Sean Bright has worked as an electrician since graduating high school, eventually landing in the commercial electrical space working on high-rises and restaurants. He was aware of the solar industry’s presence in Southern California, but like many electricians he knows, he thought it was gimmicky and nonviable.
But that changed after a conversation with his best friend over at solar carport company M Bar C.
In this episode of the Contractor’s Corner podcast, Bright talks about taking a big risk to start New Era Electric in 2020 amidst a constrained labor market and how his company has found its niche in the small C&I market.
An edited portion of the interview is below, but be sure to listen to the full podcast for more insight on building a new solar company that stands out in a saturated market.
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SPW: How did you get into solar?
Sean Bright: I’m a lifelong electrician — somehow, it’s been 30 years, I don’t know how that happened.
It was interesting, because I’d say about 10 years ago, when I was really introduced to solar, I kind of felt solar was a gimmick. As an electrician, I think there was this sense that solar electricians weren’t real, and it was a gimmicky sort of thing, solar wasn’t going to last, we were the real electricians out there doing high-rise buildings.
About six years ago, one of my best friends, who owns M Bar C Construction, we got to talking and I really discovered how lucrative the industry was. That time, it was dawning on me that this is here to stay. This is something we need, this is something that’s really good for not just the environment, but the construction industry as a whole.
In 2020, we decided to open New Era. We saw the need for this, we knew that there were contractors out there. I was able to really attract some good, talented people who specialized in the solar industry. We knew what we were doing, and it’s just blossomed ever since then.
How was it hiring skilled workers in this industry?
The workers that I got almost put us out of business, to be honest with you. When I started this under a different name five years ago, it was me and two people and we were not necessarily focused on solar, but we had the opportunity to go solar.
There was a company, and they’ll remain nameless, that went out of business right at the same time. I had two employees and they had about 25. So, me and my partner decided we were going to hire every single one of those people, and we had one job. And that one job was I think 500 kW or something like that. We literally put 25 people on one job because we had nothing else for them while we were building up our backlog. It was a big expense, but we saw an opportunity there that we just felt we couldn’t pass up and we just truly believed that opportunity was going to come.
It almost put us out of business because of that lag between hustling to get contracts and get those jobs going. In the solar world, these jobs don’t start very quickly. There’s a lot of loopholes that you have to get through so we’ll hear about a job and it’ll start four months later. In my background, it wasn’t like that. We would hear about a job and they’d want you there the next day, that’s how fast the commercial electrical world was when you’re doing high-rises or restaurants or something like that.
But that’s how we just we blossomed into a 25-person company overnight. It was still tough to get all those guys working, but we saw the need. Labor in California is tough, so it was like, well, we’re going to get these guys or they’re going to be gone tomorrow, so we have to make a decision really quick.
Now, the work is abundant and they’ve seen that and it’s very rewarding to them.