Suburban Natural Gas Company

Organized in 1882, Suburban Natural Gas Company is a natural gas company and public utility subject to the jurisdiction of The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). The largest family owned natural gas company in Ohio, Suburban serves more than 16,000 meters from two distribution systems in northwestern and central Ohio. 

“Although our customer base is more than 90 percent residential, we serve such large-volume commercial customers as Polaris Centers of Commerce, a 1,300-acre mixed retail and residential development and shopping mall; a Chase IT and computer data center; and a large regional Kroger warehouse and distribution center,” President Chairman and CEO David L. Pemberton Sr., says. “We operate and maintain more than 700 miles of natural gas pipelines exclusively within the state of Ohio.” 

With roots as a rural residential and small commercial gas distribution company, Suburban has expanded operations into larger and more sophisticated environments over time. But the operation always has maintained a sense of neighborly care and concern for its customers even as it enhanced its technical expertise to manage and serve these metropolitan areas. 

“Suburban’s employees are – and react as – neighbors to our existing customer base,” Pemberton says. “We are also attentive to the needs and concerns of the source of our new customers, residential and commercial developers. They need timely, safe and reliable service. Our employees work side-by-side with contractors’ employees making sure gas service is there when and where needed.” 

Suburban’s owners are also the executive managers of the company, which has helped prevent the growth of an oversized bureaucracy that can delay decision-making. “If there is one thing we are most known for it is the accessibility of our management and the timeliness and reliability of our decision-making,” Pemberton says. 

Over the last few years, Suburban has worked hard to establish itself as an aggressive, competitive and rapidly expanding natural gas distribution company. Additionally, it has recognized that it needed more than low-margin, large-volume accounts. 

“As a public utility, we must provide service where needed,” Pemberton says. “But our strategy has permitted the company to maximize our return on investment to provide the capital necessary for expansion and growth as service areas expand while avoiding excessive reliance on debt. Within the context of our public utility obligation, Suburban is very selective in pursuing new opportunities for expansion and making the necessary investments.” 

Suburban prides itself on offering the same service options to customers as larger natural gas companies in major metropolitan areas. But because of its relatively smaller size, it must be more selective in implementing new customer service offerings. For example, some customers consider credit card online payment options as essential, while others prefer to hand-deliver payments to Suburban’s offices. Suburban has made the investments required to provide both. 

Facing Forward 

As the company considers its future, Suburban is continually upgrading and replacing its equipment and facilities. It also stays on top of the direction of its market, seeing a growing regulatory burden as the major trend shaping its industry and driving up cost. Suburban has responded by remaining involved in its trade organizations. 

Additionally, Suburban sees ensuring strong ties with employees and external partners as critically important. With its vendors and suppliers, Suburban reviews those relationships on an ongoing basis and periodically bids its supplier and vendor pricing. But the company does not change on the basis of price only, believing that strong relationships can produce greater savings and business opportunities over time. 

On the employee side, the company is working to maintain employee benefits and competitive salaries. Last year, management conducted a complete review of employee compensation and made significant upward adjustments. 

The company decided many years ago to implement an employer-funded qualified pension plan and an employee-funded 401(k) option as well as full family health insurance coverage. 

Although rising annual premiums have magnified the costs of these programs, Suburban’s management is committed to providing these benefits. 

“Attracting and retaining competent, talented and motivated employees is our challenge,” Pemberton says. “As a society, we must ensure that younger people are taught the basic qualities needed to succeed in the workplace. We work to maintain better and more productive employees, and we are proud of our employees and believe they are proud of Suburban as well.”  

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