In times of economic stress and strain, it’s good to know that some Union County businesses are intact and growing. Witness Johnson Electric, a homegrown success story if ever there was one.
the boss: Dave Lowry bought Johnson Electric 14 years ago, and built it into a successful business serving commercial, agricultural and residential accounts throughout the region. Observer photo/BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH
Recently the company, which provides family-wage jobs and benefits for nine people, moved into spanking new headquarters at 62234 Landmark Lane, off Pierce Road, near the Outdoors RV plant.
The 40-by-96 building, put up this summer, has plenty of room for offices, company vehicles and a huge inventory of electrical supplies.“We had all our equipment, but we’d run out of room to store it,” said owner Dave Lowry. “Business has been real good. We keep growing and keep working. The economy’s been slow on the residential end, but the commercial end is going good.”
Johnson Electric has been growing steadily since the day Lowry and his wife, Therese, bought it from Wade Johnson 14 years ago.
Then the business was located in a small, cramped shop in Cove, and Lowry, an electrician who had worked at the RY timber mill, handled calls all on his own.
But business, primarily from retail and farming customers, was good. Lowry hired a couple of people and moved the enterprise to new headquarters at Perry. He has been adding staff and inventory ever since.
Last year, it came time to move again. Work began on the new headquarters five months ago, and was completed Oct. 1.
“We just outgrew the Perry location. We got to where we needed more space,” Lowry said.
Duane Martin was the main contractor for the job. Lowry said the Union County Planning Commission was quite helpful as he planned and made his move.
“They were eager to see me build this,” he said.
Johnson Electric sees to the electrical needs of a host of local businesses, including Albertson’s, Safeway and Wal-Mart, numerous restaurants and pizza parlors, and plenty more. At present, the company is gearing up to do the electrical work for the new Apple Eyecare building near Wal-Mart. Johnson Electric also does extensive work for La Grande-based Summit Construction.
But business isn’t confined to Union County. The territory extends into Wallowa County in the north, to Ontario in the east, to The Dalles in the west, and beyond. The company is licensed in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
A couple of years ago, Johnson Electric installed the electrical system for the Aaron’s store on Adams Avenue in La Grande. That was an example of a job that led to more work, out of town.
“He liked us so much, he asked us to do his new store in The Dalles,” Lowry said.
Though commercial accounts remain the bread-and-butter, Lowry and his crew handle many other kinds of jobs, including residential. His workers are even trained to install computer networks in homes and businesses.
“We’re not stuck in any one thing. We’re pretty versatile,” Lowry said, noting that all his workers are certified in phone and data system installation and maintenance. They keep up on the latest in lighting and security systems as well.
A key to maintaining versatility, Lowry said, is making sure the employees are well trained. Through the years, it’s always been his policy to send his workers to school as needed.
“I try to give them all the schooling and knowledge that they need,” he said. “I’ve always believed that if you don’t know how to do a thing, you don’t try and bluff your way through it. You get the training.”
Having a close-knit, knowledgeable staff is one thing that has helped keep the company healthy. Another is a pledge to integrity, Lowry said.
“The price I tell you is the price that it is,” Lowry said. “I don’t go over, and that truth is what has made the business grow.”