2010 Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For

October 2010 » Features » BEST FIRMS TO WORK FOR
The top three firms’ workplaces are the ideal homes away from home.
Stephanie Hildebrandt

During the last three years, many employees have faced 401k losses, pay cuts, and layoffs, among other hardships. In times when the economy is compared most often with the Great Depression, it’s easy for company morale to drop, if not plummet. That’s why it’s even more notable when firms receive praise from their employees for the way they’re doing business.

Offering flexible schedules, implementing an optional layoff program, contributing to the firm’s bonus pool and 401k plan, offering cash rewards for employees’ professional successes, and recognizing milestone years of service with a bonus and two weeks of mandatory paid time off (PTO) are just a few of the things this year’s best firms, and their employees, can be proud of. In return, CE News is proud to name them the 2010 Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For.

Below, you’ll find a listing of the top 35 Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For, plus a sidebar with four honorable mentions — Harper Houf Peterson Righellis Inc., Hattenburg Dilley & Linnell, OHM (Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment, Inc.), and DKS Associates.

Read on to learn more about these firms and find out how they’re not just succeeding, but excelling in a tough economic environment.

Participants
More than 70 firms applied this year to be ranked as one of the Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For. And because not every firm applies every year, we’re seeing a few new faces on the list this year. For example, 12 of the top 40 firms from the 2009 Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For list did not apply this year. However, 16 new firms appear on this year’s top 35 list (these firms may have applied in past years, but didn’t make the top rankings).

Add to that the fact that each year, firms step up their efforts to be “the best,” causing a shift in our list. Firms that apply annually may rise or fall on the list depending on the employee satisfaction, workplace practices, and quality of other firms on the list.

Had enough suspense? Want to find out why the top three firms were ranked among the 2010 Best Firms To Work For? Then let’s put some names to these rankings!

The top three
First place: Delta Airport Consultants, Inc.

One can learn a great deal about the work culture at Delta Airport Consultants, Inc., just by reading the president of the company’s job description: “Do the right thing. Help others reach for their best. Plan for a great future. Add value every day. Have fun — it’s contagious.”

This airport development firm excels by valuing its employees and providing excellent customer service — all while having fun and sharing a passion for aviation.

“While many engineering firms today have sought to diversify their practices in order to economy-proof their firms, Delta Airport Consultants remain passionate specialists in their niche market,” said Judge Cara Bobchek , management consultant at Kogan & Company. “In a field where clients have choices among technically qualified professionals, Delta Airport Consultants’ bold conviction distinguishes the firm — and it’s apparent that they love what they do.”

Many of the firm’s employees are licensed pilots who fly company planes to client sites, Bobchek said. The firm even provides financial reimbursement for those employees that would like to train as pilots.

The planners, engineers, and architects at Delta Airport Consultants are all aviation enthusiasts — some even have a pilot’s license.
Employees bring their families into the field for Family Fly Day.

In addition to vacation days, holidays, and personal/sick days, the firm offers three to five paid professional development days per employee, per year. Delta also equips its employees with a complete health care package, including 100-percent paid medical and dental insurance for the employee, spouse, and family. Plus, it pays 100 percent for life insurance and long- and short-term disability coverage, matches employee 401k contributions, and offers Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOP), said Judge Carol A. Metzner, president of The Metzner Group, LLC. One of the greatest employee incentives is the company’s anniversary program, recognizing milestone years of service with $2,000 and two weeks of mandatory PTO.

“Many firms have decreased employee celebrations, which often can be seen as a contributing factor to lower employee morale,” Metzner said. “To the opposite, in order to celebrate Delta’s 30th year in business and reward staff for their contributions, all employees and spouses were treated to a four-day western Caribbean cruise.”

Although Delta offers incredible employee benefits and incentives, that’s not the only reason its employees are content.

“It is striking that so many of Delta Airport Consultants’ employees cite ‘excellent customer service’ as a hallmark of what makes a firm one of the ‘best’ to work for, as opposed to more conventional references to employee benefits,” Bobchek said.

