An environment of excellence

October 2009 » Exclusive
Presenting the 2009 Environmental Business Journal/ CE News Best Environmental Service Firms To Work For
Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.
Barr Engineering Company
Each year, Barr engineering Company sponsors a Habitat for Humanity work week, where staff members, spouses, and sometimes clients volunteer their time to help with construction at one of Habitat’s sites in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. Barr also provides inkind design services for Habitat.

Aligned with civil engineering firms in their work and business models, but different enough that they are deserving of a stand-alone ranking, we present the second annual Best Environmental Service Firms To Work For ranking. This list is cosponsored by Environmental Business Journal (EBJ), the leading business newsletter for the environmental industry, and CE News. ZweigWhite, publisher of EBJ, also executed the ranking program.

This year, 15 remarkable firms are honored. Learn what sets them apart in the chart at right.

Four honorable mentions also deserve attention. These firms include the following: A.D. Marble & Company, Conshohocken, Pa.; The ELM Group, Inc., Princeton, N.J.; Tighe & Bond, Westfield, Mass.; and Vector Engineering, Inc., Grass Valley, Calif.

Also check out the online version of the article at www.cenews.com to see how the top firms break out by firm size. Congratulations to M.D. Wessler & Associates, the No. 1 large firm; Rincon Consultants, Inc., the No. 1 mid-size firm; and PRIZIM, the No. 1 small firm.

The participants
Thirty-four firms applied to the second annual Best Environmental Service Firms To Work For. Firms ranged in size from 18 to more than 1,000 employees. Seasoned firms, like No. 2 ranked Freese and Nichols, Inc., which was established in 1894, to firms in business for just short time, like No. 13 ranked BrightFields, Inc. — established in 2003— applied. Locations and services offered are across the board. The majority of the firms that applied are growing and profitable, despite the current economy.

Fewer firms applied this year than last year, when 47 firms participated. This decrease was expected in light of the difficult year faced among firms providing AEC and environmental services, as well as the typical reasons firms decide not to participate one year to the next such as timing conflicts, workload, or staffing constraints. It is important to note that nine of the top 20 firms on last year’s list did not apply this year. Therefore, you can’t assume that unranked firms dropped in the rankings.

Although we compared fewer firms this year, their quality is high. These firms’ managers have their employees’ interests top-of-mind and they represent the workplace goals I’m sure many firms endeavor to model. I invite you to review the top 15, especially our top three.

Judging Panel
Tim Cooper
Senior vice president of Employee Benefits, Beecher Carlson, Portland, Ore.
Stephen Gianotti
President, The Woodland Group, LLC., New Hampshire
Barbara Irwin
President, HR Advisors Group, LLC, Herndon, Va.

The best of the best
First place: Barr Engineering Company (Barr) — Headquartered in Minneapolis with offices also in Michigan, Missouri, and North Dakota, Barr serves a diverse client base with services including engineering design (civil, structural, geotechnical, mechanical, and electrical engineering); environmental management; land surveying; waste management; water resources; site development; dams; remediation investigation and design; brownfields redevelopment; water and wastewater treatment; groundwater modeling; air quality; ambient air quality and air emissions testing; landscape architecture; and mining and minerals processing.

Having been in business for more than 40 years, the firm has learned what it takes to serve its staff in order to serve its clients. Judge Stephen Gianotti said he favored the firm in part because of its “longevity and proven track record of success, higher sharing of profits with all employees, a very high number of private owners as part of what we assume is a ‘share the wealth’ culture, the highest percentage of revenues [spent on] training and development,” as well as remarkable feedback from staff regarding the firm’s culture.

Judge Barbara Irwin had much to comment on about the staff feedback in the employee survey, “As I reviewed the various components of the survey, I was amazed at the number of comments that Barr employees made focusing on the positive impact of employee ownership, the obvious overall organizational respect for employees, and the number of opportunities for innovative and challenging projects designed to keep employees engaged. These comments were in addition to many other positive statements made about the firm in every way. It was obvious reading through the statements and survey results that Barr has a strong employee culture and is committed to its employees in every form and fashion.”

Irwin added, “In addition, I thought the organization’s initiative in sponsoring an innovation committee that provides support and funding for staff members to research and develop ideas for the organization to consider was a brilliant idea. This is a great example of empowerment and taking into account every employee’s voice. Barr obviously recognizes that it is a continuing challenge to keep employees engaged in different areas of the business, but that it is critical for overall retention and success of the firm.

“Lastly, in 2008, the firm offered a two-day internal training opportunity on financial literacy for employee-owners, which is an outstanding idea,” she said. “One of several topics included was an overview of the economics of consulting. I believe that providing education and raising the awareness for employees on how the consulting industry works is an excellent approach so that employees understand the ups and downs of the consulting business.”

