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USGNN Original StoryA USGlass Magazine Special Investigative Report:
U.S. Suppliers Do the Design Work but Overseas Company Gets the Job for Portion of One World Trade Center

March 31, 2009

by Tara Taffera

The following is a special investigative report conducted by USGlass magazine over the past few months concerning the glass to be used at One World Trade Center.

Construction at One World Trade Center, formerly known as the Freedom Tower. Photo courtesy of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Photo credit: SOM

It will stand as a sign of freedom—One World Trade Center, formerly known as The Freedom Tower, currently under construction at the site of the former World Trade Center in New York City. The bid process for this prestigious project began for some glass companies a few years ago and ended this month when they learned they weren't awarded the project. This alone was not an unusual occurrence—except that these companies collectively had invested a high seven figures in developing products specific to this project.

Ultimately the final contract for glass for the podium wall (lower 20 stories) of One World Trade Center has been awarded to a Chinese manufacturer.

North American companies including Barber Glass Industries Inc., a full service glass fabricator located near Toronto, and Johnson Screens, with U.S. offices in New Brighton, Minn., and PPG Industries, based in Pittsburgh, Pa., provided significant technical support to this project's development.

After the completion of a significant number of hours of work, Barber Glass Industries Inc. submitted a proposal to fabricate a base glass product that was to be supplied by PPG. Both PPG and Johnson Screens were noted in Barber's project specification as the preferred and specified suppliers.

Under the original bid design for the project, the main supply companies were scheduled to:

  1. Make additions to their offering that would include the manufacture of low iron glass in PPG's U.S. facilities in available thicknesses up to 1-inch.
  2. Based on the architectural specification, Barber Glass Industries Inc. would fabricate, and laminate glass supplied by PPG Industries in line with the Barber Glass "Ridge Line" Prismatic design.
  3. Further based on the architectural specification, Johnson Screens would provide the back-up screen that would hold the Prismatic Glass onto the face of the building.

Following the completion of the formal bid process, none of these companies were chosen to work on the project.

Of the three bidders that were considered for the installation contract, two of them (APG International in Glassboro, N.J., and W&W Glass LLC in Nanuet, N.Y.) have headquarters in the United States. The third, DCM Erectors, has offices in Toronto as well as New York.

Ultimately the contract for the installation of the podium wall was awarded to DCM Erectors.

Sources who wish to remain anonymous say that although the bid from DCM Erectors was significantly more expensive than both APG and W&W in its original proposal, DCM offered a significant savings by proposing that foreign supply sources be used for the Podium Wall components. (USGlass magazine spoke to Joe Begley from DCM's curtainwall division who said he wanted to speak to us for this article but needed permission from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey first due to confidentiality issues. USGlass requested this permission from the Port Authority but did not receive a response.)

In the end both Barber Glass Industries and Johnson Screens received a short letter from DCM Erectors saying it would be awarding material supply contracts to an alternate supplier.

In early February, before the job was awarded, USGlass asked Port Authority spokesperson Steve Coleman about the possibility that this glass might be manufactured in China.

"I will say this is an open procurement process," says Coleman. "We're a public agency and we solicit bids and award projects based on their ability to do the work and at the lowest price."

After the contract was awarded this month he told USGlass, "Our contract is with DCM/Solera. That firm hired a sub, Zetian, an American company, to procure the glass from a Chinese manufacturer which is producing the 'starlite' low-iron glass under the Pittsburgh glass license," says Coleman. (Calls to Zetian Systems, based in Las Vegas, from USGlass were not returned at press time.)

The Money Spent
Rob Struble, business commercial manager for PPG's Performance Glazings division, says PPG invested a great deal of money into this project, yet it won't be supplying the product.

"We've been working with the Port Authority, the architect [at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM)] and the glazier to develop the specific glass for that project," says Struble. "We've invested hundreds of thousands of dollars at our Carlisle, Pa., facility to make glass to that unique specification."

