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Unit Building Services – A family tradition of design-build contracting in Cincinnati

In the greater Cincinnati area, UNIT Building Services has been a household name in the design-build and construction industry for more than 43 years. Serving the tristate area, UNIT designs and builds industrial, office, medical and retail buildings for business owners, professionals and developers who seek personalized service and a single source of accountability for their midsize projects. UNIT was established in 1972 by Tom Schmidlin and the Neyer family as a merit shop contractor in an effort to capitalize on the strong union presence in Cincinnati at the time. Today, the company is focused on the commercial and industrial sectors and in 2015, the company worked almost exclusively for materials testing companies, completing expansions and renovations for Cincinnati Testing Laboratories, Element Materials Technology and Metcut Research. Element Materials Technology recently bought out a previous client of UNIT, Accutek.

The project involved the conversion of a 50,000-square-foot warehouse into a lab as well as adding an office mezzanine and additional parking space. UNIT completed a tilt up expansion with lab space for Cincinnati Testing Laboratories and started on the project for the client’s parent company, Metcut Research. UNIT has worked with each company on prior projects and considers being called back for additional work as passing the ultimate test.

While often working with repeat clients, UNIT remains in connection with the Cincinnati brokerage market as well. “The brokerage market is pretty strong,” says Steve Schmidlin, president and owner of UNIT. “We stay in contact with the real estate brokers and if they have a client that is purchasing a building that needs renovation, they will bring us in.

We’re always marketing to past clients and the brokerage community to keep ourselves in front of potential deals.” Schmidlin says that one of the most beneficial aspects of his company for clients is the single-source responsibility that his design-build firm is able to offer. “People can go the design route or the hard-bid route, but if something goes awry, they’re going to have five different fingers pointed in different directions claiming who’s responsible,” he explains. “The key to any successful project is bringing the right team together. It’s my job to know the right people in the market to bring to the table who will serve a client’s needs.”

Within a relatively short amount of time with a client, Schmidlin is confident that UNIT is able to dissect what their needs are and devise a plan of attack that will create a quality structure with creative design that makes sense economically. “Once we come to an agreement on preliminary designs, I can come back in two weeks with detailed pricing,” says Schmidlin. “Ultimately we provide the business owner with a path from point A to point B in the most economical manner.”

Adapting to change through relationships and reputation

Throughout UNIT’s existence, the company has maintained a steady workflow while maintaining manageable and continued growth. A focus on quality rather than volume has allowed UNIT to uphold a solid reputation within the industry that has proven to be an asset during periods of economic downturn. “During the recession it definitely helped that we had been around for a long time and had built up some strong relationships,” says Schmidlin. “We did have to get leaner as a company during that period, but fortunately things have rebounded and the company is in expansion mode again.”

Many of those strong relationships have been not only with clients, but also with subcontractors and suppliers. As a design-build firm, Schmidlin says that his company’s relationships with the electrical and mechanical contractors it often works with are some of the most important. “I’m acting as a single-source responsibility, so I need to turn to my electrical and mechanical tradesmen and have them do the same for their portion of the work as well,” Schmidlin explains.

While UNIT works primarily in the greater Cincinnati area, the company will venture out of its target demographic for the right job and the right client.


During the recession, a past client approached UNIT about completing a renovation on a building in Beckley, West Virginia, which is a five-hour drive from Cincinnati. The company completed the job on schedule and under budget.

A Family Venture

Schmidlin started working full time for UNIT in 1989 and became president of the company in 1993. While growing up, Schmidlin often worked with his father on the weekends and during summers and developed a passion for the industry, which inspired him to earn a construction management degree.

Through his education, Schmidlin was exposed to civil and structural engineering, architecture, mechanical and electrical design, scheduling, accounting and business management. “I took a strong interest in design-build contracting under the tutelage of Don Neyer,” he recounts. “Don was a great leader and teacher who helped me develop excellent problem-solving skills.”

While leading a company started by his father creates a great deal of pride for Schmidlin, he is looking forward to seeing the company continue to grow. He plans to maintain the manageability of the firm that enables it to give the extra special, personal attention to each client that UNIT Building Services has become so well-known for over the past 43 years.

Unit Building Services, a second-generation design-build company in Cincinnati, has completed one of the most challenging projects in its 44-year history.

Steve Schmidlin, owner and president of Unit Building Services, built a strong floor for Metcut Research Inc. The strong floor is part of a $9.5 million Metcut/Cincinnati Testing Laboratories project that includes new construction and testing equipment.

