Metcon, based in Pembroke, North Carolina, now has five offices around the Carolinas and employs 80 people. It has been involved in 650 construction project completions over the years. Pictured here is the Metcon-built, energy-positive Lumbee River Electrical Membership Corp. (Metcon)
Aaron Thomas (Lumbee) knows exactly who to credit for the knowledge and drive that empowered him to make a success of Metcon, the construction business he started in 1999. It’s his grandfather, Curt Locklear, who taught him the building trades from the hardware and building supply store he owned for more than 50 years in Pembroke, North Carolina, capital of the Lumbee Nation.
Thomas worked with his grandfather from the age of 10 until he was 23, building the skills necessary to eventually start his own firm, Metcon, which is notable for its emphasis on Energy Positive buildings that produce more energy than they consume.
“He trained all the kids to work hard. He pushed all of us to go to school,” said Thomas, President and CEO of Metcon. School was what is now the University of North Carolina-Pembroke, a successor to the Pembroke State College for Indians, where his grandfather and grandmother, Catherine, were early graduates.
In what proved to be a very satisfying completion of a circle, Thomas’ firm was later hired to construct buildings at UNC-Pembroke, and now is in the process of building a business school on campus, he told Native Business Magazine.
“We’ve constructed a lot of buildings there,” said Thomas of the college, which dates back to 1887 when it started up as the North Carolina Indian Normal School.
Metcon, based in Pembroke, now has five offices around the Carolinas and employs 80 people. It has been involved in 650 construction project completions over the years.
How the firm got into Energy Positive building was a case of necessity being the mother of invention, Thomas said. A project to build a school, Sandy Grove Middle School in Lumber Bridge, North Carolina, suffered a dramatic budget cut, so Metcon and partners SFLA (the architect) and Firstfloor (the developer), had to huddle on how to bring costs down. Energy costs is what they decided to tackle.
Solar panels figured in the solution, but they weren’t the only thing implemented. Here’s the list of all the energy reduction features implemented at the school, which when completed in 2013, was the first privatized energy positive school in the country:
- Solar power 589.5 KW of Photovoltaic
- Geothermal heating and cooling systems
- High efficiency LED lighting
- High performance building envelope with spray foam
- Indoor air quality monitoring
- Electric car charging stations
- Thermal mass
- Whole building generator
- Control of all building systems on and off-site through the Building Automation System
In addition, Thomas says, the natural sunlight was used to contribute a significant portion of the lighting for the LEED Platinum building. Construction materials were recycled or salvaged.
The firm remains involved with the school. “We didn’t just build it and leave,” Thomas said. Metcon has stayed on to optimize the building, “like fine-tuning a race car.”
Metcon estimates Sandy Grove Middle School “will save nearly $16 million in energy costs alone over the next 40 years. Combined with other operations and maintenance efficiencies, SGMS will save Hoke County over $35 million during the same period.”
Metcon has now completed or started 12 Energy Positive buildings, including a public utility, and is about to start an Energy Positive high-rise in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Each one has gotten better than the last,” he says.
Thomas comments, “It’s extremely fulfilling to be constructing energy-positive buildings that are not only protecting Mother Earth, but also providing amazing building environments, while reducing the total cost of ownership for our clients.”
Other construction areas Metcon targets are commercial-retail-corporate; education, government, healthcare; hospitality-multifamily and infrastructure.
The company emphasizes its minority business orientation. “Our approach to minority business development is anchored in the following values: community development, inclusion, opportunity and reciprocity,” it says.
The firm name Metcon is a hybrid of “metal” and “construction.”
It then morphed into a full-service commercial construction company. Its current delivery methods break down to 28 percent general contracting, 51 percent construction management, and 21 percent design build.
Thomas enjoys the recognitions Metcon has received. It was recognized by the U.S. Department of Commerce as the 2011 and 2013 U.S. Minority Construction Firm of the Year, and more recently two Metcon schools were recognized as the Best K-12 projects in the U.S. by Engineering News and Record for 2013 and 2016.
Thomas also enjoys talking about Lumbee Tribal history. He’s enthusiastic to list the accomplishments of distinguished members of the Lumbee Tribe, including distant cousin Jim Thomas, a developer and former owner of the Sacramento Kings of the National Basketball Association, UNC Pembroke Chancellor Robin Cummings, the first Native Cardiothoracic surgeon; and his own daughter, Ashtyn Skye Thomas, Junior Miss Lumbee.
As for the future of Metcon? “We’re in growth mode,” he says.
—Research assistant Priestess J. Bearstops, Oglala Lakota, contributed to this article.
This article originally appeared in the November 2018 “Entrepreneurship” issue of Native Business Magazine. A digital version of the magazine is available for download here.