A worker working at Weems Engineering LLC.

Proving Their Mettle

TCE Alums Forge Success at Metal Engineering Start-up

Take three friends, all UT mechanical engineering grads. Add a heaping scoop of ambition, a dash of good timing, and blend with lots of hard work.

By Amy Blakely. Photography by Shawn Poynter.

That’s the recipe that’s made Weems Engineering LLC, headquartered in Dalton, Georgia, a prosperous start-up in the world of full-service mechanical contractors.

The company was started by Matt Weems (BS ME ’10). Though he was raised on a farm outside of Knoxville, Weems always wanted to go to UT and become an engineer.

He completed an Engineering Professional Practice co-op internship at Shaw Industries Group Inc.—a carpet and flooring company in Dalton owned by Berkshire Hathaway—which led to a full-time job in corporate engineering after graduation.

In October 2012, after two years at Shaw, Weems struck out on his own, launching his own company with, in his words, “four guys and a truck.”

“I started it right after the recession,” he said. “We started lean and are fortunate to have grown as the economy rebounded.”

As the company prospered, more project managers were needed.

In 2016, Weems hired fellow UT alumnus Jordan Allen (BS ME ’06). Two years later, Weems and Allen brought on another UT alumnus, Mike Borkowski (BS ME ’09). While the three hadn’t known each other at UT, they had all crossed paths at Shaw.

Some people have warned them that it’s risky to go into business with friends, but Allen said they scoff at that notion.

“I tell them, ‘You’ve got the wrong friends.’”

From Tanks to Tracks

In the past 11 years, Weems Engineering has grown from four employees to 90. At any given time, the company has about 40 active projects.

They do custom machining, machine design, structural and sheet metal fabrication, industrial piping, and general millwright work. They have a machine shop, laser-cutting equipment, 3D printing capabilities, a fabrication shop, and crews in the field. They build machinery for flooring manufacturers—including Shaw—as well as food manufacturers and the automotive industry.

Some customers bring them exact plans for what they need. “And sometimes they bring us ideas sketched on a napkin,” Allen joked.

The company is certified to design, fabricate, assemble, and inspect boiler and pressurized tanks. They made a steam condensate tank for UT’s steam plant in 2020.

In 2016, Weems Engineering found an unexpected niche when it purchased a Dalton machine shop and took over the previous owner’s contract to build an indoor running track.

The company now uses a third of its 100,000-square-foot facility for designing and manufacturing metal infrastructure for indoor tracks and turf conversion systems. Weems Engineering has an exclusive contract with Beynon Sports, which manufactures and installs synthetic all-weather running track surfaces.

“We’re one of two companies in the world that build hydraulic tracks,” Weems said. The other is in Italy.”

Find something you enjoy doing. The engineers who are successful are the ones who are taking initiative, getting their hands dirty.”

—Matt Weems

Hydraulic cylinders raise and lower banked curves within limits set by the International Amateur Athletic Federation.

Weems Engineering also builds convertible indoor running tracks, like the one they installed at the TRACK at New Balance, part of the Boston Landing Track & Field complex on the campus of the New Balance world headquarters in Brighton, Massachusetts. A turf conversion system works in conjunction with the hydraulic track, leveling the track and rolling artificial turf over the surface to create a field for soccer, lacrosse, and other sports.

Aside from the New Balance track, which will host the NCAA Division I men’s and women’s indoor track and field championships in 2024, Weems has built indoor tracks at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia; Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia; the University of Michigan; the city of Spokane, Washington; Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas; and the University of Kentucky. Upcoming projects include tracks at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, the University of Pennsylvania, and the US Air Force Academy in Boulder, Colorado.

Weems said the track business is booming, partly because municipalities are building facilities to cash in on the growing world of sports commerce.

The Special Ingredients

Weems, Allen, and Borkowski—who make up three-fourths of the management team at Weems Engineering—bring different but complementary strengths to the company.

“Mike is the most technical of the three of us. He specializes in chilled water and cooling systems,” Weems said. “And Jordan is good at moving and installing equipment, and he can manage a lot of projects at once.”

Weems said he enjoys being both a manager and a worker bee. His strength, he’s learned, is being able to pivot among the company’s varied projects.

“Find something you enjoy doing,” Weems said. “The engineers who are successful are the ones who are taking initiative, getting their hands dirty.”

All three completed co-op internships during their time at UT—Weems and Borkowski at Shaw and Allen at Panasonic in Knoxville.

Such experiences give you “some exposure to industry and where you fit in,” Borkowski said.

Allen agrees that it’s important to get a real-world understanding before hitting the job market. Still, he said, success sometimes means taking a chance.

“I could have worked at Shaw forever,” Allen said. “But I just got to a point that I wanted to do something different. Change is uncomfortable. But to be comfortable, you have to be uncomfortable.”

Meet the Team

Matt Weems, Jordan Allen, and Michael Borkowski have a friendship strong as . . . well, metal. Equally strong is their love of the Tennessee Vols.

“It’s a unique bond,” Allen said. “We all bleed orange.”

Weems and his wife, Rachel Cobb Weems (BS journalism ’11), have three children: Jaxon, age 5; Stella, 2; and Izzy, an infant. The family lives on a hobby farm in Ringgold, Georgia. When he’s not working, Weems enjoys farming, offshore fishing, and hunting.

Allen is married to his high school sweetheart, Ashley McKinney Allen (BS recreation and leisure studies ’07), who is studying to become a nurse practitioner. They live in Chattanooga with their four children: Lilly Scott, age 17; twins Mac and Paisley, 12; and Wells, 10, all homeschooled.

Borkowski is originally from Indiana. He lives in the same neighborhood as Allen, but because of the quirks of geography, his home is in Georgia. He and his wife, Loni Polk Borkowski (BS accounting and finance ’09), have two children: Bodhi, age three, and Austin, who’s almost two.

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