A MAN OF STEEL: MARK CASKEY OF STEEL NATION
Mark Caskey built several careers and a number of buildings en route to building his own company.
He and his wife, Marti, owned a Pittsburgh advertising firm for 14 years before taking an alternate route in 2006. For 18 months, Caskey learned how to design and build coal preparation plants and bath houses, mainly in Appalachia but also in several western states. Sound mitigation was a primary feature of those structures.
Caskey vividly recalls when he launched Steel Nation Inc.: “June 8, 2008.” He was accustomed to designing and erecting coal facilities, but that was not a fortuitous time for that energy industry. The Great Recession was underway, and the market for that fossil fuel source was on a decline.
“Here I am, going into business, and this happens,” lamented Caskey, the CEO, in addition to founder.
But soon afterward, the founder had what he called “my eureka moment” with another industry: oil and gas. Caskey and other Steel Nation personnel toured the Renz No. 1 site in Mt. Pleasant Township, where in 2004, Range Resources had drilled the first horizontal well in the Marcellus Shale region. The compressor station there was not muffling the roar.
“I remember pulling up to the doorway,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how loud it was. There were four compressors inside, and it was like sitting near a freight train.
“I starting thinking, coal is going down and natural gas is going up. I had a spare bedroom and software to design these buildings.”
Steel Nation thus added natural gas to its service repertoire and focused on constructing safe, cleaner, quieter and economical compressor stations for a growing energy industry. Eureka, indeed.
The company has gotten a lot bigger over the past 13 years. Known initially as Steel Nation Steel Buildings, it has grown to four divisions – steel buildings, engineering, environmental and facilities services. Producing pre-engineered metal buildings remains the company’s main identity, but Steel Nation is now a more diverse operation.
“We do some commercial work and a lot of heavy industry work. We also do a lot of maintenance,” said Caskey, 59, a robust man with a distinctive ponytail, a man of steel with a magnetic personality.
Steel Nation is headquartered in Southpointe, where it relocated in November 2018. The company had been operating on Washington Road in South Strabane Township, between Meadows Landing and Racetrack Road, but was expanding its services and payroll.
The firm needed a larger corporate footprint and a more convenient operational base. By moving to the mixed-use park in Cecil Township, off Interstate 79, Steel Nation was closer to energy and other corporate partners within the park or in greater Pittsburgh.
Caskey, who said he sank a lot of his money in starting the business, said it has developed into a $42 million company. He admitted, however, that because of the continuing pandemic, “the last two years have been tough.” His workforce, previously in the mid-30s, now numbers about two dozen primarily due to layoffs and retirements. He said his most prominent customers still include Williams Companies, EQT Corp. and Mark-West Energy Partners.
Although he is not a Western Pennsylvania native, Caskey is on familiar family turf. His parents were Pittsburghers from the East End of Pittsburgh, who moved to Winston-Salem, N.C., where his father started a business. He was a supplier to the steel industry who eventually returned to his roots and bought a house in Upper St. Clair. Mark graduated from high school there, then from the University of Pittsburgh.
He now resides in North Strabane Township with his wife and their two daughters: Maya, a senior cheerleader and lacrosse player at Seton-LaSalle High School, and Melissa, a ninth-grader at Canon-McMillan High. You could call the family of four Caskey Nation.