Jefferson Hills firm Clark Testing a mover and a shaker
Paul Heffernan's vision is to develop one the region's largest industrial testing companies.
By acquiring equipment and property sold or discarded by industrial giants and investing in new equipment during the past 20 years, Heffernan and his late father-in-law assembled an 11-building testing complex in Jefferson Hills.
The company they established — Clark Testing Inc. — has expanded to five testing labs in four states.
“We're pretty proud,” says CEO Heffernan, who showed off a giant hammer-like apparatus he said is one of two in the world that can simulate the force of a torpedo striking a Navy ship. In a seismic lab nearby, Clark Testing can simulate an earthquake of up to 10 times the force of gravity on a nuclear power plant, he says.
A more recent purchase was two electromagnetic compatibility and interference chambers that test electronic equipment — acquired from the former Sony television plant in New Stanton when it closed.
“That was originally a $1 million piece of equipment, which we bought and moved,” Heffernan said. “We're keeping that capability in Western Pennsylvania.”
Besides electromagnetic, seismic, shock and vibration testing, Clark Testing does environmental, chemical, oil and grease, fuel and lubrication tests and industrial hygiene analysis, among other work for Fortune 100 companies in the United States.
“The fact is that this was pretty close to becoming a brownfield, and now we have a parking lot filled with Ph.Ds, engineers and technicians” who do testing for Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Alcoa, U.S. Steel, Lockheed, Caterpillar and John Deere, among others, Heffernan said.
Clark Testing employs 130 people, including about 75 in Jefferson Hills, up from 15 in 1992, when it acquired the property where the former Westinghouse Electric Co. installed testing equipment.
“Over a three-year period, from 2009 to 2012, our revenue has increased over 65 percent,” he said, declining to supply details.
Since 2002, Heffernan and his father-in-law, Saul Siegel, acquired assets, including UEC Labs from U.S. Steel Corp. when the steelmaker moved its technical center from Monroeville to Munhall. That added testing of coal and coke, fuels and lubricants, and analytical chemistry.
In 2005, Heffernan and Siegel bought the Westinghouse buildings from the turnpike commission for Clark Testing's corporate headquarters.
Theirs is one of about 85 industrial testing companies in the Pittsburgh region that employ about 2,800, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition to Clark, some of the largest are Westmoreland Mechanical Testing & Research Inc. in Youngstown, Industrial Testing Laboratory Services LLC in O'Hara and Microbac Laboratories Inc.
Westmoreland Mechanical Testing employs about 250 and claims to be the world's largest independent testing lab, according to CEO Donald Rossi.
Heffernan says his company does third-party testing of vendor samples and validates product chemistry so that a purchaser knows what it's buying from industrial, chemical, aerospace, petrochemical and metals suppliers.
He combs industrial sales and auctions to acquire equipment, and has bought new equipment, “spending millions to get into the forefront of testing technology.”
That equipment, combined with the expertise of Clark Testing's employees, is making the company a success. “The key is the people ... the skill sets to do testing in a quality manner.”
Clark's focus did not begin with testing. The company's vision began with Siegel, who died in 2009. Both were natives of Boston who later worked in Cleveland: Heffernan as a business consultant and Siegel as a buyer of industrial equipment. Together they acquired Generation & Motor Services Inc. in Turtle Creek, which rebuilt generating equipment for power plants, and a Venezuelan company that built oil drilling rigs.
“He was the acquisition guy, and I'm the operations guy,” Heffernan said.
When Westinghouse's Astro Nuclear Division (ANDI) became available in 1992, it was their chance to expand into testing, Heffernan said. Clark Testing operated as Astro Nuclear Dynamics Inc. and then as ANDI Test Labs until its name change in 2003, following the acquisition of Clark Engineering Service's mechanical test laboratory in Buchanan, Mich., in 1996.
Expansion continued until the 2008 financial crisis. Business from steel industry customers fell 40 percent. “We had to skinny down, like a lot of people,” Heffernan said. In 2009, “we were at a breaking point as a company,” he said. “We were thinly capitalized is the best way to put it.”
Working with banks, Clark Testing restructured, selling its two non-testing businesses and refinancing debt. The sale of GMS in Turtle Creek provided the biggest boost, Heffernan said.
“We sold all of that and reinvested in the testing business,” he said. “Now we're healthy and profitable.”
John D. Oravecz is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7882 or firstname.lastname@example.org.