PITTSFIELD, Maine — It’s amazing what $5,000, a little sacrifice and a lot of determination can lead to.
Five thousand dollars was the sum Kenneth Cianchette loaned to his brother Carl to buy a car, a flatbed truck, a Willys Jeep and other equipment to expand a fledgling construction company after World War II.
Sixty years after that company’s incorporation, Cianbro Corp. has grown to become a nationally known firm. With 2,500 employees and contracts that average more than $450 million annually, the Pittsfield-based construction company is also a driving force in Maine’s economy.
“We’re not small potatoes anymore,” said an exuberant company President Andi Vigue on Friday to hundreds of employees. “We’ve accomplished some significant things.”
One of the greatest accomplishments, Vigue said, was keeping Cianbro in business for 60 years, which was the reason for a catered celebration Friday at Manson Park for 400 of the firm’s Pittsfield-based employees. Vigue and the remaining two of the company’s four founding brothers, Kenneth and Ival “Bud” Cianchette, said that despite the company’s success today, it wasn’t always easy.
In the early days, it was Kenneth, Ival, Carl and Alton Cianchette struggling to keep the venture afloat.
“It was all about sacrifices,” said Kenneth, who described the times he or one of the other brothers had to mortgage his house to make payroll or be bonded for a construction project. “We couldn’t get bonding for a big bridge. Those jobs always went to contractors out of state. Now you guys are the out-of-state contractors who are taking jobs away from local contractors in other states.”
Some of the firm’s major projects have included the Piscataqua River and Penobscot Narrows bridges in Maine, offshore oil rigs and several papermaking machines. Current projects include the Humpback Bridge between the Pentagon and the Washington Monument and modules for an oil refinery, which are built in Brewer and shipped to the Gulf of Mexico.
“There were tough times, but the results were great,” said 83-year-old Ival Cianchette. “It was always a struggle.”
Those struggles continue today. Cianbro bid on more contracts this past August than in any month in its history, and with limited success, according to Vigue.
“The economy is not going to change the strategy of this company,” he said. “We will continue to bid at our cost plus a reasonable mark-up. We’re not going to buy work.”
Vigue also said it’s his personal goal for the entire corporation to go at least a year without an employee suffering a reportable injury.
Such statements drew spirited applause from the employees. Archie Wheaton of Norridgewock, who has been with the company for 28 years, said that kind of message from the company is typical.
“It really is a family,” Wheaton said in an interview. “The Cianchette brothers have instilled in everyone that everyone is treated with dignity and respect. That’s the philosophy and it’s just stuck.”
Senior Vice President Mac Cianchette agreed.
“It’s important that the folks who make it happen are recognized,” he said. “Today was a good opportunity for us to say ‘thank you.’”