2013 Best Firms To Work For

July 2013 » Exclusive
Civil engineering, multidiscipline, and environmental services firms that inspire loyalty from employees and clients
Christina Zweig

Winners of the 2013 Best Firms To Work For ranking were set apart from their peers through the careful creation of superior practices, policies, people, and places that make them a place employees want to work and clients want to do business with. The award is given in five categories: civil engineering, multidiscipline, environmental, structural engineering, and architecture (see Structural Engineer magazine – www.gostructural.com – for coverage of the last two categories).

Since the Best Firms To Work For list began in 2001, hundreds of outstanding design firms have been recognized for this achievement and have benefited from the positive exposure. Being on the Best Firms To Work For list brings feedback, inspiration, and recognition. Best Firms attract the best employees and the best clients, inspiring loyalty from both. This year's winners were announced at the Best Firms To Work For Conference, June 20-21, 2013, in Chicago.

The two-day conference covered topics on the minds of leaders of all architecture, engineering, and planning firms today including:

  • Taking Culture to the Virtual Office Level
  • Open Book Management and Corporate Transparency
  • Benefits of a Mentoring Program
  • Comprehensive Approach to Training and Development
  • Employer of Choice Continuum
  • Balancing Happy Clients With Happy Employees

The 2013 Best Firms To Work For ranking received applicants from across the country. These firms see themselves as professionals who deliver a valuable service to society, and they treat their employees accordingly, valuing honesty, integrity, and an environment of growth, trust, and accountability.

Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For
The Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For had entrants from almost three dozen firms varying in size, structure, and location. This year's top three winners are Affinis Corp.; Bowers + Kubota Consulting, Inc.; and Foresite Group, Inc. (see Table 1 for the complete ranking of Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For).

Table 1: 2013 Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For
Rank Firm Employees Year Est. Headquarters
1
Affinis Corp.
26
2001
Overland Park, Kan.
2
Bowers + Kubota Consulting, Inc.
118
1980
Waipahu, Hawaii
3
Foresite Group, Inc.
60
2003
Norcross, Ga.
4
Choice One Engineering Corp.
27
1994
Sidney, Ohio
5
Comprehensive Environmental, Inc.
23
1987
Marlborough, Mass.
6
Nitsch Engineering, Inc.
75
1989
Boston
7
Barr Engineering Company
655
1966
Minneapolis
8
Kjeldsen Sinnock & Neudeck Inc.
24
1956
Stockton, Calif.
9
Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc.
453
1956
Waltham, Mass.
10
Provost & Pritchard Consulting Group
108
1968
Fresno, Calif.
11
CRW Engineering Group, LLC
51
1981
Anchorage, Alaska
12
Hall & Foreman, Inc.
54
1961
Tustin, Calif.
13
Schnabel Engineering, Inc.
270
1956
Glen Allen, Va.
14
R & M Consultants, Inc.
137
1969
Anchorage, Alaska
15
Gunda Corporation
27
2001
Houston
16
A Morton Thomas & Associates Inc.
325
1955
Rockville, Md.
17
Trigon Associates, LLC
31
2009
New Orleans
18
Delta Airport Consultants Inc.
53
1978
Richmond, Va.
19
Traffic Planning and Design, Inc.
84
1989
Pottstown, Pa.
20
R.A. Smith National, Inc.
152
1979
Brookfield, Wis.
21
DKS Associates
95
1979
Oakland, Calif.
22
Slater Hanifan Group
66
2003
Las Vegas
23
Cannon & Cannon, Inc.
46
1996
Knoxville, Tenn.
24
Hattenburg Dilley & Linnell
60
2000
Anchorage, Alaska
25
Draper Aden Associates
170
1972
Blacksburg, Va.
 

Affinis Corp. (Overland Park, Kan.; www.affinis.us), a 26 full-time employee firm, has a stated mission of striving to make life easier for clients and coworkers. This mission has translated into an emphasis on work-life balance, something they practice every day.

Affinis Corp. encourages employee involvement in the community and has donated time and a portion of its profits to two local organizations, including a food drive.

