Your local HVAC company may not be so local

Over the past two decades, Jeff Howard, a heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) engineer in Indiana, has been trying to outrun corporate buyouts in his rapidly consolidating field.

Howard worked at Airtron in Indianapolis when it was acquired by U.K.-based Direct Energy. The new owner would push employees to put in 16-hour days, he said, so after a stint at a smaller company, Howard joined One Hour, only to have it promptly acquired by Direct Energy, too. (Direct Energy has since been acquired in turn by its former rival, the energy and home services company NRG Energy.)

Howard was optimistic when he moved to Williams Comfort Air, a regional firm he had long admired. But it was soon acquired by the Wrench Group, a private equity–owned rollup of home services companies.

“You saw this big shift in focus to just replace more boxes, and not care about the clients, not care about the employees,” Howard told the Prospect, after leaving earlier this year. “There was a mass exodus of talent and technicians.”