A German corporation has purchased one of Bismarck’s largest private industrial companies in an effort to capitalize on increased investments to extract oil and natural gas from shale formations.
Bilfinger Berger, which has been ranked as the eighth-largest construction company in Europe, acquired Westcon Incorporated in July. There was no formal announcement, other than a statement on Westcon’s website that noted the details of the buyout would remain confidential.
“With the acquisition of Westcon, we are expanding our regional presence in the USA and at the same time gaining access to new clients,” Bilfinger Berger executive Thomas Topfer said in the statement.
The purchase signals Bilfinger Berger’s intentions to expand its business activities in the U.S. The corporation already operates in the southern U.S., and is now moving into the northern states where energy development has expanded considerably in recent years.
Westcon is a diversified industrial construction company that specializes in large-scale construction projects. It serves markets including oil and gas, refining, petrochemical, power generation, agriculture, biofuels, and specialty chemicals.
Weston, which was founded in 1981 by Bismarck entrepreneur Mark Peterson, employs about 1,000 people, though fewer than 50 of them are stationed at the company’s headquarters just off Highway 83 in north Bismarck. The company also has field offices in Colorado, Utah, Iowa and Ohio.
Darius Chagnon, Westcon’s chief financial officer, said the company expanded to markets where there was high demand for the services it provides.
“Our operations are upper-Midwest centric,” he said. “We’ve worked as far south as Louisiana and Texas, as far east as the Carolinas and as far west as Utah. Obviously, with the Bakken, we’re more North Dakota centric at the moment, but it hasn’t always been that way.”
Bilfinger Berger, based in Manheim, Germany, operates on five continents and is listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. It has more than 60,000 employees worldwide.
Bilfinger Berger dates back to 1880 when it was founded as an engineering and construction company. The corporation’s focus has shifted in recent years toward providing services for industrial plants and power plants, though it’s most well-known for construction projects including the Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis, the Munich Olympic Stadium and the Sydney Opera House.
Despite the overwhelming size of the German corporation, Chagnon said he doesn’t anticipate any major changes to the way Westcon does business.
“It’s business as usual,” he said. “By nature of fact that working with different folks, I’m sure there will be some changes. But what’s attractive about this organization is they have the same values as we do. And we don’t expect a lot of change, and that’s what’s been communicated to us.”
One change on the horizon for Westcon is that its headquarters will be expanded to create about twice as much space for administrative personnel. The two-level expansion project is expected to be finished next year.
“If you drive by, you would see construction going on in the rear of the property,” Chagnon said. “We’re providing additional office space for the kinds of positions we’ll need to grow and mature as an organization.”
Peterson, who will continue to serve as president of Westcon, was not available for an interview.
Westcon Controller Mark Keller said Peterson will continue to be a driving force in the company.
“He’s a big part of the company and always has been,” Keller said. “Westcon could easily have been called Mark Peterson Incorporated.”
-Matt Bunk is publisher of the Great Plains Examiner.