2011 Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For

October 2011 » BEST FIRMS TO WORK FOR
Despite a difficult economic climate, these firms have managed to maintain impressive benefits and a high level of employee satisfaction.
Bob Drake

While the economy continues to take its toll on civil engineering markets, firms, and professionals, there remain many companies that have continued to thrive or, despite hardships, have managed to maintain impressive levels of employee satisfaction and loyalty.

Hawaii-based Bowers + Kubota Consulting organizes volunteer work and encourages staff participation in community service activities such as the Adopt a Highway program.

That's not to say that even the best firms haven't struggled with salary and bonus freezes or cuts, or even layoffs, but, according to employee survey responses, the Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For have managed to take difficult steps in a fair and informed manner that allowed employees to understand the necessity of such actions.

Such support is founded on certain corporate characteristics. When asked to describe their firms' culture or personality, employees at the three top-ranked firms responded: client focused, family atmosphere, team oriented/collaborative, focused on integrity, and fun. Those characteristics are playing an important role not only in each of the firm's business success, but also in their success attracting and retaining a skilled – and happy – workforce. CE News is proud to name them the 2011 Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For. The top 22 Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For and three honorable mentions are listed on page 23.

Interpreting results
To properly understand the Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For ranking, it is important to note that the pool of candidate firms changes year-to-year. Firms that apply annually may rise or fall on the list depending on relative employee satisfaction, workplace practices, and the quality of other firms that have applied. In addition, firms ranked in previous years may not appear on this year's list simply because – for economic, time, or other reasons – they chose not to apply.

Forty-nine civil engineering firms applied this year, compared with more than 70 firms last year. Nevertheless, more than 70 percent of the firms ranked on this year's list also were ranked on the list in 2010, including this year's top three: Bowers + Kubota Consulting, J.L. Patterson & Associates, and Delta Airport Consultants Inc.

First place: Bowers + Kubota Consulting
Continued improvement is a key to Waipahu, Hawaii-based Bowers + Kubota Consulting's (B+K) first place ranking in 2011. Although placing a respectable third place in 2010, the firm chose not to rest on that achievement and has undertaken a number of initiatives during the last year to benefit employees, including hiring a full-time, experienced human resources manager; improving its wellness program; increasing community service involvement; and expanding company activities such as sponsored hikes and charity walks.

Bowers + Kubota's corporate office met the U.S. Green Building Council gold standard for commercial interior space in 2009.

A significant increase in revenue from fiscal year (FY) 2009 to FY 2010 – which the firm attributes to strong employee support and quality, value-added service at reasonable rates – has enabled it to continue 100-percent paid health insurance for employees and family members. B+K said that it contributed record amounts to its bonus pool in 2010 and provided 100-percent match on employee 401k contributions up to 3 percent of salary.

"In today's economic conditions, receiving assistance towards building a retirement fund is a luxury some firms have discontinued," noted Judge Carol A. Metzner, president, The Metzner Group LLC. "Bowers + Kubota employees show their appreciation for this commitment to their future."

Metzner cited B+K's strong employee feedback as contributing to the company's success: "As one employee wrote, ‘Great family atmosphere; bosses really take the time to get to know you. Amazing benefits; they don't keep all the profits, they give it back to the employees and make us feel appreciated. They take our suggestions and comments to heart and actually try to change things for the better.' It just doesn't get much better than that! Company executives dream of this type of employee commentary!"

Judge Larry Gard, Ph.D., consulting psychologist, Hamilton-Chase Consulting, also noted the strength of employee feedback. "Employee comments suggest that B+K has built an incredible business culture in which their people can thrive," Gard said. "The leadership team is trusted and respected, and employees have a clear understanding of how they can contribute to the firm's success. Every aspect of performance management appears exceptionally well executed; people know what is expected of them, they're given the tools, training and support to accomplish it, they receive accurate and timely feedback, and they're rewarded for their efforts. B+K is particularly generous with regard to performance bonuses for non-management employees."

The firm's enhanced wellness program offers additional rewards – besides better health and fitness – and has increased employee participation to more than 60 percent, B+K said. In March 2011, Hawaii Business magazine selected B+K as "The Healthiest Workplace" for medium-sized companies, as well as the "Best Place to Work" in the medium-size company category and the top "Family Friendly" company. B+K also received a gold "Fit Friendly" award from the American Heart Association for its "heart-healthy" workplace.

J.L. Patterson & Associates employees describe their work as client focused and team oriented.

"We have a passion for continuous improvement," said B+K CEO and President Brian Bowers, P.E. "While we are humbled by being selected as one of the best places to work, we are equally interested in benchmarking our firm against other best places to work to see where we can improve our policies, practices, and procedures."

Jacqueline L. Patterson, P.E. (left), president and 100-percent owner of J.L. Patterson & Associates, wears many hats, including quality control/quality assurance officer.

Second place: J.L. Patterson & Associates
With its vision "to be the best source for rail engineering and construction management services nationwide," the 92-employee, 21-year-old J.L. Patterson & Associates is 100-percent owned by Jacqueline L. Patterson, P.E., president. "As founder of the firm, what I wanted was to provide the best railroad engineering services to our industry, and I wanted to do it by creating a friendly environment where it is fun to work, while providing our clients quality work," she said.