As a result, the firm was able to hire three architects and open a new architectural studio in 2009, ending the year profitably.

“Handled properly, tough times can be a golden opportunity to demonstrate your core values as a person and as a team,” said Charles D. Lamb, president of Delta Airport Consultants, Inc. “The true measure of a person is not what he/she does when things are going well, but instead, what he/she does when on the threshold of a major new discovery or when facing true adversity.”

Second place: Calibre Engineering, Inc.
Some firm leaders stand by the conviction that despite tough times they will not lay off employees.

The entire Calibre Engineering staff demonstrates their fun, family-like atmosphere in front of one of the firm’s survey trucks.
Calibre engineers volunteer regularly for Habitat for Humanity, the American Diabetes Association, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and more. Here, employees are building a house on behalf of Habitat for Humanity.

“With layoffs comes low morale, decreased confidence, and diminished satisfaction,” said Gregory V. Murphy, president of Calibre Engineering, Inc., which provides land development civil engineering, municipal engineering, master planning, and surveying services for builders, land developers, metropolitan districts, and land owners along the Colorado Front Range, in Colorado mountain communities, and in surrounding states. “To combat this, we met with each employee individually and discussed workload options. We then met as a group and decided to spread the workload equally. This resulted in decreased workload for some employees, but allowed us to maintain our current staff. Similarly, we implemented an optional layoff program. Under this program, employees are able to take an optional layoff to find more fluid opportunities.”

That’s just one demonstration of how the firm caters to its employees. It also offers them above-average vacation hours, flexible schedules, and monthly activities unrelated to work to encourage a friendly, family-like atmosphere. The firm’s size of 12 also aids in creating this type of environment.

“The firm size allows for not only direct and frequent conversations with company leaders, but permits each staff member to be involved in all internal company decisions,” Metzner said. This was one of Murphy’s goals when creating the company.

“I wanted to start my own company to combat the difficulties that I experienced when working in the AEC industry,” Murphy said. “Primarily, I wanted to provide an environment that valued each individual employee. Too often, I found that companies practiced an ‘everyone is replaceable’ mentality, which I don’t believe. I built a company with my close colleagues and structured the organization so that the individual comes first.”

As a result, Calibre Engineering encourages employee growth and development every step of the way. The firm offers a mentoring program, pairing younger employees with senior mentors, to aid in their professional development and encourage relationships within the firm. And, when business was slower than usual, the firm directed employees to get involved in something beneficial to their careers.

“Calibre took advantage of a lighter workload in this slow economy by encouraging all of the firm’s employees to focus on professional development,” Bobchek said. “Their employees participate in an array of professional organizations.

And even though Calibre has been continually improving over the years, it isn’t finished yet.

“The one thing I would change, then, is that I’d like to branch out into a couple of other industry sectors so that we’re prepared for future recessions,” Murphy said. “To address this concern, we have spent the last 12 months embarking on new partnerships and development techniques. This focus has led to the creation of MC Alliances, a minority-owned joint venture which gathers the most highly qualified disadvantaged businesses under one management umbrella in an effort to meet contract DBE goals under one simple contract. Because of this, and other partnerships, I believe that we’re headed in a direction that will help us to combat future times of economic distress.”

Third place: Bowers + Kubota Consulting
“Ohana,” the Hawaiian word for “family,” holds great meaning for employees at Bowers + Kubota Consulting. The Waipahu, Hawaii-based architectural and engineering consulting firm issues third-party employee surveys to measure the company’s performance. Many of these surveys mention the family atmosphere. In fact, 97 percent of employees said that leaders at the firm are doing a good job in terms of caring for employees and having the right vision for the company, said Brian Bowers, CEO and president of Bowers + Kubota Consulting.

