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Company focus Nov 27, 2023

In conversation with Casey Crown

In conversation with...

Casey Crown

Project manager at Sunbelt Controls in Idaho, United States

A Reliable Controls Authorized Dealer since 2010





Tell us about your path into the controls industry.


Growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, I started as a copy girl at Siemens Building Technologies, back in the day when you needed nine physical copies of every submittal and as-built. When I was in college, I interned at Siemens during the summers as an engineering assistant. I later went to school at Boise State University. 

My parents started a business in Boise—Northwest Service Technologies. They expanded into the controls side and became a Reliable Controls Authorized Dealer in 2010. When I graduated from Boise State, I wanted to continue working at Northwest as a technician, so I completed Niagara AX and N4 technical training, and the Reliable Controls Level 4 training, which were eye-opening. It was exciting to get that experience. I was already doing some design work, then moved into a project management role, helping execute projects, going on site, handling subcontractor coordination, billing and following up with customers, and estimating smaller jobs.

When Northwest was acquired by ACCO Engineered Systems in 2019, it was able to transfer the Reliable Controls dealership to the Boise branch of Sunbelt Controls. The beauty of that was we were able to continue supporting the clients we’d had for nearly a decade. Sunbelt is growing quickly. In 4 years, we’ve gone from four to 14 employees locally.





What’s your role at Sunbelt Controls?


I’m a project manager. The project manager model here is a little different from traditional project managers. We work with customers cradle to grave, so we’re doing both estimating and execution of projects. I think people really value this model because we’re not selling the world and making promises we’re not going to keep. Personally, I also really appreciate it because it aligns with my values of doing what I say I’m going to do. I try to live with integrity.

We get a lot of positive feedback from customers who are thrilled they had continuity even through the transition and would see the faces they were used to. There’s been so much change in every industry lately, so it’s been really important to provide our customers with that familiarity and trusted point of contact.

Part of my job focuses on engineering development on our team. I help hire interns and develop them into design engineers and project engineers. Some have moved on to be software engineers in the field, too. It’s been a really rewarding experience to go from being the kid who had all the questions to being someone who can answer them and help others.

Had you always intended to work in the controls industry?

My degree is actually in public law. When I was in school, my intentions were to pursue a master’s in public administration. Does anyone grow up thinking they’re going to be a controls person? You just kind of fall into it. I did a Bachelor of Science, so I took physics and a lot of math. To be successful in controls, you have to be a well-rounded person and be willing to learn all the time. I think that’s where my strengths are in our team: I really like technical things, but I also like to communicate, and develop, and grow business.

Our team has a real mix of backgrounds. Some came from the trades, both electrical and mechanical; others are military service members, trained through the navy. We have the traditional mechanical engineers and others who came through computer science. Another colleague has a degree in public health and, like me, has mentors who worked in a similar field so also grew up around this industry. It’s interesting, all the ways people end up in controls and how it becomes your passion.

What else are you passionate about?

My family. I have two girls, ages 10 and eight. My husband and I have been married for 15 years. We like to spend time outdoors, camping and kayaking. We like to go out to remote places like alpine lakes. Having that time in nature to disconnect, to be quiet and see nature in all its vibrancy…it’s just amazing! I try to remember to make the moments count and be present. And now the girls are a bit older, we’re doing more travelling.

I love to serve others. I’m on three different volunteer boards: I’m the vice president of the association at my kids’ school, I’m the treasurer for the Council of Catholic Women, and I’m the new membership promotions co-chair this year for our local ASHRAE chapter. 


Define success.

It’s the ability to sleep well at night, knowing you lived the day with integrity. It comes down to what you value as a person and knowing you’re living by those values. When I don't sleep well, I ask myself, “How can I make this better?” and then strive to do better. I don't think success is necessarily a tangible thing. It’s about self-reflection and a feeling of accomplishment.



What does sustainability mean to you?

For me, it’s quality over time—whether it’s quality of life or quality of product. I think the problem we have right now is over-consumerism, in all aspects. If your actions lessen that and create an environment or product that outlives what’s expected of it, you created something sustainable, something that can stand the test of time.


How does Reliable Controls help your customers achieve sustainability with buildings?

I think building automation has a bad rap sometimes. People make assumptions that it’s expensive and has an end of life that’s only 10 to 20 years. Customers don’t want to invest in it, and when they do, they feel like they’re trapped and beholden to what they chose. Reliable Controls bucks that trend. It has a 5-year warranty, backward compatibility, and people who really know and support the product. You can call technical support and have an issue resolved in 20 minutes. If the fix takes longer, you get someone working on it who isn’t going to ignore you.

I like that my customers don't need to upgrade, but rather they want to because they want the new features, they want to build resiliency in their buildings, and they want to look forward to newer technologies like IP-based systems.