Judges
Larry Gard, Ph.D.
Consulting psychologist
Hamilton-Chase Company
Chicago

Carol A. Metzner
President
The Metzner Group LLC
Myersville, Md.

Bernie Siben, CPSM
Principal consultant
The Siben Consult LLC
Austin, Texas

"Employees respond to this vision by describing their work as client focused and team oriented with a focus on integrity," Metzner said. "Their interpersonal relationships with colleagues and supervisors are successful with the concept of respect running through all interactions. This lends itself to a comfortable and satisfying working environment."

Judge Bernie Siben, CPSM, principal consultant, The Siben Consult LLC, noted "the honest enthusiasm of [J.L. Patterson] staff for the firm, its values, its leadership, and its response to the current economic climate."

Patterson attributes positive staff attitude in part to communication. "Morale problems come from lack of communicating the real story: Why are we in the situation we are, how can we get out of it, how do we move forward, and how we can turn challenges into opportunities," she said. "Once the people know that, they tend to trust the situation will improve and morale improves."

All employees are invited to submit suggestions anonymously via the firm's intranet. Suggestions are reviewed every month and answered via e-mail to all employees. "For budgetary reasons, we may not implement every suggestion we receive," Patterson said, "but we answer every single one. In this manner, the employee knows they have a voice."

"Relationships among employees appear particularly positive at this firm and there is great mutual respect across all levels and titles," noted Gard. "Support is not just a matter of generous benefits; it also means being true to your word. Their employees feel an enormous sense of pride in their company, and they strongly believe that the firm abides by its mission and values."

Nevertheless, the firm does offer generous benefits. Employees and their immediate families receive medical, dental, and vision coverage free of charge. Within the last year, J.L. Patterson hired a wellness manager and, after listening to what the employees wanted, implemented a wellness plan that includes nutrition lectures, yoga lessons, financial workshops, outdoor hikes, Zumba lessons, blood drives, cook-off competitions, circus outings, and many more activities.

"Many firms talk about ‘wellness' these days," said Siben, "but [J.L. Patterson] actually hired a wellness manager to run their program, which is a big demonstration of a firm's commitment to what, for other firms, is merely a current buzzword. The passion in the employee answers made me want to work for this firm."

Judge Metzner also was impressed with J.L. Patterson employees' passion for the firm, noting one employee's comment: "This is the only company I know that has a soul."

Third place: Delta Airport Consultants Inc.
Richmond, Va.-based Delta Airport Consultants, last year's first place firm, continues to rank high in employee satisfaction despite the difficult economic climate. "Handled properly, tough times can be a golden opportunity to demonstrate your core values as a person and as a team," said Delta President Charles D. Lamb, P.E. "Specifically, we listen and communicate. We address the issues at hand, focus on the brighter days ahead, and emphasize our long-term goals."

Delta Airport Consultants' employees are aviation enthusiasts who plan, design, and understand airports.

Those include the following goals by which Lamb said the firm seeks to execute its mission to "bring passion, innovative solutions, and a commitment to serve the airport community":

  • provide outstanding customer service;
  • strengthen Delta;
  • improve Delta;
  • live by our Delta values (professional development, personal initiative, teamwork, passion, enthusiasm, development of relationships, humility, and personal success); and
  • have fun.

According to Judge Gard, "Delta Airport Consultants has created a truly collaborative climate that fosters employee initiative and creativity. The leadership of this firm appears particularly enlightened with regard to management best practices; they believe in attacking problems, not people. ... They commit significant resources to employee training and development."

In March 2010, Delta brought its entire professional staff from all branch locations to its headquarters for three days of professional development and team building focused on sharing lessons learned, building bridges between offices, and plans for the year. For employees seeking their professional engineer (P.E.) license, the firm provided time off to study for the exam, as well as reimbursement for preparation courses and exam fees. Delta also has a $2,000 spot bonus program for earning certain credentials, including LEED professional accreditation. Employees at all levels receive an annual budget of three to five days of external training.

In efforts to strengthen and improve Delta, during the last year the firm reported that it increased its financial information sharing and focus, embarked on an information management overhaul, further committed to communications and knowledge building, continued efforts to improve its "Coaching Culture," and developed a cost-sharing plan for out-of-pocket medical expenses.

"For Delta employees, not only does the firm continue to offer a complete health care package including 100-percent paid medical and dental insurance for employee, spouse, and family, they have added a new program," noted Judge Metzner. "Specifically, they implemented a cost-sharing plan for out-of-pocket medical expenses. Delta pays the full premium for both employees and families on their high-deductible plan. Additionally, they share costs 50/50 with employees once a certain threshold of their deductible has been met."

According to Delta, part of its obligation to its employees is to keep the firm right-sized and to produce profits that allow it to offer a full complement of benefits. "Due to the unique and challenging times, our greatest priority improvement was an increase in financial information sharing and focus," Lamb said. "We broadened each employee's participation in forecasting and tracking of our revenue goals. A specific fourth quarter ‘reach' goal was set with the reward of granting employees the week off between Christmas and New Years. We met the reach goal, and all employees enjoyed the additional holiday time-off with their families."