The 2010 Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For
Rank Firm Number of established Year
Employees
Headquarters Website
1 Delta Airport Consultants, Inc. 79 1978 Richmond, Va. www.deltaairport.com
  “We recognize that our employees are our primary key to success and we promote professional development of all individuals.”
2 Calibre Engineering, Inc. 12 2000 Littleton, Colo. www.calibre-engineering.com
  “We believe that our employees directly affect our success as a firm.”
3 Bowers + Kubota Consulting 92 1980 Waipahu, Hawaii www.bowersandkubota.com
  “The firm’s focus is to maintain a passion for customer service, respect for peers and clients, and foster individual and collective growth.”
4 Traffic Planning and Design, Inc. 117 1989 Pottstown, Pa. www.trafficpd.com
  “At the expense of corporate profits, TPD adopted a staff preservation goal (i.e. no layoffs) and committed to sacrificing financial resources instead of human resources to drive the professional growth of staff and the overall growth of the organization.”
5 J.L. Patterson & Associates, Inc. 87 1990 Orange, Calif. www.jlpatterson.com
  “We take care of our people.”
6 Transpo Group, Inc. 45 1975 Kirkland, Wash. www.transpogroup.com
  “Instead of taking a passive approach, Transpo Group has proactively made investments that are positioning the company for success in the emerging markets of the future.”
7 P.W. Grosser Consulting, Inc. 61 1990 Bohemia, N.Y. www.pwgrosser.com
  “Our team members are involved in many different types of projects; no one is pigeon-holed into one specific task.”
8 Provost & Pritchard Consulting Group 107 1968 Fresno, Calif. www.ppeng.com
  “We have created this positive atmosphere by providing a stimulating work environment that fosters collaboration, mentoring, and the ability to work on projects in areas which reflect the employee’s main interests.”
9 West Yost Associates 95 1990 Davis, Calif. www.westyost.com
  “Because we value our excellent, hard-working staff and desire to keep them contented, we provide a high level of health and retirement benefits and offer flexible schedules to those who need them.”
10 Advanced Engineering & Environmental Services 91 1991 Grand Forks, N.D. www.ae2s.com
  “With our open book management and communication style across the firm, we have been able to maintain the profitibility and growth of our company.”
11 Foresite Group, Inc. 35 2003 Norcross, Ga. www.foresitegroupinc.com
  “We take pride in the individual personalities and dreams of our employees, and we also support a collaborative team atmosphere.”
12 Kjeldsen, Sinnock & Neudeck, Inc. 22 1956 Stockton, Calif. www.ksninc.com
  “It is KSN’s goal to continue to build on the successes of our long history to expand, grow, and maintain our family corporate style for the benefit of our employees and our community.”
13 Shea Carr Jewell 24 2006 Olympia, Wash. www.sheacarrjewell.com
  “The people we invite to join the SCJ staff are carefully selected both for their technical skills and their potential to work well with our current employees.”
14 Schnabel Engineering, Inc. 320 1956 Glen Allen, Va. www.schnabel-eng.com
  “The firm invests heavily in our employees through training, continuing education, and above-industry-standard benefits.”
15 Simpson Gumpertz & Heger 392 1956 Waltham, Mass. www.sgh.com
  “We believe that to be a best firm you cannot be great in just one area, but must listen to your people and continuously strive to improve.”
16 R&M Consultants, Inc. 83 1969 Anchorage, Alaska www.rmconsult.com
  “We have worked very hard to emphasize our commitment to our employees and to make R&M the type of workplace that attracts the best talent.”
17 RW Armstrong 567 1961 Indianapolis www.rwarmstrong.com
  “We have been able to embrace and build upon the diversity we’ve created and extend the ‘small company/family feeling’ to all our offices...even those on the other side of the world.”
