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Slow market claims Fluor Bros., Stodola-Maas

By Sean Ryan

Richard Paulsen said he realized in 2008 that his company, Fluor Bros. Construction Co. Inc., Oshkosh, might not survive the construction slump.

The 135-year-old general contractor company will auction its equipment on April 17 after closing in mid-March. It is joined by another Fox Valley area general, Stodola-Maas Construction Inc., Fond du Lac, which will auction its equipment Saturday after closing its doors.

Paulsen, who bought Fluor Bros. with brother James Paulsen in 2001, said they were waiting for the slumping market to improve so the company could recover. But that never happened, he said. And the past year of bidding for jobs against 20 to 30 other companies — often without success — left Fluor Bros. with no other option but to close, he said.

“It just kept on getting worse as it went through,” Paulsen said, “and the market became so competitive.”

Alan Maas, formerly of Stodola-Maas, said the company is dissolved but would not comment further.

Fluor Bros. started having trouble pursuing projects before 2008 when its bonding company refused to issue bonds for more than $2 million, Paulsen said. That limited the projects the company could pursue, he said. The company also had internal problems, he said, but he declined to comment on the details.

It is a difficult time for any company that focuses on building construction — rather than infrastructure — and relies on competitive bids to get projects, said Larry Michael, surety bond producer for The Brehmer Agency, Butler.

There are opportunities to work on projects for health care, education and religious institutions because people are donating money to them, he said. But those owners pick contractors that they have established relationships with, he said, making it difficult for contractors who rely on competitive bids, such as Fluor Bros.

“Those are the companies that are going to be hit the hardest,” Michael said.

Fluor Bros. had hundreds of employees at its peak, Paulsen said, but had only a handful left when it closed after completing its last project at the wastewater treatment plant in Chilton. He said he considered starting a new construction business for himself after Fluor Bros. closed, but dropped the idea and instead accepted a job offer from The Selmer Co., Green Bay, to work as a project manager on water and wastewater projects.

James Paulsen retired from the industry, he said.

“We were going to go back into a small construction business,” Paulsen said, “basically out of my house and shop, and I decided to do that at the time. Then I got a couple of offers and decided to go another route.”

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