This mission manifests itself in the firm's long list of benefits and policies such as flexible work hours and allowing parents to bring their children to the office (the firm even has toys ready in the conference room in case kids come by unexpectedly). Additionally, Affinis promotes outside activities, limits overtime, and equally distributes work among their capable coworkers.

"When it comes to our company culture, we focus on coworker development. This begins the moment we bring someone on to our team. We look for individuals who share our company's mission, vision, and values, which has led to our success," the firm reported in the corporate survey submitted for the Best Firms evaluation.

All staff members are eligible to participate in Affinis U, the firm's continuing education program, along with external personal and professional development courses including undergraduate and graduate classes. The firm annually acknowledges the coworkers who best exhibit Affinis' values with an award called "The Schmitty."

Beyond staff relationships, Affinis encourages involvement in the community. Coworkers actively participate in professional, community, and non-profit organizations. This year, the firm donated time and a portion of its profits to two local organizations – reStart, Inc. and Heart to Heart International – and held a school supply drive and a Thanksgiving food drive for reStart to help supplement its greatest needs at that time of year.

Open communication is another hallmark of life at Affinis. Whether in good or challenging times, the firm states it is committed to providing transparent, honest communication with coworkers. In addition to quarterly staff meetings, Affinis also has "Lunch with Rick," the firm president, to share financial performance information and answer questions. The firm publishes an internal, monthly newsletter to share company news and support camaraderie.

Bowers + Kubota Consulting employees and their families receive 100-percent paid health insurance and enjoy an award-winning wellness program.

Bowers + Kubota Consulting, Inc. (Waipahu, Hawaii; www.bowersandkubota.com), with 118 employees, manages to maintain a family-oriented culture that engages employees at all levels. The impact the firm makes not only touches the employees but their families and the community as well.

According to the firm's corporate survey, this philosophy starts with the principals, and the integrity and genuine care that they share resonates down through all levels of employees. The principals of the firm take the time to meet and get to know each employee through site visits, company functions, and special birthday lunches where the principals take employees out to lunch. This genuine care and appreciation engages and motivates the employees to excel in all they do.

Employees and their families are well taken care of at Bowers + Kubota Consulting through an outstanding benefits package and an award-winning wellness program that welcomes family participation. Some of these benefits include 100-percent paid health insurance that includes medical, dental, drug, and vision for employees and their families; 401k program with the firm matching dollar-for-dollar up to the first 3 percent of salary; more than $2 million contribution to the company ESOP plan; a bonus pool; continuing education/tuition assistance; paid time off; and a flexible spending plan.

"We foster a culture where employees are encouraged and given the tools and resources to thrive," the firm reported in the corporate survey.

In 2012, Bowers + Kubota completed an 18-month, bottom-to-top strategic planning process that included volunteers from all levels of employees throughout the firm. The process of bottom-to-top planning helped to increase awareness and ownership of the overall goals at all levels of the firm. The 2013 goals and process were shared with the entire firm at an Annual Training meeting in December.

According to the firm's corporate survey, "Principals and senior management actively listened to the requests of the employees as part of the Best Firms To Work For feedback process. In the previous year's Best Firms Survey Report, employees were seeking areas for advancement. The principals took this into consideration and created a new level of management for employees to strive for, thereby creating additional opportunity. Five employees were promoted to the new associate category in 2012."

Succession planning is a vital component for any company. To ensure growth and development of its staff, Bowers + Kubota developed and successfully implemented a formal mentoring program to ensure that senior employees are engaged and junior employees are able to advance their learning. This program also helped to promote the firm's family-oriented culture.

The firm has an award-winning wellness program that continually improves and develops. Each year, the Wellness Committee, which consists of a mix of employees and management, focuses on a new area to help develop the program. In 2012, the focus was on the whole-self, not just physical but mental or behavioral health and wellness.

Foresite Group, Inc. attributes its 65-percent growth from 2011 to 2013 to vibrant and energetic staff and amazing clients. "We are an atypical engineering firm with creative, innovative, fun, and friendly people," said Brant Aden, CEO.

Foresite Group, Inc. (Norcross, Ga.; www.foresitegroupinc.com) is a 60-person firm with a full range of employee benefits and many opportunities for involvement in community, social, and educational activities.

