your company has to be very good to perform or shine when jobs are off the beaten path,” he said. To do a job in somewhere like Nome, Alaska – with a subartic climate – a company has to keep in mind when the last barge of the year is scheduled. “If you don’t hit it, you’ll shut down the job for a full construction cycle. That’s pretty daunting. Everything has to work.”
Hard work and good people with a strong work ethic have helped make Allied Steel what it is today, said Southworth. “A lot of people who work at the company are very talented and could live anywhere, but they choose to live in Montana because the quality of people and the quality of life.”
“Once a Montanan, always a Montanan,” he said.
Photo caption: Allied Steel fabrication shop, Lewistown, Mont.
This article is part four of a four-part series on the Lewistown manufacturing cluster. Read part one: Central Montana’s Vibrant Manufacturing Center Reaches Global Markets, part two: Spika Welding and Manufacturing: From Helicopters to Aerospace and part three: Century Companies: From Asphalt to Airstrips.
About the Author: Shannon Furniss is a Missoula-area journalist and communications specialist. Ms. Furniss is currently the communications director at the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research and the editor of the Montana Business Quarterly. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Montana.