Tualatin-based business recognized for customer service, safety record

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Mark Carpenter founded Tualatin-based Columbia Roofing & Sheet Metal 17 years ago.After securing a place on Portland Business Journal’s list of the region’s 100 fastest-growing private companies this year, there’s no doubt Columbia Roofing & Sheet Metal beat the recession curse that has plagued most housing and construction businesses.

The Tualatin-based company has grown by 25 to 35 percent each year for the past three years, according to president Mark Carpenter.

And the distinction came quickly on the heels of an honor that is specific to the industry: Carlisle SynTec Systems’ 2013 Perfection Award, which honors top contractors based on criteria like warranty claim performance and overall quality of service.

For Carpenter, the recognition emphasizes one of his company’s five core values: Safety. In the company’s 17 years, it has had only two fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Saundra Pennington, vice president of human resources and operations, came to Columbia with a background in the high-tech field. She says the company uses the same rigorous hiring processes found in big-name Silicon Valley tech firms, which is necessary to ensure employees reflect the company’s commitment to safety.

“Employees are told in the interview process, ‘Don’t even think of unhooking your harness to reach for a tool. I will fire you. We take this very seriously,’” she said.

Pennington estimates that after joining the company in 2010, she spent about $56,000 on safety equipment, including harnesses, hard hats, nets and the services of a safety consultant. The company conducts monthly, random drug tests.

With 65 full-time employees, the 2,000 jobs Carpenter estimates his company completes each year range from $500 repairs on private residences to half-million dollar commercial gigs for the likes of Walmart, Chase Bank and O’Reilly Auto Parts.

“We do reroofing projects, mostly commercial and mostly in summer,” he said. Still, Columbia Roofing & Sheet Metal has a staff of 16 people focused primarily on leak repair, service and upgrades.

Carpenter is no stranger to innovation, having founded the off-shoot Columbia Green Technologies, which utilized a “green roof system” he honed during his six years owning the company.

For Carpenter, it was time well spent.

“Not only did we get (two patents), but we brought the technology to market and started selling nationwide,” he said.

That included installing an “eco-roof” atop Multnomah County’s Central Library downtown.

Carpenter has since sold that company and its associated patents, but has kept the Columbia’s focus green.

“We’re an energy trust of Oregon contractor,” Carpenter explained. “We work on getting rebates for our customers. And,” he added, “going from an old dirty black roof to a white clean roof, there’s substantial energy savings.”

Some options include aluminum roof coatings to reflect light and thereby lower the cost of cooling.

Asked how his company has managed to grow during punishing economic times and garner industry recognition along the way, Carpenter is humble.

“At the end of the day, we show up when we’re supposed to, and if something’s not right, we fix it,” he said.

Pennington agreed, adding that the company’s employees all consider themselves stakeholders in a job well done.

“When our foremen get off our roof, they’re proud of what they’ve done,” she said. “They want to sign their name to the top of that roof.”

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