"We are an atypical engineering firm with creative, innovative, fun, and friendly people. We enjoy hiring associates right out of college and integrating them into our unique way of business. They are taught marketing and business development skills from the get-go, no matter the position (technical, administrative, or managerial). We offer them the tools to make their position what they want, take on any responsibilities they want, and are continually looking out for new ideas and ways to improve," said Brant Aden, CEO.

From 2011 to 2013, Foresite Group increased staff size by 65 percent and opened two new offices. The firm attributes its outstanding growth to vibrant and energetic staff and amazing clients. Additionally in 2012, Foresite Group went through a significant rebranding process and worked to increase its national presence.

"One of our strategic goals is to have a nationally known brand, and in 2012 we opened an office in Dallas and Baltimore. These new offices give us the reach and credibility for continued growth and launch our brand into new territories," Aden said.

Other recent changes include the start of a structural engineering practice, the next element in the firm's continued expansion into different disciplines in order to continue to serve its clients and offer a more collaborative team. The firm said this team has brought the site-specific firm into the realm of building design and allowed it to see the bigger picture of the industry. The firm expects continued growth in this discipline for the coming year.

Foresite Group gives back to employees and the larger community. "We are continually striving to give back to our community. This year, for example, we became an official Toys for Tots drop off location. We also donated funds to local elementary schools to supplement their math programs," said Aden.

The social media plan also was updated in 2012, which opened up the doors to new creativity and innovation with Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Blogger.

"We promote employees through our social media. We spotlight each new employee hire, promotion, and certification through local ‘People on the Move' sections of local and regional new media. We also promote project wins, licensing, etc. through our company intranet. We also recognize all employees who have met utilization goals, revenue goal, or multiplier goals at each quarterly staff meeting in front of the whole company," Aden said.

Best Multidiscipline A/E Services Firms To Work For
This year's Best Multidiscipline A/E Services Firms To Work For ranking saw participation from many firms of various sizes and locations across the country. The top three winners are Bowers + Kubota Consulting, Inc.; GATE, Inc.; and Process Plus, LLC (see Table 2 for the complete ranking of Best Multidiscipline A/E Services Firms To Work For).

Table 2: 2013 Best Multidiscipline A/E Services Firms to Work For
Rank Firm Employees Year Est. Headquarters
1
Bowers + Kubota Consulting, Inc.
118
1980
Waipahu, Hawaii
2
GATE, Inc.
70
2000
Houston
3
Process Plus, LLC
91
1996
Cincinnati
4
Arcturis
44
1977
St. Louis
5
Trigon Associates, LLC
31
2009
New Orleans
6
USKH, Inc.
135
1972
Anchorage, Alaska
7
Lilker Associates Consulting Engineers
85
1985
New York
8
Pond & Company
235
1965
Norcross, Ga.
9
GeoDesign, Inc.
55
1997
Portland, Ore.
10
IIW, P.C.
76
1982
Dubuque, Iowa
11
JBA Consulting Engineers
110
1966
Las Vegas
12
Luckett & Farley
75
1853
Louisville, Ky.
13
PDC Inc., Engineers
74
1953
Fairbanks, Alaska
14
O'Neal, Inc.
218
1975
Greenville, S.C.
15
FRCH Design Worldwide
218
1968
Cincinnati
16
Hanson Professional Services Inc.
290
1954
Springfield, Ill.
17
Lionakis
178
1909
Sacramento, Calif.
18
Dyer, Riddle, Mills & Precourt (DRMP)
248
1977
Orlando, Fla.
19
Allana Buick & Bers, Inc.
96
1987
Palo Alto, Calif.
20
Braun Intertec Corporation
428
1952
Bloomington, Minn.
 

(See above for information about Bowers + Kubota Consulting, Inc.)

GATE, Inc. (Houston; www.gateinc.com) has 70 full-time employees. According to the firm's corporate survey, The GATE Model is to ensure that the firm provides both a respectful work environment and work that is both novel and interesting.

