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Hunt Valley-based L.H. Cranston & Sons Sold

Rommel Engineering & Construction Co. acquires 65-year-old Cranston, with most employees being retained by the new owner

About 200 employees of the Hunt Valley electrical and construction contracting firm Cranston & Sons saw their jobs saved in August when Odenton-based Rommel Engineering & Construction Co. bought the failing company, Rommel executives confirmed late last week.

Financial terms of the transaction are not being disclosed by the privately owned company, said Don Limburg, president of the closely related firm Rommel Capital Management. However, in terms of the number of employees involved, the deal will almost triple the size of Rommel Engineering, he said.

Both organizations have been electrical service and building contractors active in central Maryland and beyond. While Cranston was the larger company, Rommel is also well established and has been thriving in recent years, according to Limburg.

Limburg said the purchase was undertaken just as Cranston, which has operated in the region for 65 years, faced bankruptcy and liquidation.

Indeed, Cranston filed a notice Aug. 22 with the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation informing the agency it intended to close its doors and dismiss all of its employees.

While Cranston never specified how many jobs were in danger, some 150 workers employed in the construction division faced unemployment if anything had prevented final agreement on the sale in late August, Limburg said. 

The rescue by Rommel succeeded in saving the jobs of almost all the Cranston workers, he said.

“We had some very happy people here when we were able to announce we would be hiring almost everybody. Cranston had some of outstanding people on the staff and we feel lucky to be able to keep them,” Limburg said.

About 150 employees from Cranston’s construction division were hired by Rommel, along with about 50 employees in the Cranston’s service division, he said. Only about a dozen senior Cranston managers and staff actually lost their jobs in the transaction, Limburg said.

The combined company — with total employment of about 270 — is in the process of being reorganized into two separate entities, Limburg added.

The elements of the organization that are primarily concerned with new construction of buildings and other structure will be combined into Rommel Cranston Construction LLC. The servicing of electrical and mechanical systems will be handled through Rommel Cranston LLC, he said.

An example of the kind of work being done by Rommel construction personnel is a major electrical sub-contracting job at the new University of Maryland Baltimore County performing arts center in Arbutus Limburg noted.

The service division typically provides day-to-day maintenance of sophisticated electrical and mechanical system at industrial, commercial or institutional sites. One such customer is the industrial operation of W.R. Grace in Baltimore City, he said.

Reorganization will also mean relocation, the Rommel executive said.

Neither the Odenton nor the Hunt Valley offices are well located or the right size for the two new companies, so a search for more suitable quarters is underway, he said.  He declined to specify where Rommel intended to establish its new facilities, although he said a number of good sites had already been scouted.

Relocation will not be immediate, however, and the two new companies will operate out of the old Cranston office in Hunt Valley until full relocation plans are developed, he said.

One competitor commented that the merger of Rommel and Cranston would have little effect on the business climate in the electrical contracting sector.

“I don’t see this having a lot of impact. There is always a lot of competition in our business, and I don’t know how this changes any of that,” said Martin Knott, president of Timonium-based Knott Mechanical.

Knott’s comments notwithstanding, the Cranston deal is a major development for Rommel Cos., which is a growing network of related companies in the area, Limburg said.

In addition to the electrical contracting business, owner David Rommel also controls Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealerships in Annapolis and New Castle, DE, he said.

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