After kidney transplant, Brent Worwa now runs ‘Mr. Sparky of St. Paul’

posted in: News | 0

After graduating from North Dakota State University in Fargo with a degree in electrical engineering, Brent Worwa spent 13 years selling printers, copiers and information technology software. A heavy drinker, he used alcohol as a refuge from the anxieties caused by his harried work life until a kidney failed. It would take Worwa, now 39, five years of surgeries and home care to get through a health ordeal that culminated in a successful kidney transplant. He recently opened Mr. Sparky of St. Paul, one of three Mr. Sparky franchises that offer home electrical repairs, wiring and inspections in the Twin Cities. Based in Circle Pines, his shop services residences and small offices throughout St. Paul and the east metro. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Talk to me about Mister Sparky.

A: They’re all over the United States — they’re the largest electrical home service provider. Authority Brands is the parent company, and Authority Brands owns 17 home service provider brands. You’ll see around town 1-Hour Heating and Air, and then Ben Franklin Plumbing.

We do mostly residential work, and some light commercial in four-to six-unit office spaces. Any type of call related to electrical infrastructure of a house, a single outlet, a switch, a fan, custom lighting in a kitchen, direct service coming into the house, the panel, the main engine of the house. Troubleshooting, installation, remodeling, new homebuilding — it’s seemingly endless.

Q: You’re an electrical engineer by training, but not a licensed electrician yourself?

A: Personally, I do love mechanicals, electronics. I do my own electrical. I grew up in a very-trade heavy family. My dad has been a carpenter in St. Paul for 45 years. His dad was a carpenter, and his dad was a carpenter.

Q: How difficult is the work?

A: I went to school for electrical engineering, and I had no idea how complicated it was to become an electrician. It’s above my head, and I consider myself pretty technical. In order for companies like mine to stay in business, we need to eat some of that cost (of training apprentices) and pay a fair wage. Typically, an average U.S. household only needs electrical service done on their home every eight years. It’s usually surprising to consumers, the cost. But that cost includes fully bonded, licensed electricians that follow the rules. But unfortunately it’s also created a market where providers will not follow the rules, and work without licensing and insurance, and can come in and undercut companies like mine. It’s very difficult for the Department of Labor to regulate it, because that’s going to cut out a huge chunk of service providers.

Q: What path led you to open a home electrical franchise?

A: I got sick five years ago. I had a neighbor drive me to the E.R. because I woke up on the couch and said, ‘I think I’m going to die today.’ Within five minutes, I was on my way to HCMC (Hennepin County Medical Center) and I didn’t leave for two months. I was in intensive care and they told my parents to get my affairs in order. I was put into end-of-life hospice care. … They told me I would not survive. My parents — my mom is a nurse — retired early and took me to our family home in Shoreview.

I stayed alive long enough for them to list me on the national (kidney) transplant registry. That surgery was March of 2022. I’m highly educated, but they don’t teach you how to deal with real-life situations in college. To deal with my own stress and anxiety, I unfortunately drank too much, and that was the root cause of my sickness. I got sick right before COVID, and I was in the hospital through all of COVID. The state of Minnesota for the past five years has paid for every penny of my healthcare. (Now), I’m in great health. I never want to have a boss again that’s going to cause me the anxiety that drove me to drink.

Q: Talk to me about your team.

A: I’m pretty much doing everything behind the scenes right now. I have several people who are ready to start whenever I need them — one or two electricians, a couple journeymen who are waiting to be hired in the next 30 to 60 days. Our lead journeyman is taking his business test to hold our business master license in the next three weeks. He’ll be the lead master electrician.

Q: That’s a lot of testing.

A: Minnesota is far more strict than the majority of states in this country. You can’t just decide to be an electrician. Just to have the opportunity to take your journeyman’s test, you have to have 10,000 hours in the field. The two licensed electrical apprentices will follow his lead. He’ll be responsible for pulling permits.

There were several eye-opening moments when I was looking into this business. The most alarming part of it was finding electricians that are properly licensed, with the experience and willingness to work. It’s a lopsided market, the job market with trades, but especially electricians. The Twin Cities is approaching a 20% shortage in electricians compared to the rest of the United States. We have the seventh worst labor shortage for electricians. It drives up the price of these residential type services, so it’s passed onto the customer. A lot of the smaller shops pick and choose where they want to go. We did some minor repairs in Cottage Grove for a real estate agent, so she knows her way around. She said we were the first contract service provider to go out to her house in two months. She’d been trying for two months. Mostly people wouldn’t set appointments because they didn’t see it as worth their time, or they wouldn’t show up.

Q: So the labor shortage is impacting customers, too?

A: The more pain it causes potential customers, the more people are going to talk about it. We’re paying above average wages for two registered and licensed apprentices who are working toward that 10,000 (hours of field work) goal. That’s a huge increase to my overhead. DEED (the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development) in the past has offered grants to offset those costs.

The customer demand is just so high right now, and the supply can’t keep up with it. It can’t just be done overnight. We employ two full-time apprentices because I’m trying to play my part of bringing in the next generation of fully-trained, licensed electricians, because it takes time. It takes years and thousands of hours, which have to be properly documented.

Q: Should the state relax some training standards?

A: Oh, that’s a good question. I don’t think so, but I grew up with a dad that followed the rules as a contractor, and he did everything he’s supposed to in following codes. If you relax those regulations and those required codes and the inspection schedule, you’re reducing the safety net of somebody’s home. You’re inviting safety issues for fire and possible electrocution in somebody’s home. It keeps the standards high for our state, but it also creates some barriers to entry for being an electrical services provider. A lot of people want to get into this industry, but it is an intense process to become a licensed electrician and do everything required. Even before the 10,000 hours of field work, you need (certification from) an accredited trade program or a licensed four-year degree in electrical engineering.

Related Articles

Business |

Former St. Paul police officer, Golden Gloves boxer dies in single-vehicle crash

Business |

Woman dies in single-vehicle rollover crash on I-94 in St. Paul. Authorities say alcohol was involved.

Business |

Small rideshare companies said they’d fill void if Uber and Lyft left. What happens now that they’re staying?

Business |

Drive-by shooting injures 3 at St. Paul grad party, marking 3rd shooting at weekend gatherings

Business |

Shooting at St. Paul’s Crosby Farm Park injures 3 young women

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.