18 Blackburn Consulting 30 1998 Auburn, Calif. www.blackburnconsulting.com
  “We’re proud that our last peer reviewers reported that we had an exceptional firm and had taken action on all the previous peer review recommendations.”
19 Wessler Engineering 50 1975 Indianapolis www.wesslerengineering.com
  “Our employees look forward to coming to work every day.”
20 Vista West Engineering, Inc. 18 2006 Sheridan, Wyo. www.vistawestengr.com
  “Vista West Engineering takes pride in being an employee- and family-friendly firm.”
21 CRW Engineering Group, LLC 60 1981 Anchorage, Alaska www.crweng.com
  “We are a family who works together and plays together, and while we do have a lot of fun, every employee is dedicated to our clients, our company, and the success of both.”
22 J-U-B Engineers, Inc. 316 1954 Boise, Idaho www.jub.com
  “While it is important to have an appropriate and affordable benefits package, and competitive compensation, real job satisfaction comes from having the opportunity to do what you do best every day, and the security to know that you can focus on that while the firm’s management team takes care of business in a way that is sustainable.”
23 CP&Y, Inc. 177 1980 Dallas www.cpyi.com
  “Our professional but casual environment offers a relaxed family-like atmosphere.”
24 Creighton Manning Engineering 40 1965 Albany, N.Y. www.cmellp.com
  “The owners listen to staff and care about their opinions, career development, and well-being.”
25 FOX Engineering Associates, Inc. 41 1993 Ames, Iowa www.foxeng.com
  “We want our employees to be reinforced in recognizing the value of the company they have helped create.”
26 Civiltech Engineering, Inc. 81 1988 Itasca, Ill. www.civiltechinc.com
  “We have worked to create a professional environment where people enjoy their work and have fun doing it.”
27 ABMB Engineers, Inc. 88 1985 Baton Rouge, La. www.abmb.com
  “While many firms have lowered their sights in the current economic climate, ABMB proudly opened a new location in Mobile, Ala., and expanded marketing efforts in that region.”
28 Walter P Moore 318 1931 Houston www.walterpmoore.com
  “The character of a good company is evident in how it navigates in good times, but even more so in how it navigates in tough times.”
29 Geotechnical & Environmental Services, Inc. 26 1992 Las Vegas www.gesnevada.com
  “One of the ways GES thrived, despite the worst economy since the Great Depression, was by responding to the 2008 CE News
30 GUNDA Corporation, LLC 26 2001 Houston www.gundacorp.com
  “Our philosophy is to develop employees to their full potential.”
31 Affinis Corp 24 2001 Overland Park, Kan. www.affinis.com
  “We live out our mission every day: To build long-lasting relationships with co-workers, clients, and colleagues by knowing their needs and fulfilling their expectations.”
32 Comprehensive Environmental, Inc. 25 1987 Marlborough, Mass. www.ceiengineers.com
  “We are proud to say we have never laid off an employee during our 22 years of business and have in fact been hiring during these past few years of recession.”
33 A. Morton Thomas and Associates, Inc. 220 1955 Rockville, Md. www.amtengineering.com
  “We initiated a year-end bonus to all employees which was perceived very well during the tough times.”
34 Neel-Schaffer Inc. 320 1983 Jackson, Miss. www.neel-schaffer.com
  “Completely employee-owned, Neel-Schaffer is dedicated to its shareholders – the employees.”
35 Robert Peccia and Associates 45 1978 Helena, Mont. www.rpa-hln.com
  “With vision and superior leadership from our CEO, president, board of trustees, and board of directors, our firm not only weathered the storm but came out financially stronger and with a remarkable achievement of 100 percent employee ownership.”
The Bowers + Kubota staff in their LEED Gold office.


