Colonial Electric Company Continues the Merit Shop Legacy

To say that Colonial Electric Company of Harwood, Maryland epitomizes the merit shop way is an understatement. It’s in the company’s DNA. That’s because one of its founders, Clayton Katski, was instrumental in forming Associated Builders in Contractors (ABC), a trade organization focused on the principles of rewarding employee performance and excellence in construction. Today, ABC is a national organization with over 25,000 members nationwide.

Clayton recognized the need for such an organization in Anne Arundel County soon after he founded his first electrical firm, Bay Electric, out of his home in Tracey’s Landing, Maryland in 1951. Clayton had several employees, including his brothers, Harold and Alfred, and later, his son Robert, also known as Butch.

Steady growth continued through the 1960s until a devastating fire in 1965 forced Clayton to file for insolvency. To get back on his feet, he took a job as a general manager for Drake Electric. While Butch continued his studies at Anne Arundel Community College, he, too, began working for Drake, as an assistant estimator.

In 1968 Butch was drafted and served in the National Guard for six months. Upon his return, Butch no longer felt challenged and wanted to go out on his own. He convinced his father to join him and in November 1969, they signed their first contract with IKC Custom Homes. On January 29, 1970 the new family business, Colonial Electric Company, became official.

It has truly been a family business, with Butch and his wife Jo Ann, another founding member, often working nights together to keep the business alive in the early years. Jo Ann was tasked with unscrewing receptacles and Butch would rewire them. That tenacity, along with long-term industry partnerships with some of the area’s top contractors, helped to grow and sustain the company through several recessions.

In the early 1980s, Colonial Electric shifted its focus from residential to commercial electrical customers, focusing on to multifamily construction. Today, the company has become one of most respected electrical contractors in the Mid-Atlantic region, also doing work in retail, commercial and site electrical on projects in Maryland, Virginia and the Washington, DC area.

In 2000, their son Travis, who had been working for Colonial Electric, took over after Butch stepped down from his duties following a serious heart attack. Jo Ann still works for the firm, as an executive vice president and director of human resources.

The focus on its workforce is evident in employee dedication to the firm. The company has grown over the years but continues to keep its family culture, many of the employees have over 25 years of service with Colonial Electric.  The company is equally dedicated to its employees, supporting continuing education opportunities for those who wish to advance their careers.

Colonial also believes in giving back to the community. It participates in numerous charitable organizations and events.  And Colonial Electric continues to emphasize the merit shop way. Several employees also serve on the boards of various construction organizations, including ABC Chesapeake Shores where Project Manager Gene Chaney serves on the Board of Directors.