Best small, medium, and large firms
Firms on the top 25 list (including honorable mentions) range in size from 23 to 530 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.

Rank

Name

Number of employees

Year est.

Headquarters

Website

1

Bowers + Kubota Consulting

102

1980

Waipahu, Hawaii

www.bowersandkubota.com

2

J.L. Patterson & Associates

92

1990

Orange, Calif.

www.jlpatterson.com

3

Delta Airport Consultants Inc.

78

1978

Richmond, Va.

www.deltaairport.com

4

CRW Engineering Group LLC

58

1981

Anchorage, Alaska

www.crweng.com

5

Freese and Nichols

472

1894

Fort Worth, Texas

www.freese.com

6

Provost & Pritchard Consulting Group

99

1968

Fresno, Calif.

www.ppeng.com

7

P.W. Grosser Consulting Inc.

62

1990

Bohemia, N.Y.

www.pwgrosser.com

8

Tighe & Bond Inc.

194

1911

Westfield, Mass.

www.tighebond.com

9

Schnabel Engineering Inc.

297

1956

Glen Allen, Va.

www.schnabel-eng.com

10

All4 Inc.

26

2002

Kimberton, Pa.

www.all4inc.com

11

Advanced Engineering & Environmental Services (AE2S)

115

1991

Grand Forks, N.D.

www.ae2s.com

12

J-U-B Engineers Inc.

314

1954

Boise, Idaho

www.jub.com

13

West Yost Associates

65

1990

Davis, Calif.

www.westyost.com

14

Barr Engineering Company

523

1966

Minneapolis

www.barr.com

15

Kjeldsen, Sinnock & Neudeck Inc.

25

1956

Stockton, Calif.

www.ksninc.com

16

Comprehensive Environmental Inc.

25

1987

Marlborough, Mass.

www.ceiengineers.com

17

GUNDA Corporation

27

2000

Houston

www.gundacorp.com

18

Langan Engineering & Environmental Services

530

1970

Elmwood Park, N.J.

www.langan.com

19

The Transtec Group Inc.

23

2001

Austin, Texas

www.thetranstecgroup.com

20

Traffic Planning and Design Inc. (TPD)

108

1989

Pottstown, Pa.

www.trafficpd.com

21

Wessler Engineering

54

1975

Indianapolis

www.wesslerengineering.com

22

Blackburn Consulting

30

1998

Auburn, Calif.

www.blackburnconsulting.com

HM

A. Morton Thomas and Associates Inc.

250

1955

Rockville, Md.

www.amtengineering.com

HM

Hatenburg Dilley & Linnell LLC

40

2000

Anchorage, Alaska

www.hdlalaska.com

HM

CP&Y Inc.

151

1980

Dallas, Texas

www.cpyi.com

Therefore, we break out these top 25 to give firms a standing among like-size firms.


The top three small firms – fewer than 100 employees
– are (number of employees in parentheses):
      1) J.L. Patterson (92)
      2) Delta Airport Consultants Inc. (78)
      3) CRW Engineering Group Inc. (58)


The top three medium-sized firms – 100 to 299 employees
– are:
      1) Bowers + Kubota Consulting (102)
      2) Tighe & Bond Inc. (194)
      3) Schnabel Engineering Inc. (297)


The top three large firms – 300 or more employees
– are:
      1) Freese and Nichols (472)
      2) J-U-B Engineers Inc. (314)
      3) Barr Engineering Company (523)


Looking ahead
Congratulations to the 2011 Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For! Also, a special thanks to all of the firms that applied and to their employees for providing their honest feedback in the employee survey. Your participation helps raise the bar for the entire industry and, according to one firm CEO, "it is a worthy contest to participate in, no matter what, no matter the place. We have learned a lot over the years and always implement the great ideas from the summit."

Additionally, thank you to the judges for their time and effort evaluating the top three firms for the final ranking.

Note that the entry period for the 2012 Best Firms To Work For begins in November 2011, earlier than in previous years. See "Mark your calendar for 2012" for details on how to receive notification when applications are available.

A decade of best firms
CE News has recognized the following firms during the last 10 years as the Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For:
2010 – Delta Airport Consultants Inc.
2009 – Traffic Planning and Design Inc.
2008 – Walter P Moore
2007 – Kimley-Horn & Associates Inc.
2006 – Kimley-Horn & Associates Inc.
2005 – RBF Consulting
2004 – Kimley-Horn & Associates Inc.
2003 – Haley & Aldrich Inc.
2002 – Stanley Consultants Inc.
2001 – Robert Peccia & Associates

Mark your calendar for 2012
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 for the 2012 Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For. The process begins earlier; the entry period begins in November! To be sure you don't miss out on the 2012 application information, sign up today for our Contact List at http://tinyurl.com/2012BestFirms.
We will notify you directly via e-mail when the 2012 applications are posted online. One important note to newcomers: The names of firms that apply but do not make the list will not be revealed. Hope to see you on the list in 2012.

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