Growing infrastructure means business for the E. Helena company
EAST HELENA – The influx of federal stimulus funds has prompted many local governments in Montana to seek to modernize their water and sanitation systems. For companies like MET Automation and Controls, this could bring both benefits and challenges.
“As a small business, it’s always good news to have activity, to have plans,” said owner Dennis Burgard.
Burgard started MET in Anaconda in 1996. He moved the business to Helena in 2001 and then to its current location in East Helena in 2017.
The company assembles electronic control panels for water and sewer systems in Montana and neighboring states. They also write the program code and design the computer interface for the operators.
“What they ask of us is how they can better control their process, and just as important, we can give them alarms and notifications in the event of disturbed conditions,” said Burgard. “If they have a process that has failed, a component that has failed, a reservoir that can be very low for the drinking water level, they need to be alarmed, so they’re asking for a more robust way to do it. . “
Burgard says MET typically works on an average of six different projects per year. However, they received many more inquiries after the passage of federal laws like the American Rescue Plan Act. In Montana alone, the state has committed $ 250 million in ARPA funding for water and sewer projects, and local governments are spending even more.
“We’ve always had busy and slow times, but there’s definitely a huge surge going on right now,” said Burgard.
Today, MET has six employees and is considering recruiting another. While they assemble the panels themselves, they purchase all of the individual electronic components from other companies. In a smaller panel, Burgard says they could use almost 500 components.
This need for this equipment has become a challenge. Due to demand, Burgard says it’s harder to get items like radios and processors.
“Typically we can have them on the shelf or in our office within about two weeks, and recently we placed an order and it will be mid-January for these products at this point,” he said. .
One particularly important and hard-to-find component is an analog input, which gives more accurate readings of things like tank levels and pressure.
While the rush of stimulus funds is boosting plans now, Burgard has some concerns about the future. He said it’s easier for his business when there’s a constant flow of new work, and he wonders what the future will bring if so many localities are doing their jobs at the same time.
“My concern is that in two, three, four years are we going to just have a feast and starvation scenario where we don’t have the plans down the road that would naturally occur,” he said.