PITTSFIELD, Maine — The rising price of crude oil means different things to different people, but to Cianbro Corp., it could mean good times are on the horizon.
With its acquisition of Illinois-based STARCON International Inc. in December, Cianbro deepened its plunge into the petrochemical world, which has been an increasing emphasis of the Pittsfield-based firm in recent years.
Cianbro Chairman and CEO Peter Vigue said untold amounts of investment money have been “waiting on the sidelines” for crude oil prices to rebound from the below $50 per barrel low point they suddenly plummeted to in 2008. Now the price is more than $90 per barrel.
“We think the prices will hold,” said Vigue. “We’re expecting an increase in activity in that industry.”
With Cianbro and STARCON each bringing strengths to the table — namely general construction expertise and experience in the petroleum field, respectively — Vigue says the combined entity is marketing a much wider capability set than either company could alone. Earlier this month, Cianbro announced a new contract to build 13 oil refinery modules at its Eastern Manufacturing Facility in Brewer.
Though few details about that contract, including who it’s for, have been released, Vigue said, the merger between Cianbro and STARCON helped the deal go through. Cianbro is also beginning work at the Brewer facility on 22 electrical building modules for Brazil-based Vale, which is building a nickel-processing plant in Newfoundland.
Cianbro previously completed 51 refinery modules in Brewer for Motiva Enterprises’ Port Arthur Refinery in Texas. The last pieces of that project left Brewer for Texas on a barge down the Penobscot River in June 2010.
Vigue would not say whether any more big contracts are in the pipeline, though he said Cianbro is active in many locations throughout the country on electrical substations, paper mills and a power plant in Veazie. When winter is over, the company will begin replacement of a bridge in Howland.
Vigue said his ongoing focus has been to diversify the kinds of contracts Cianbro pursues in an effort to reduce the lulls between jobs. There are few limits, said Vigue, which is proven by the fact that Cianbro is building refineries and oil rigs in Maine for assembly in Texas and the Gulf of Mexico.
“Sometimes when I tell someone I want to build them an oil rig in Maine, they look at me like I’m crazy,” said Vigue. “But I keep going back and back. Nothing’s impossible. I’ve got a big family to feed [at Cianbro]. It’s not fun to ask people to go home.”
Vigue said STARCON’s administrative functions are in the process of being consolidated, with most of it moving to Pittsfield. A STARCON design facility is being maintained in Texas. Before the merger, according to Vigue, STARCON was struggling. Since the merger, Vigue said he has spent a lot of time meeting with STARCON’S 1,500 employees — all of them.
“I went there totally to listen,” said Vigue. “No one is smarter than all of us. It’s important to recognize that the workers have many of the answers to the problems, and it’s incumbent on the leaders of this company to listen.”
Vigue said, with the recession ending, he expects both companies to be hiring in 2011.
“This acquisition will have a positive impact on this state and others,” he said. “Both companies will be able to enhance our growth going forward.”

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.