Struble says the glass his company was going to produce for the tower is PPG's Starphire ultra clear glass but is much thicker than what is currently available commercially.

"Modifications had to be made to the [float] line in order to produce that glass," he says.

He adds that PPG invested not just hundreds of thousands of dollars but hundreds of man-hours in the product's development. Additionally, one of the plant's two lines was shut down during the conversion, resulting in the lay-off of about 40 workers. The line is still down and will be restarted when demand increases. Struble adds that PPG is looking at other potential markets for the glass produced at this thickness.

"We were preparing to supply cradle-to-cradle certified Starphire ultra-clear glass, the most transparent float glass available commercially in the world, from our Carlisle, Pa., facility-just a few hundred miles from the jobsite," says Gary R. Danowski, vice president of PPG Performance Glazings. "We're disappointed that the project has taken this turn. We believe that regional supply and the specified product, Starphire glass, are the most appropriate for such an important project."

Regarding the costs accrued by Johnson Screens, John Fedie, North American market manager, says, "We invested a lot of time and money."

The costs also were significant for Barber, which spent money on prototypes, labor, research and development, specialized tooling, samples and prototypes.

Sources also say that throughout the bidding process it became very apparent that cost was the most important factor, and that all installation bidders were continually requested to provide alternative products for submittal to the architect. (Calls to SOM were not returned.)

According to a source, "It is our belief that the contract was awarded to DCM Erectors at a dollar value that allowed DCM to work with the companies outlined in the specification."

The Crux of the Problem
When asked about the process, representatives from both Barber Glass Industries and Johnson Screens agreed that it is easy for companies, both foreign and domestic, to offer a last-minute cheaper option when others do all the development work.

"How ethical is it that you have companies like ours do all of the upfront work and then you award the contract overseas?" asks Mike Wellman, vice president of sales and marketing at Barber Glass Industries. "If there is going to be an appetite to drive cost out of the process through the use of foreign supply, is it not appropriate that you would work with that foreign supply source in the up front development process?"

Suppliers all felt they were brought in during the developmental stage for a reason.

"We were pretty confident we were going to get the job," says Fedie. "We weren't price gouging."

Lyle R. Hill, president of MTH Industries in Chicago, one of the country's largest and most widely-respected contract glazing companies, says it is a very common practice for design-build professionals to seek out assistance at the developmental stage of a project for engineering, budgeting and other design and logistical issues.

"In exchange for such efforts, it is generally understood that one of two things happens. Either the job becomes yours to lose…meaning that you'll have every opportunity to meet competitive pricing as needed… or a final pricing arrangement will be negotiated on your behalf," says Hill. "So I can completely understand why these companies would be extremely disappointed and surprised when the work went elsewhere…particularly to an overseas supplier on a job of this type."

Both Johnson and Barber say their companies will definitely be making changes based on this experience.

"You have to be cautious as a fabricator," says Wellman. "If this trend continues, it will become increasingly difficult to support the design process without firm commitments or development contracts. "This puts more pressure on the architect."

In hindsight what would Barber and Johnson have done differently?

"Perhaps what we should have done is propose a development contract," says Wellman. "Say, 'You pay us $1 million for the development work and then you own it.' From there, you can shop internationally all you want."

"We should have put a 'buy American' spec in there," says Fedie. "Now we're careful about what we do provide."

Fedie adds that he can't compete with an Asian company as far as price. "We pay our workers more than $100 per week," he says.

Should This Project Go Overseas?
Whether or not the glass for this project should be manufactured overseas is purely a matter of opinion, but it's a question that's been asked about a project that stands as a symbol for freedom.

Sources say that in early design discussions, Chinese sources of raw glass material were ruled out, and domestic supply sources were cited in the architectural specification documents. But ultimately the final contract for the glass was awarded to a Chinese manufacturer.

PPG's Danowski, for one, is disappointed with the final decision.

