Luke Miorelli and MEC
By: Eric Wright
The Space Coast is a region where the dreams of science fiction writers and scientific theorists have become realities. But as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Michener once observed, “Scientists dream about doing great things. Engineers do them.” This combination of dogged attention to detail, analytical problem-solving and turning an idea into a functional reality that Michener refers to permeates the culture of Luke Miorelli’s general contractor and professional civil and structural engineering firm — MEC.Though known throughout the region for more than 40 years as a provider of reputable design and build services, including some of the popular Wawa convenience stores that have popped up recently at key locations across the county, MEC is first and foremost an engineering company that, as Miorelli stresses, also does construction. The MEC staff is comprised of both engineering and construction professionals who bring a unique and cost-effective outlook to the development and construction process.
Miorelli is both a general contractor and a professional engineer, as are his two nephews who work for him, Joe and Gary Neal. Miorelli’s sister, and Joe and Gary’s mother, Lisa Neal, serves as company treasurer, but this Magna Cum Laude graduate of the University of Central Florida, also has her contractor’s license. Construction and engineering seem to co-exist in the family gene pool.
“My grandfather came to this country as a stone mason and became a masonry contractor,” said Miorelli. “My dad and uncles worked for him, but after the war, dad got his engineering degree and moved the family here to work at the Cape. Eventually, he started his own company. I joined him in 1980 after finishing at the University of Florida and a stint building oil refineries in the Middle East for a few years.”
Challenges and Opportunities
Seven years after Miorelli came on board, his father suffered a stroke that was precipitated by a job-site injury. Before he turned 30, Miorelli suddenly found himself as the company’s owner and president. A few years later, his sister joined the company, and it grew into one of the most respected firms of its type in the region. Today, more than 30 years later, he jokingly refers to his nephews as “my 401(k),” though it is with evident pride that he describes their professional growth and the leadership roles they have assumed.
“My brother and I grew up around the industry, much like my uncle did,” Gary said. “You discover early on either you like it or you don’t, and for me there was a definite connection.”
Gary worked in New York City and Providence, Rhode Island, but was soon ready to head back to sunny Florida. His brother Joe was already working for the company, and when he called him about opportunities, Luke gave him the green light to return to Melbourne.
“I enjoyed working in the corporate world because it taught me a lot about collaboration and team work,” said Gary. “Having those skills and perspectives have enhanced my value here.”
He also stressed the negative side of being in a corporate environment — mainly not having control over your own destiny. “At MEC there are real opportunities for leadership development and professional enrichment. Every day is different,” he said, “and you get a tangible return on your time and efforts.”
Gary initially went to New York after finishing graduate school in 2009 because jobs in construction were scarce. Surviving the inevitable ups and downs inherent in this industry is a challenge Miorelli faces with the same analytical acumen that has allowed him to deal with construction challenges that tend to come up on different projects.
Citing reasons for the company’s resilience, Miorelli said, “We don’t owe anyone any money. We don’t have any mortgages. If we can’t afford to pay cash for it, generally speaking, we don’t buy it. We were able to hold on to our key staff during this last downturn because we weren’t paying off loans.”
Finding the Perfect Fit
Miorelli gives his nephews the freedom to discover and use their strongest skill sets and encourages them to be engaged in the community. It is an opportunity both Gary and Joe have taken full advantage of. “My uncle is fiercely loyal and even cut his pay to ensure he could keep other employees with the company during the downturn,” said Gary. “He’s also a reservoir of knowledge, having been in the industry for so long. We learn from him every day.”
One of MEC’s niches it is recognized for is building convenience stores, something it has been doing for more than 25 years. It has built more than 90 of them, of which more than 20 are newly constructed Wawas. “We first got into the market by turning a prefab metal building design, which the county wouldn’t allow in a particular location, into a block building, and it took off from there,” said Miorelli. “We’ve done a number of stations for Mike Shah’s Southeast Petro and other business leaders in the Indian community.”
The new guys on the block (Wawas) are all held corporately by the firm, which is headquartered in Wawa, Pennsylvania.
The company itself, however, is employee owned, much like Lakeland-based Publix Supermarkets. Wawa’s business model is to lease the actual property from entities such as Matthew Development (based in Brevard) but own all the improvements from the property line in.
“We knew Wawa was coming into town, so our head of engineering, Steve Monroe, contacted them about doing engineering work,” Miorelli explained. “We got into the contractor selection process and eventually produced a bid they accepted. After that, we figured out how to bid on their projects, and now we’re a preferred vendor.”
MEC focuses on projects that take less than a year to complete from start to finish. “Having projects with that kind of construction cycle keeps our team excited and engaged,” explained Miorelli, “and it also means our payment cycle is quick.”Miorelli credits communication as another key to MEC’s success. “We’ve learned that good communication is not only the secret to working effectively with owners like the Shah’s or Wawa, but also with our subcontractors,” he said. “It gives them time to prepare. We contact them two weeks out, then a week out, then three days out and a day out; they aren’t waiting and we aren’t waiting. It creates a win-win scenario for everyone. All of today’s great technology is only as effective as how well we use it to communicate with everyone involved in the project.”
This philosophy is another example of how MEC has been able to ensure clients and subcontractors continue seeking them out project after project. They are a high-tech engineering firm, with a high-touch approach to everyone involved in the process.
“We’ve learned that good communication is not only the secret to working effectively with owners, but also with our subcontractors. All of today’s great technology is only as effective as how well we use it to communicate with everyone involved in the project.”
– Luke Miorelli