US Builders Review                                                    

A.J. Allen Mechanical Contractors Inc.

82 years of steady family ownership
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
John Carioti

Few things stand the test of time quite like family ownership – four generations of such ties have kept A.J. Allen Mechanical Contractors Inc. (AJA) going strong and steady for 82 years. Based in Des Moines, Iowa, AJA dates back to 1932 when, Archie J. Allen and his brother Lester formed Allen Brother Plumbing and Heating Company.

The brothers originally focused their efforts in plumbing and heating as one of the first companies to do the original work at Camp Dodge, the now headquarters of the Iowa National Guard. By 1943, Archie landed another major project as a mechanical subcontractor at the Naval Air Station building in Ottumwa, Iowa.

Four generations and counting

By the 1940s Archie’s sons, Jack, Dick and Bill (William), entered the family business, allowing Archie to retire by the end of the decade. Archie’s sons, Jack, Dick and Bill, were responsible for bringing in business at major sites, including the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company, Monfort Packing Plant, Cargill, Swift Soybean Plant, Lucas State Office Building and Veterans Memorial Auditorium. The company become incorporated and adopted its current designation in 1970.

Over the years, AJA has carved a niche in the industrial and commercial sectors, but the company is also well-versed in hospital, manufacturing and school installations. The company provides everything from refrigeration to medical gas piping, air conditioning and plumbing to ventilation and underground utilities.

Now in its third generation of Allen family ownership, Mark Allen, current president of AJA, is proud to usher in the fourth generation of the family-owned and –operated company; Archie would be proud. According to Allen, the addition of this young talent, or new blood as he describes, is doing a great job building on what Archie started.

“We have expanded our service department quite a bit in the last couple of years,” reveals Allen. “HVAC and plumbing maintenance and service contracts are growing for AJA. We’ve changed some personnel and the new blood is doing a great job expanding the service department.”

AJA offers 24-hour services with plumbers, hydronic system pipefitters and refrigeration and HVAC technicians ready to go around the clock. “We’re now averaging about 65 to 75 in the field and 14 office staff members,” notes Allen.

Aside from commercial and industrial service work, AJA’s HVAC and refrigeration technicians are also involved in the final phases of new construction and renovation projects, performing final tests, checks and startup of equipment. “When future warranty work is needed, or equipment operational questions arise, we have a ready group of knowledgeable technicians that can respond efficiently because they have been involved in the original installation and overall function of the systems,” explains Allen.

Challenging environments

Over the last decade or more AJA has expanded its reputation in the state and federal government market, finishing the construction of the new transit hub for the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART). The project received a $10 million grant to help with construction of the hub that was designed to create new jobs, improve public transit and improve the experience for DART’s 15,000 daily riders.

“The hub is LEED-certified,” reports Allen. “It’s a classy looking center for the people who use public transit.” The project was a great boost to AJA’s business, but did not go without challenges. “Working downtown is tough because you’ve got no place to lay down materials,” he adds. Despite obstacles, the AJA team delivered successful completion on time and on budget.

Complete mechanical installation has also been underway at the expansion of the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women (ICIW), a project AJA started back in 2012. Part of the Iowa Department of Corrections, ICIW is a medium to minimum security prison that includes dorm-like living unites and celled-housing.

AJA has been involved in the construction of four new buildings. “It’s tough to work in there,” explains Allen. “When crews arrive at the facility, each employee has to be searched and the equipment inspected. Guards then escort the crew to the work site. If someone has to go back to the truck for more supplies, that person has to go through security each and every time.”

“It’s costly to do work in the high security areas because of the down time waiting for searches to be done,” he adds. The company has completed the first three of the four buildings in Mitchellville, Iowa, for ICIW.

Outside of the government arena, AJA continues ongoing contracts with big industry names, such as Bridgestone-Firestone Tire and process piping for Hormel Foods. “We’re also working on a mass expansion for Casey General Stores, a franchise that’s making its way through Iowa,” notes Allen. “We’re working on their corporate headquarters in Ankeny, Iowa, including a 50,000-square-foot freezer addition.”

“We’ve also been fortunate to land some variable speed refrigerant system projects, which are much more efficient in energy utilization,” adds Allen. “We’re ahead of the curve in this technology and fast becoming the local expert.”

Allen says expanding AJA’s technology, especially in 3-D modeling and design, will be the company’s focus as it builds on eight decades of business. “There have been some big changes for our project engineers and management, but it’s what we have to do to stay competitive,” he considers. “We’re fortunate to have a long-term crew of quality craftsmen that have been working for us forever. People know they’ll get the job done and that attracts repeat business.”

A trusted team, backed by four generations of family ownership, is why customers big and small have been calling on A.J. Allen Mechanical Contractors Inc. for 82 years.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Sheet Metal Engineering
The Waldinger Corp.