1. Business

Training, trust at Power Design company


Every day someone flips on a light, buzzes an intercom or swipes a key-card system that began here, in this old airbag factory that looks a bit like an '80s TV spaceship.

You probably wouldn't recognize Power Design, the St. Petersburg electrical contractor that has earned $1 billion in revenue over the last 20 years — but you might be thankful for their work.

With more than 100 active projects, the designer and installer of all manner of lights, fire alarms and surveillance systems faces a competitive market and big stakes. To stay successful, the firm has invested heavily in training, monitoring goals and getting things right.

Last year, Power Design ranked No. 19 in the small-firm category of the Tampa Bay Times' survey of Top Workplaces. Since then, the company hired 140 employees, vaulting it into the midsize category, where it now ranks No. 13.

Workers at Power Design said they appreciate the freedom to tackle "challenging yet very rewarding work," while supported by a team environment "full of positivity and growth."

Inside Power Design's brushed-metal headquarters — which, at 70,000 square feet, is so big the central hallway is dubbed "Main Street" — several rooms have been co-opted into a training center, with traditional classrooms and simulated work areas.

The firm rigs errors into an equipment room of meters and circuit breakers, under-construction frames of wood and metal, and, in the firm's most advanced simulation, a complete apartment, with in-wall wiring and a full bathroom. Students are told to hunt down and fix the errors.

"It's about as realistic as you can get," staffing manager Tyson Conrad said.

Training for Power Design's engineers, system designers, project managers and foremen is huge, but they're not the only ones kept educated. Every employee, from accounting to human resources, is expected to don a hard hat for a half day on the job site, to understand the fieldwork that goes into electrical design.

Each department tracks progress on "wildly important goals" using scoreboards they made themselves. Teams built mock Hungry Hungry Hippos boards and a fake Facebook page, while the show-offs in fire-alarm operations animated their own PacMan game.

The goals are stringent but planned by the teams, a crucial part of keeping members engaged in the results. Chief operating officer Meredith Zdon said: "They are included in the process because they help come up with it. If they hadn't, the involvement, the buy-in, wouldn't be there."

In recent years the contractor worked on Tampa's Ella apartments, a parking garage at the Miami Marlins baseball park, and downtown St. Petersburg's sail-shaped skyscraper, Signature Place.

Largely focused on apartments, condos and student housing, the firm has branched out into data centers, the massive computer banks that keep businesses online.

"The quality of the talent pool they choose is huge," marketing specialist Debbie Youngblood said. "You have to be a pretty special person to be here."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 893-8252 or