"We make sure to establish a sense of empowerment to our staff and instill a sense of ownership with all projects. This results in engaged and proud employees, which results in high quality deliverables and products," the firm reported in its corporate survey. GATE said this process is a chain reaction that leads to satisfied clients and establishes positive relationships, which in turn results in higher utilization rates and a fee structure that benefits employees. The firm reported a low staff turnover and positive ability to attract new hires.

In 2012, GATE modified its organization structure, expanded its office, had an ESOP program kick-off, and carried out a rigorous intern and graduate training program (GATE University).

The firm offers a number of benefits including tuition reimbursement and flex-time. Additionally, GATE offers recognition for excellent work in a number of material and immaterial ways. GATE has employee satisfaction surveys that are administered by an independent third party, and management operates under an open-door policy. The Continual Professional Development (CPD) Program is stated by the firm to be one of the best ways it obtains feedback from employees. The firm said that it has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination of any sort.

According to GATE's corporate survey, "We don't specifically ‘try' to be diverse, we simply are because diversity is naturally embedded in our culture." The firm said its diverse culture attracts exciting and diverse individuals, with six principals from four different countries.

Process Plus, LLC employees are encouraged to be vocal, identify opportunities, and then implement improvements. A spirit of teamwork extends into an employee support network and creates a family-like atmosphere.

Process Plus, LLC (Cincinnati; www.processplus.com) is a 91-person firm that prides itself in empowering employees. As a mid-size, multidiscipline engineering and architectural firm, it takes an approach that each project is unique, requiring its own customized approach and does not ever use a "one-size-fits-all solution." Through rigorous core values and incredible enthusiasm, employees are encouraged to be vocal, identify opportunities, and then implement improvements. The firm also incorporates employee and customer feedback into everything it does to foster a spirit of continuous improvement.

To succeed, teamwork and collaboration are vital. According to the Process Plus corporate survey, "Our project teams are committed to our customers and the overall success of our projects. From one-on-one meetings to interdisciplinary team meetings, we collaborate with each other to design great solutions."

The firm also stated that the spirit of teamwork extends into an employee support network and creates a "family-like atmosphere," where "together we perform best, and then together, we celebrate!"

"We work in a competitive industry but we have no desire to be just another EA firm. We want our customers to remember us; remember our people, our skills, our professionalism, our responsiveness, our quality – our service…We will make an impact on our customers such that they will be our biggest advocates and long-standing partners," stated the corporate survey.

Among the many factors making Process Plus a Best Firm To Work For are its flexible work schedule and a family-oriented culture that includes the option for full-time employees to work "summer hours" all year round (four nine-hour days, and one four-hour day). Other factors include the open atmosphere and inclusion, (information such as strategic priorities, growth initiatives, financial status, challenges, and more are shared with all employees), and the feeling that employees have the ability to make a difference.

"The size of Process Plus is not too large where employees feel they may get lost in the mix, nor is there a sole proprietor who makes all of the decisions. A common reason for joining Process Plus is ‘because I feel that I can make a difference.' Each person at Process Plus is empowered to take risks to arrive at solutions that help to advance our goals, and the goals of our clients," said the corporate survey.

The firm also has high community involvement and employees' involvement in their personal charities and community programs are honored through the Community Sponsorship and Service Leave Policies.

"This is where I want to work because I have never worked for a company like Process Plus before. I feel respected everyday and it's a very friendly work environment. With any luck it will hopefully turn into a job [where] I can be for 10+ years, hopefully more," said one employee.

Another employee stated, "Working for a company that values their employees and lets them know they are important is more than just a job. The friendly family environment makes you want to come to work every day and do more than your very best."

Best Environmental Services Firms To Work For
The top three firms in the 2013 Best Environmental Services Firms To Work For ranking are Comprehensive Environmental, Inc.; All4, Inc.; and Barr Engineering Company (see Table 3 for the complete ranking of Best Environmental Services Firms To Work For).

Table 3: 2013 Best Environmental Services Firms To Work For
Rank Firm Employees Year Est. Headquarters
1
Comprehensive Environmental, Inc.
23
1987
Marlborough, Mass.
2
All4, Inc.
32
2002
Kimberton, Pa.
3
Barr Engineering Company
655
1966
Minneapolis
4
NGE
22
2002
Moon Township, Pa.
5
EHS Support, LLC
57
2005
Pittsburgh
6
Zephyr Environmental Corporation
63
1994
Austin, Texas
7
Johnson Wright, Inc.
13
1994
Lafayette, Calif.
 