Freese and Nichols, Inc.
In the 1950s, Freese and Nichols, Inc., acquired the first of two cabins in red river, N.M., where employees have vacationed at no charge for many years.

Second place: Freese and Nichols, Inc. (F&N) — Founded in 1894, the firm has a long history of providing civil and environmental services to clients from about a dozen Texas offices. According to “A Century in the Works: 100 Years of Progress in Civil and Environmental Engineering” by Simon W. Freese, P.E., and D. L. Sizemore, a chronicle of the hundred-year history of F&N, “The firm has been responsible for many innovations and ‘firsts’: design of the nation’s first large dual-purpose reservoirs providing separate capacities for flood control and municipal water supply; early adoption of the activated sludge process of sewage treatment; assistance in creating the first multi-city water district; design and utilization of earthen country spillways for storm flows in excess of 100-year flows; engineering service on the first water supply reservoirs for the cities of Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington, and Corpus Christi; design of the first modern water filtration plants at Austin, Houston, Beaumont, Arlington, Waco, and Amarillo; and design of the first sewage treatment plants at Fort Worth, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Lubbock, Arlington, and Abilene, to name a few.”

No doubt, the firm has created a wonderful culture of learning and support to achieve such milestones. Judge Tim Cooper said, “Freese and Nichols delivers a culture anchored in valuing ‘family’ over work and provides employees with a solid employee benefit plan, including a comprehensive health plan at no cost to the employee and a generous 401(k) plan. The number of positive comments from employees relating to the culture of the organization was impressive.”

Irwin said, “I was impressed with the organization’s creativity and innovation in doing different things when it comes to community service. In 2008, the organization challenged the employees to contribute 114 hours of community service in honor of the firm’s 114th anniversary. As a result, employees who achieved the 114 hours were honored by financial contributions in the amount of $114 to the charitable organization of their choice. This is a strong message to send to the employees that the firm is committed to their employees’ involvement in community affairs and an overall commitment to the communities that they serve.”

She added, “The organization does a great job in communicating their vision and plan each year. The employees receive information about the status of the plan throughout the year. Whether it is good news or bad, it’s important to keep in touch with employees.”

Third place: PRIZIM — PRIZIM is an environmental and energy management consulting firm that serves government, commercial, academia, and non-profit clients. Just as the firm pays close attention to the details important to its clients, it is equally careful with its staff. Irwin commented on one specifically targeted practice of the firm: “The strategic planning process in place at PRIZIM involves every employee in the firm. The strategic plan is developed during an open, three-day meeting and all employees are invited to attend. After the draft plan is developed, all employees are asked to review and comment within a two-week period of time. This process is not only getting employees involved, but committed to the plan. I applaud the firm for making the exhaustive effort of including all staff in this process. The message this sends to staff is that the firm is interested in each employee’s contributions to the organization.”

Gianotti’s comments were more high level; he said that he “suspects that, while PRIZIM is the smallest of the three firms, it is very large in its commitment to being a top firm and will continue to be very strong force both in the marketplace and in the recruiting for top talent place.”

And Cooper summed up the review of this firm by saying, “An employee response said it best: ‘I love my coworkers, I love my clients, and I love my job.’”

Conclusion
Thanks to ZweigWhite, our partners in executing the Best Firms To Work For program on behalf of CE News and Environmental Business Journal. In addition to conducting the research for this program, ZweigWhite also provides strategic insight for firms that want to become a Best Firm To Work For or to advance beyond their current position in the rankings; contact ZweigWhite for more details.

Further, thanks to all of the applicants, their staff, and our judges. Congratulations, once again, to the Top 15!

Mark your calendar!
If your firm didn’t apply this year, or if you didn’t make the list, you are encouraged to apply next year. To be sure you don’t miss out on the 2010 entry information, sign up today for our Contact List. Go to www.cenews.com/bestfirm and click on the link to complete the form, and we’ll send you notice when the 2010 applications are posted. One important note to newcomers: Rest assured that the names of firms that apply but do not make the list will not be revealed. Hope to hear from you in 2010!


Special recognition goes to …
Some firms outshine others in specific categories. The 2009 Superlative Award winners are as follows:

Highest Employee Survey Score
M.D. Wessler & Associates

Best Training Program
Freese and Nichols, Inc.

Best Collaborative Environment
M.D. Wessler & Associates

Best Employee Recognition Program
Benchmark Environmental Consultants

Best Recruiting & Retention Program
M.D. Wessler & Associates


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