“Bowers + Kubota has made the connection [that] happy employees lead to satisfied clients,” Bobchek said. “To this end, they wisely engage regular third party-administered employee climate surveys, the results of which they act upon in order to improve the work experience. In addition, their generous 100-percent coverage of employee and family health insurance, focus on employee wellness, and 401k matching go a long way toward making employees feel valued, as well as bringing a sense of stability. Results from the firm’s frequent client satisfaction surveys — another hallmark of a ‘best’ firm — are perpetually positive.”

But it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the firm. “In the mid-1990s, we had to make a 25-percent staff reduction due to the economic conditions in Hawaii and a poor vision and strategic plan for the firm,” Bowers said. “We were on a path to going out of business. Due to layoffs and resignations, our firm declined from about 30 people to 10. Morale at the firm was at an all-time low. I have found that in such situations, the best thing that a leader can do is to communicate to your team the reasons for a controversial decision (staff reduction) and a vision for the future. We did this, as well as drafted and implemented a strategic plan for the future. We now have approximately 100 team members and are building a sustainable firm.” This year, the firm has only had one voluntary resignation, equaling a 1 percent turnover rate, Bowers added. The firm is becoming sustainable in another sense as well. The firm’s new LEED Gold office helps the environment and offers a sense of pride for employees.

“Bowers + Kubota tops the list on practicing sustainability in their office(s),” Metzner said. “The firm purchases renewable energy credits and pays for renewable energy from the power company. Notably, the Bowers + Kubota office met USGBC gold standard for commercial interior space in 2009.”

Honorable Mentions
Firm Number of Employees Headquarters Website
Harper Houf Peterson Righellis Inc. 70 Portland, Ore. www.hhpr.com
Hattenburg Dilley & Linnell 42 Anchorage, Alaska www.hdlalaska.com
OHM (Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment, Inc.) 140 Livonia, Mich. www.ohm-advisors.com
DKS Associates 106 Oakland, Calif. www.dksassociates.com

The firm also gives back by encouraging contributions to worthy causes, such as the Aloha United Way, The Hawaii Foodbank, Lokaihi Giving, and Adopt-A-Highway programs. The firm even used its holiday party budget to give to a local charity that assists families during the holidays, the firm said.

Conclusion
Congratulations to the 2010 Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For! You’ve definitely earned this recognition.

We’d like to give a special thanks to all of the firms that applied and their employees for giving their honest feedback in our employee survey. Your participation makes the Best Firms To Work For program what it is.

Thanks to ZweigWhite’s research and management consulting staff who executed the Best Firms To Work For program on behalf of CE News. And last, but not least, thank you to our judges for putting their time and effort into evaluating our top three firms to ensure the best ranking order.

We look forward to next year!

Best Firms To Work For ranked by size
Firms on the top 35 list range in size from 12 to 567 employees. While these firms share the same fundamental business model, firms of different sizes can offer their staff unique qualities, and gain advantages and disadvantages, dependent on their size. Therefore, we break out the top 35 to give firms a standing among like-size firms.
Top 3 Small Firms (<100)
1 Delta Airport Consultants, Inc. 79
2 Calibre Engineering, Inc. 12
3 Bowers + Kubota Consulting 92
 
Top 3 Mid-Size Firms (100-299)
1 Traffic Planning and Design, Inc. 117
2 Provost & Pritchard Consulting Group 107
3 CP&Y, Inc. 177
 
Top 3 Large Firms (≥300)
1 Schnabel Engineering, Inc. 320
2 Simpson Gumpertz & Heger 392
3 RW Armstrong 567
The Judges    
Carol A. Metzner
President,
The Metzner Group, LLC,
Myersville, Md.
Cara Bobchek
Management consultant
Kogan & Company
Arlington, Va.
Stephen Gianotti
President/Founder
The Woodland Group, LLC
North Hampton, N.H.
 

Superlative spotlight
The following superlatives celebrate the noteworthy individual successes of firms for specific achievements, independent of their overall ranking:

Best Employee Survey Score
Foresite Group, Inc.

Best Professional Development Program
Delta Airport Consultants, Inc.

Best Collaborative Environment
Foresite Group, Inc.

Best Employee Recognition Program
Foresite Group, Inc.

Best Recruiting & Retention Program
CRW Engineering Group, LLC

Mark your calendar!
If your firm didn’t apply this year, if you didn’t make the list, or even if you are a ranked firm, you are encouraged to apply next year. To be sure you don’t miss out on the 2011 application information, sign up today for our Contact List at www.bestfirmstoworkfor.com/2011. We’ll notify you directly via e-mail when the 2011 applications are posted online. 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 see you on the list in 2011!

For more information, visit www.bestfirmstoworkfor.com.


Upcoming Events

See All Upcoming Events