What is it about Reliable Controls that contributes to the sustainability of their building automation systems specifically?

I’m seeing a lot more requests to integrate systems that aren’t just HVAC systems. Customers are asking for energy metering, lighting control, and operational technology systems. I think people tend to gravitate to the flashy stuff that’s marketed specifically for operational technology integration and point modeling. They don’t realize Reliable Controls is fantastic at integration because it pulls in open-protocol third-party devices seamlessly and makes them look like Reliable Controls devices in the graphical user interface. Reliable Controls devices are native BACnet. That’s really exciting to me, and it’s something I’m showcasing more often.

When people look for value adds, integration is something I think we as an industry need to focus more attention on—becoming master systems integrators. We’re going to have a lot of factories, devices, or things we can’t necessarily take control of, but we can give our clients and operators insights—give them that data and a diagnostic tool.

My customers look at their building automation system not just as an HVAC tool but as a whole building tool—a tool to help them gain data and analytics and help them communicate.

How creative are your customers getting with the communication capabilities?

A customer once called me on the day their building went into lockdown. He had to call every tenant individually and wondered if there was a more efficient way to communicate quickly using the controls system. Knowing the system could already email certain people, he wondered if he could create a Notification Class for a building lockdown. We did exactly that! Now all 15 buildings on their enterprise system can communicate with tenants, and he can update the class anytime.

MSTP vs IP: What are your thoughts?

I love that Reliable Controls has a new IP line coming out! I think that’s going to really change some of the ways our customers look at things—it’s future proofing buildings, making them more resilient. MSTP is slow, and there’s an art to it, which makes it harder to troubleshoot, especially for newer technicians. If a device takes down your entire network, you can be out there for a while figuring out exactly where it is, whereas IP is fast. It’s easy to install and easy to troubleshoot, and as long as you put in a service loop, you know exactly where the device is that’s having problems. And it won’t take down your entire network because of the pass-through technology.

It’s not my job to just sell—I also need to inform customers about products, market trends, and where technology is going. For anyone who wants to add more capabilities on their system and integrate more devices, IP will take them to the next level.

If you’re doing a retrofit and you don’t give your customer the option for IP, I think you’re doing a disservice to them, the building, and the future technicians who will work on that system. Having a faster network is a big deal. Having hundreds of units in your building can really slow down your network. These days we’re in an instant-gratification society, and that trend is in building automation, too.

I don’t think MSTP or serial networks are going away, but I am preparing customers for the shift to IP-based systems, especially as they appear more often in specifications from design engineers. Taking the time during retrofits to have that infrastructure in place is going to have an exponential return on investment for our customers in the long run.

Which three words best describe Reliable Controls?

Reliable. Every time I email or call, I immediately get a response. I can count on one hand the times I’ve had to send something back for repair. All the products are really good!

Sustainability. And not just a focus on the environment, but on people and the industry. I’ve worked with other controls products, and the difference between them and Reliable Controls is night and day. I think it’s because Reliable Controls doesn’t just focus on making good products, it also makes sure its people are happy while making the products. To me, it shows people care.

Forward-thinking. The 5-year warranty is unheard of. Backward compatibility is amazing and truly sets Reliable Controls apart. I’ve had it happen where a brand said products reached end of life, so rip it all out. That really stinks. I know Reliable Controls will never do that.



Let’s talk about the challenges for women in this industry.

Challenge number one is sexism. The internal/external biases. It’s hard because your technical capabilities are frequently challenged. I lucked out having an androgynous name—I always get emails addressed “gentleman” or “Dear sir,” and then when I speak with someone on the phone, they say, “I didn’t realize you’re a woman.” It always surprises them. When I walk onto a job site, people automatically think I’m an inspector.

I even catch the bias in people when it comes to hiring interns. An internship is meant to help someone gain experience. At Sunbelt Controls we take a holistic approach, giving interns office experience and field experience. We have leadership who grew up in the trades and want people who are good with their hands and know how to handle power tools. There aren’t many opportunities out there for women to gain that experience other than on a job site. I have to remind my colleagues that even if they don’t have the experience yet, it doesn’t mean they’re not capable of it, so they shouldn’t be excluded from a pool of candidates. I think it’s important to interview equally between male and female candidates, so that’s something I’ve implemented over the years. I’m the only female hiring manager on the team, so I see it as a responsibility. I know when I bring a woman in for an interview, there’s so much more to them than they put on paper!

I think men and women are equally capable but have different ways of going about things. I know the biases stem from the societies we grew up in—we’re all just geared that way—but I think there’s strength in having equal numbers on the team.

Do you ever catch yourself having biases?

Yes, and I make sure I confront them. When I go through résumés, I ask myself if I’m looking at them the right way. When I interact with other women in our industry, I question whether I’m elevating the conversation and that person or if I trying to compete. I’m aware of it!

