In 1973, beneath a metal awning in a Phoenix backyard, a 31-year-old sheet metal worker with less than a decade of experience established what would become a multi-million-dollar company.
Merle “Rick” Karber Jr. was working for HAPCO A/C at the Metro Center complex when he decided to try and make a living on his own as a sheet metal worker. Prior to that, his contracting experience began as an apprentice journeyman and foreman for several air-conditioning companies in the Phoenix area.
Nine months after founding Karber Sheet Metal, he moved from beneath the awning and into his brother’s backyard shed. Shortly thereafter, Karber’s brother, Michael, quit his job with Stiles and Allen A/C to join him. The company then changed its name to Karber Air Conditioning Company.
In 1978, the brothers began to see some success and their father, Merle Karber Sr., who was a sheet metal worker in the construction industry from the time he got out of the Army in 1944 until he retired in 1982, quit his job with Goettl A/C and came to work with his sons at Karber A/C that same year.
“I think our father could see that even though we were making progress in our business he had vast knowledge that he could share with his sons,” Karber says.
As it happens, he worked as a sheet metal worker on the Sky Harbor Control Tower in the early ‘40s — nearly 60 years before IMCOR won a bid to complete HVAC and plumbing work on the new air traffic control tower in 2004.
Karber says IMCOR has always derived positivity by providing a good workplace for employees. As business grew so did its need for space.
“We quickly ran out of room in Michael’s shed,” Karber says. “A good friend, Joe Banks, offered us a place to work in the corner of his shop, Banks Welding, on east Washington Street. We eventually bought the vacant lot next door to Joe’s shop and built a sheet metal building. We presently own and occupy the city block in that location.”
Karber’s first commercial project was to install sheet metal flashings on a row of buildings on east Van Buren Street for $1,200. One of the company’s recent, larger projects was to install the air-conditioning, sheet metal and plumbing for the Civic Plaza complex in downtown Phoenix — a contract for more than $50M.
The journey wasn’t as direct. The company would see one more merger before it became IMCOR as its known today. The Karber brothers started Interstate A/C while still operating Karber A/C.
“Karber was a union contractor and became unable to compete on the public works jobs that were its main market due to the Arizona Supreme Court ruling that repealed Arizona’s version of the Davis-Bacon Act,” he says.
IMCOR had a plumbing subcontractor that was unable to perform on a certain project, so Karber decided to form its own plumbing company, Allied Plumbing, to do this project.
“After that, we used this entity on several other projects until we got the bugs out and then we merged Allied Plumbing with Interstate A/C to form IMCOR,” he says.
Though the company has a lot of history in its 40 years, Rick’s fondest memory is forming a nationally accredited, four-year apprenticeship training program in the name of his late brother, Michael, who passed away in 1990. The program, established in 1993, has graduated many journeyman tradesmen since its inception and has contributed greatly to the industry, Karber says.