"It's always hard to lose a big project and much more so one that is so prestigious," he says. "I'm not sure a more important symbol of our nation than the Freedom Tower will be seen in my career. The thought that the protective skin of this icon of America will be made from glass sourced on the other side of the planet and not local material is quite a blow."

"This is the Freedom Tower," adds Fedie. "This is for the bottom 20 stories-this is what people are going to see." (The upper floors of the tower will have glass supplied by a U.S. manufacturer).

Though PPG and Johnson are obviously close to this project, others share their views, including Glenn Corbett of John Jay College in New York City, chief technical advisor to the Skyscraper Safety Campaign (Click here for more info on this group.)

"The symbolism here is unbelievable …" he says, adding, "that they would use non-American workers for this project."

"This project would have created jobs for people in Minnesota," adds Fedie.

Fedie confirms that there were letters exchanged between the Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and the governors of New York and New Jersey, David Paterson and Jon Corzine, respectively, about keeping the work in the United States.

When USGlass contacted Paterson's office in February about the possibility that some of the work may go to an overseas company, Erin Duggan, a representative for the office, said, "Right now you're asking a hypothetical question. And I can't comment on that." When USGlass contacted Duggan again in March when the news was official, the requests for comment were not returned.

Quality Trumped by Cost?
"We've proven that our product and processes work," says Fedie [His company also did 7 World Trade Center so Fedie says it has experience in wall cladding]. "There is concern about the quality of the Chinese product."

Corbett has concerns as well and his lay with the Port Authority. "The Port Authority has a history of doing things on the cheap," he says. "They claim to meet or exceed codes but often they do not."

He says this dates back to the original World Trade Center, adding that the Port Authority didn't learn valuable lessons there.

"It's just a continuation of their legacy," says Corbett. "There's nothing new here. They're doing it cheaply and quickly."

He says he's tried to lobby for change but it's been difficult.

"I've been at the jobsite with protest signs," says Corbett. "I've also gone to City Council meetings. Politicians are in favor of keeping the work here but the Port Authority is very powerful."

But they haven't been powerful enough to keep this massive project going without delays.

According to a Wall Street Journal article published on March 21, much of the 16-acre site, including five skyscrapers, a memorial, a transit hub, a shopping mall and a performing-arts center, was expected to open between 2011 and 2013. "Those dates are in jeopardy and at least some elements are unlikely to be finished until the later part of the next decade. The memorial is set to open by the tenth anniversary of the attacks, but even it faces budget shortfalls and is pursuing federal stimulus money," states the article.

Corbett says that stimulus money isn't being sought for One World Trade Center, but it is for other parts of the project. "If they get stimulus money for the tunnel, for example, then that will free up money for other projects such as the tower."

One World Trade Center has also been in the news last week for other events as well.

On March 26 various news outlets reported the building's new name-it will no longer be known as the Freedom Tower.

"As we market the building, we will insure that it is presented in the best possible way-and 1 World Trade Center is the address that we're using," said Port Authority chairman Anthony Coscia in an article from the New York Daily News.

Also on March 26, The New York Times reported that the first tenant for One World Trade Center was signed-a Chinese real estate company.

"The Beijing Vantone Industrial Company has agreed to a 23-year lease for floors 64 through 69 in what will be known as 1 World Trade Center, at the southeast corner of West and Vesey Streets. The $3.1 billion office building, once called the Freedom Tower, is scheduled to be completed in 2013. Vantone plans to build a cultural and business center for Chinese companies doing business in the United States and American companies working in China," stated the article.

An Associated Press article published on March 27, said the following: "The newspapers said the change came after board members voted to sign a 21-year lease deal with Vantone, a Chinese real estate giant, which will become the first commercial tenant at Ground Zero."

"The negotiations with Vantone, which is closely affiliated with the Chinese Communist government, had nothing to do with the name change, Port Authority officials told the News, but was based primarily on bottom-line marketing considerations."

© 2009 USGlass magazine. 540-720-5584 All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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