I think the only way things will change is if we start to see more women in technical leadership roles, not just supporting admin. I want to see female operations managers and supervisor-level technicians. More women need to be in hiring positions or at least on the hiring committee to help interview and support the process.

What do you think Reliable Controls could be doing to support equal opportunities?

Highlighting successful female dealers or female systems engineers and technicians helps combat the external bias. It’s a snowball effect: when people see each other hiring more women into those roles, it helps them realize they can, too. Our industry offers so many career paths young engineers would find really exciting. There just isn’t enough exposure.

What advice would you like to offer women joining the industry?

Foster a support group. Connect with people who believe in you and build you up. It’s hard to build a network in this industry because we’re constantly confronting doubt. Without someone knowing you, they don’t appreciate your value until you’ve proven it. Whereas for men, it’s the opposite: they automatically have that value attached. It’s exhausting. So it’s nice to have a support group, where it’s easy to talk with each other and not have to watch every little thing you say in case they’re going to point out your mistakes. Find those people and connect with them.

Any advice in general to up-and-coming controls professionals?

If there’s an opportunity to walk a job site, sit in on a project meeting, or speak with anybody who’s been around for a while, take it, absorb as much as you can, and be present. You’re going to encounter problems. How you react to them is based on experience and having the confidence you’ve seen something before, so you know what to do.

Familiarize yourself with networking and IP-based systems. That’s the future. More and more of our servers are migrating to virtual machines, so understand how firewalls, virtual private networks, and networks work, and learn how to keep your end product secure. Cybersecurity is really important!

Be flexible and willing to learn. This is not a job where you’re doing the same thing every day. Construction itself is cyclical, and we have to follow the construction process. The challenges you encounter may also be cyclical. One day it might be graphics; the next it’s programming or sales. Try to be the person who says yes when asked if you can do something. Nobody likes to hear, “That’s not my job.”


Why do you align with Reliable Controls?

I like to live with integrity, and I like to sleep at night. Reliable Controls helps me do both. When I go to a customer’s site because there’s a challenge, I like that I can get technical support involved right away and have the issue resolved that trip. I like speaking with customers who are so excited about their product they want to know more and do more things with it. That makes me really happy.

It takes a lot of integrity on the manufacturer’s part to deliver what it promised. You said you’d support the product, and you do. You said it’d be backward compatible, and it is. You said it would have a 5-year warranty, and you stand by that. That’s really important to me, and it makes my job easier because I don’t have to feel stressed or have anxiety about things I shouldn’t have to.


Tell us about a project you’re proud of and why.

We recently worked on the Idaho State Veterans Home, 7 hours away from us. This was rewarding for me personally, having a veteran in my home (my husband). To work on a project that directly supports veterans—such an underserved population—and our state is fantastic. When you align with projects like that, you can be proud not just of the fact you built something, but you built it for people who need it.

We got to flex our master systems integrator wheelhouse on that project: We integrated an LG variable refrigerant flow system on a large scale and integrated the DX cooling and heating for the air handling units as well. The only gas being used in the building is in the domestic water system.

Do you ever collaborate with other Authorized Dealers on projects?

Yes! Not long ago I got a call from Tom Franzo from Intelli-Building in Chicago. He was asked to partner with a mechanical contractor in Boise on a project and wondered if I wanted to take it on instead. After sharing a budget I’d pulled together for the project 2 years prior, he was confident I had it handled and made the introduction. A week later I had a purchase order from the Chicago mechanical contractor, and we’re working on a 26-story mixed-use building, which will be one of the tallest in Idaho. That’s the power of the network. We’re not competing; we’re working together. And especially because Tom recommended me, I want to make him proud.

Likewise, if I know of opportunities that make more sense for another dealer to handle, I’ll make connections and introductions with mechanical contractors here who want to bid that eastern Idaho work. I appreciate being part of the Reliable Controls dealer network because nobody’s trying to oversaturate the market with undervalued work.

Does any Reliable Controls software feature stand out to you in particular?

The thing I love about RC-WebView is I can take an Enterprise System and make it seamless with the Navigation Trees and graphics and also create custom tables for multiple users. Compared to other platforms that get wonky after a while, with Reliable Controls I can have one piece of software but 15 different Navigation Trees for all the different purposes. To be able to expand an enterprise without issues, or the need to sell another Jace, is really exciting.

If there’s one thing you wish Reliable Controls did differently, what would it be?

I wish I could get my hands on new products faster. But that’s just me being greedy. I understand and appreciate that Reliable Controls has its process of beta testing products so they don’t have any issues, making sure someone knows how they work and can tell us how to use them. I just get so swept up by the marketing and sales of anything new. I start to visualize it in a space, how good it’ll look on the wall, and then I just want to get my hands on it.