The vast majority of the strong floors in the U.S. are affiliated with university research or government organizations, said Philip Bretz, president and CEO at Metcut.

“Even including university labs, our facility is one of the largest in the U.S.,” he said. “The folks who manufacture the majority of our test equipment and also do a lot of large-scale, custom-test systems worldwide have told us that they don’t know of any other private lab with a facility like ours. There are other labs that do structural testing– some on a large scale– but they don’t have a strong floor facility.”

Metcut’s expansion and addition of the strong floor means increased capacity that should give it and subsidiary Cincinnati Testing Laboratories (CTL) the footprint they need for the next decade, said Bretz. He said Metcut has added 10 employees in the last year and plans to add four to five more each year for the next 10 years.

The strong floor is a steel, reinforced-concrete slab 82 feet long by 22 feet wide, with concrete 3.5 feet deep. It boasts metal anchor plates laid out on a square grid containing three-foot-long, 50,000-pound-capacity bolts spaced every three feet on center along the surface so test structures can be bolted to the floor.

A 20-ton crane travels above the floor to place structure test samples. The floor is large enough for testing full-sized street cars, rail cars and large engines, said Bretz. While the crane can’t lift more than 20 tons, or 40,000 pounds, if a structure is bolted to four of the bolts, it would be able to handle 200,000 pounds, or 100 tons of weight.

Metcut’s original plans for the building containing the strong floor were constrained by its 68-year-old Hyde Park site. Acquiring more land from a neighbor delayed construction, but allowed time for some creative problem solving.

“With a little bit of creative design we were able to fit the strong floor into an expansion of the existing building, which not only made it friendlier to the rest of the operation, but allowed us to add some much-needed storage,” said Schmidlin.

As the complexity of the job grew, Unit, Metcut and CTL principals began meeting weekly to keep communication flowing, which minimized change orders. In design-build, bi-weekly or monthly meetings between contractor and customer are customary.

“The important thing about regular meetings is the rhythm of communication,” said Schmidlin. “I’d rather meet once a week for an hour than have a three-hour meeting every month. I feel honored to serve one of the longest-established testing labs in the nation.”

“Weekly communication was huge for us,” said Gregg Uebelhor, Metcut executive vice president and CFO. “Because our whole team heard the same message, we were all on the same page. We haven’t been surprised, so we’re all very happy with the project.”

Uebelhor said the meetings allowed for more creativity and efficiency. “We thought a lot about how the building serves our clients and we had a lot of answers in the room at the same time. When you brainstorm through a process, it builds a lot of momentum and trust.”

The end result was a truly high-quality, collaborative project that came in on time and at budget, said Bretz. “It was an odd project,” he said. “This project had a lot of moving parts. A strong floor is not a normal thing to build, and the footprint of our building is a little unusual. We were connecting old structures to new structures, so there were a lot of challenges to it.”

Design-build is one of the fastest- growing trends in the commercial construction business, according to the Design Build Institute of America. In design-build, one contractor is in charge of a project and is responsible for every component of it.

“Design-build also eliminates finger-pointing and enhances a team approach,” said Jerry Muchmore, project manager and LEED AP at Unit Building Services.

Metcut serves international markets in North America, Europe and Asia, with many of its testing programs focused on high-temperature materials applicable to turbine engines and power- generating equipment.

It also tests a variety of metallic and nonmetallic materials in broader applications that include airframe, automotive and biomedical materials, engine components and subassembly for aerospace and wind power.

CTL provides comprehensive machining, conditioning and testing services on non-metallic materials such as polymers and composites, and supplies material property data to industry and government agencies.

“We chose Unit Building Services because of its strong design-build experience as well as our great experience working with them in the past,” said Paul Braun, CTL president. “Steve built our headquarters in Forest Park as well as our recent addition. Both are tilt-up concrete buildings.”

The $9.5 million project included 22,300 square feet for expansion of CTL’s testing lab headquarters in Forest Park and 10,000 square feet added to Metcut to accommodate the strong floor.

Cincinnati Testing and Metcut Recherches, S.A.S. in Nantes, France are subsidiaries of Metcut. The company has been an employee-owned company since 1976.

Unit Building Services designs and builds industrial, office, medical and retail buildings for business owners, professionals, and developers who want personal service and a single source of accountability for mid-sized projects.

For more information about Unit Building Services, go to www.unitbuilding.com or call (513) 271-2122