Crane repair company expands
A 51-year-old crane repair company recently opened its second location in the Tri-Cities.
WHECO Corp. started out as a parts supplier in Dayton and then expanded to six facilities across the U.S. over the decades, along with a rebuild center in the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific Ocean.
The Pasco site at 525 S. Oregon Ave. marks a return to the city after the company relocated to Kingsgate Way in Richland a handful of years ago. Before the move, the company had been repairing and restoring cranes and other heavy equipment for about 30 years in Pasco. Its corporate headquarters are in Richland.
“We started off as a refurbishment company for cranes basically. People who have cranes, instead of buying new, could take that crane and have it rebuilt completely to make it like brand new or better than brand new,” said Ryan Davis, president of WHECO.
WHECO repairs a wide range of components, including booms, frames, cabs and aerial lifts.
“Pretty much anything mechanical, we fix,” Davis said.
The company also can fabricate individual pieces or entire components and employs a range of welders and automotive technicians at its facilities in the Northwest, including Richland, Pasco, Seattle and Portland, as well as locations in Southern California and South Carolina.
Customers include contractors, crane rental companies, distributors, insurance companies and manufacturers.
It’s a long way from WHECO’s roots of selling parts to farmers.
“Parts of things like bailers, tractors and stuff like that. And then it morphed,” Davis said. “We needed to install the parts, started installing the parts, and then that market grew.”
WHECO’s CEO had a job repairing a crane in the Tri-Cities and transitioned out of Dayton to serve a larger market.
“Then, we said, ‘Heck, we like cranes,’ so we just continued developing that.”
The company supports government contracts overseas, which is how it became established in the Marshall Islands.
Despite the large footprint, WHECO employs about 80 people worldwide, with about a quarter of those across its Tri-City facilities.
Davis estimates about 70% of its customer base is local, but the rest travel to the nearest sites since there are few crane repair facilities in the U.S.
When it comes to the Northwest, “We’re pretty much about it,” so customers all over the West either bring equipment directly to WHECO or receive assistance through a mobile repair service.
“We can dispatch anywhere in the U.S.,” Davis said. “Some jobs just aren’t big enough to justify a $30,000 trucking bill.”
“We’re probably best known for our structural abilities to fabricate and acquire the proper metal for the jobs,” Davis said. “Cranes are made of high tension, and you have to use metal from Germany or Japan, and we have the ability to do that.”
Structural repairs could include those with a broken boom or other heavily damaged equipment to which the company says it “puts the repair option back on the table by providing engineering solutions,” including the ability to reverse-engineer if there is an obsolete or unavailable part – offering customers the capability of fixing an individual piece or an entire assembly.
As an essential business during the window of early Covid-19 restrictions, WHECO was allowed to continue operating.
Finding qualified workers
Davis said the biggest effect Covid-19 had was on the company’s ability to recruit.
“We have a really good retention rate. We’ve got guys who have been with the company for 25+ years, and most technicians have been with company seven to 10 years. Pre-Covid, it was pretty easy to get people with five to seven years of experience, but what we’ re finding today is that they’re just not out there anymore. We debate this all the time. I don’t know where they went.”
To alleviate the struggle, WHECO began working more closely with trade schools and started to develop its own training programs to increase skills for the potential workforce, hoping to let people know the good-paying jobs are out there.
“We start around $40 an hour and we have a $6,000 signing bonus, yet I can go three weeks without getting one application,” Davis said. The company also began partnering with the military to provide placement for those completing service, in hopes it will pay dividends.
Supply chain woes
WHECO is still working through supply chain issues that affect customers waiting for repairs using specific parts.
“We’ve always been known as a structural repair company that can source metal anywhere. Well, not anymore,” Davis said. “You could get the most random material within two to three weeks. Now, in some cases it’s a year out. We have a ton of machines waiting for parts for nine to 10 months because most manufacturing is done overseas.”
Davis noticed countries that instituted full lockdowns for Covid-19 are still feeling the effects, including material sourced from Italy and Switzerland – not to mention Russia-Ukraine war.
“The world’s largest metal factory is in Ukraine. The whole place got blown up by the Russians,” Davis said. “We’re just really fighting the supply chain issue right now. Trucking was never an issue pre-Covid and now there’s just no trucks available.”
Despite WHECO’s focus on some of the largest machinery out there, the company hasn’t forgotten its roots in farming.
“I have people come to the front door all the time with a chainsaw going, ‘I can’t get it running,’ ” Davis said. “Of course, most of the time we’ll just check it out for free and give it back to them, but we’ll take on any task.”
Search WHECO: 2989 Kingsgate Way, Richland; 525 S. Oregon Ave., Pasco; 509-371-1703; wheco.com; @whecocorp.