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Dee Cramer’s Rise From Humble Origins

The Michigan-based company embraces old-fashioned relationship-building, community service, and sophisticated technologies to take on big jobs.

Matt Cramer tells a great story about how his grandfather started his own business: Dee Cramer, a heating, cooling, and sheet metal company based in Holly, Michigan. In 1937, during the heart of the Great Depression, Dee was working for a company called Jacob’s Heating and told his wife, Louise, he was going out to buy a six-pack.

“And she said, well, if you want money to be able to afford beer, you better start your own company, and maybe then we can afford things like beer,” said Matt, Dee Cramer’s president. “So, my grandpa started a residential heating company in 1937. They were, quite literally, a mom-and-pop organization.”

Dee and Louise Cramer began the business by scraping up a little money and driving to Ohio to buy heating equipment. Dee would go door to door to sell and install it. Things were tight for a while, but World War II was like rocket fuel for the business, as massive war production came to Flint.

In time, Dee’s and Louise’s son Dick took over the company, followed by Matt and his brother Rich. There’s also a fourth generation of Cramers on the way up: Matt has three sons and a nephew who are now learning the business. Throughout its long history, Dee Cramer has continued to grow. When Dick took over, revenues were around $5 million a year. Now, they exceed $90 million.

A Leader in Building Technologies


Dee Cramer helped pioneer Building Information Modeling (BIM), which creates digital 3D representations to support design, planning, and construction. BIM software helps the company share designs and supports collaborations with clients and other stakeholders

“We pride ourselves on being innovative,” said Matt. “Driving innovation and trying to do things a little differently is one of our core values. But there’s a lot more to a building than a set of plans and specs. It’s about building relationships.”

One of those relationships is with Trane, which has played a major role in Dee Cramer’s design build work for decades. The collaboration with Trane helps get the right pieces of equipment to the right places at the right times.  

“I can always rely on Trane to be on the cutting-edge of technology,” said Matt. “They’re always aggressive on energy changes. Looking at refrigerants, Trane is often one of the first to make the change and approach it in the most well-thought-out and planned way. It’s one of the reasons the Trane name works so well to satisfy our customers.”

Serving Their Community

Dee Cramer is a leading construction company, but they are far from alone. Matt Cramer is part of a nationwide building trades peer group, started by his father and others, including Hermanson Construction in Seattle, Western Allied Mechanical in the San Francisco Bay Area, and several other companies.

Since 1989, group members have shared ideas on how to move their businesses forward and have even reviewed each other’s practices to increase efficiency. Through this peer group, Matt developed long and fruitful relationships with Rick Hermanson and Angie Simon, who launched the Heavy Metal Summer Experience (HMSE).


HMSE is a six-week training program that introduces high school students to the mechanical trades, giving kids a new perspective on career options. As soon as Matt heard about it, he was in.

“We wanted to open up kids’ eyes about the skilled trades and whether that’s a career they might want to go into,” said Matt.

Human Resources Manager Kelsey Savage and a small committee of Dee Cramer employees took charge of customizing HMSE for their company. Simon and Hermanson had developed a playbook to help companies implement the program, and that was a great tool to get started. During the planning phase, the Dee Cramer team modified the curriculum to accommodate a  100% sheet metal only focus to the program’s full mechanical focus.

“We wanted to do something a little different, and I got online and found a sheet metal cooking grill,” said Kelsey. “Our shop leader said we could make it, so we designed it, put the HMSE logo on the side, and it was a huge hit.”

The program took kids through a variety of hands-on sheet metal and welding activities, as well as building and hanging ductwork on a makeshift wall. In addition, participants visited the  apprenticeship school to meet sheet metal instructors.

Matt, Kelsey, and the entire Dee Cramer team were sold on the program from day one. Kelsey recruited volunteers from all areas of the company: business agents, shop workers, field supervisors, estimators, and accountants. Everyone was delighted to be a part of it, and the company is eager to support the program next summer.

“I would encourage any trades contractor to contact HMSE and run a program,” said Matt. “It’s an incredible experience that helps the kids and really excites the people running it. It’s just tremendously fun and useful for everyone involved.”

“At first, I was hesitant about the HSME summer camp, but honestly, it was such a great experience! It helped me realize that this is the career path I would like to take. I am excited to enter into the apprenticeship program after I graduate high school,”

Walter Sulesky HMSE participant

“Thank you, Dee Cramer and Trane, for putting together such a great experience for our son. We are so excited that he knows what a wonderful future he will have in this industry,” Marie and Walt Sulesky, parents of an HMSE participant

“I am so proud of my brother. I always knew he wasn’t the four-year university guy. The HMSE experience has made him realize he needs to follow his own path, and the trades are where he belongs,” Gianna Sulesky, sister of HSME participant