Comprehensive Environmental, Inc. (CEI; Marlborough, Mass.; www.ceiengineers.com) is a small woman-owned business that provides a comprehensive array of engineering and environmental services in the Northeast United States. With 23 full-time employees, CEI's mission is to be a strong advocate for its clients while continuously improving the firm and the engineering/environmental industry.

Comprehensive Environmental, Inc. has remained independent and thrived under the leadership of its original founder, Eileen Pannetier, standing behind the Marlborough office staff.

"Our client references are our single-most important asset and these stem directly from having outstanding employees dedicated to excellence and innovation. Our employees have the opportunity for true ownership, and work on challenging projects that serve as the foundation for long-term relationships with our clients," said the firm's corporate survey.

The firm provides staff with tailored training, advanced resources, competitive benefits, and work-life flexibility. CEI also offers a wide spectrum of employee benefits.

"We pride ourselves in putting our clients first; giving them superior customer service with an unmatched technical staff. Given our small business status, we are proud of the workplace atmosphere we have created here at CEI. We have an open-door policy at every level allowing all staff to contribute in any area of the business they would like to be involved in," CEI reported.

Additionally, CEI is one of only a handful of small employee-owned consulting firms in the Northeast. In the age of mergers and acquisitions, CEI has remained independent and thrived under the leadership of CEI's original founder, and six employees have been promoted to principal positions and are now owners (with more expected to be added).

"Given the current economy we are proud to say we have never laid off an employee during our 25 years of business and have in fact been hiring during these past few years of recession," said the employee survey.

The firm has made a conscious effort to contribute to the industry via technical ideas and promote social responsibility and sustainability. The firm said its commitment to the community through pro-bono and volunteer work and charitable giving reflects these goals.

In 2012, CEI obtained third-party certification as an Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) and is now eligible for the EDWOSB Program. CEI has also recently begun an effort to reduce the risk of climate change through the use of green power and elected to begin purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (REC) to offset 20 percent of the electricity used. This effort was recognized by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and CEI is now part of EPA's national Green Power Partnership.

The firm's uniquely talented staff has led it to two exciting new projects, one for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and another for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Architects and Engineers Review Board to provide them with various water resources evaluation and mitigation services on an on-call basis.

All4, Inc. strives to create an environment where work-life balance is a top priority. The firm said it takes great care to invest in employee development and to provide a comfortable working environment and the best resources, as exemplified by its Kimberton, Pa., headquarters.

All4, Inc. (Kimberton, Pa.; www.all4inc.com) is an environmental consulting company with 32 full-time employees. The firm specializes in air quality consulting services – primarily assisting clients with complex air permitting, air quality modeling, continuous monitoring, and regulatory compliance issues.

Recognizing that the busy pace of consulting can impact employees, ALL4 strives to create an environment where work-life balance is a top priority.

"ALL4 is built on a culture of accomplishment, respect, accountability, and teamwork. While our work environment may be characterized as casual, our work ethic is formal as we strive to make one another better both professionally and personally by setting high standards and holding ourselves accountable to these standards. Since we are clearly only as good as our people, we take great care to invest in their development and to provide them with a comfortable working environment and the best resources," said the firm's corporate survey.

The benefits at ALL4 are top notch: everything from car-detailing, to yoga classes, frozen take-home meals, and even a planned "recess" program where the staff takes an afternoon off work to go to a fun event such as golfing, skiing, bowling, or even a road trip to see a Reading Phillies game.

ALL4 supports its local communities via monetary and volunteer sponsorship to the United Way Campaign, participating in food drives to support local food cupboards, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, hosting semi-annual trash pick-ups for its adopted two-mile stretch of Pennsylvania Route 113 that runs in front of its office building, and participating in the annual "Clean Air Run" in Philadelphia.

ALL4 conducts semi-annual internal energy audits of its workspace which serves as a reminder to employees of the energy use within the office and how making simple changes in behavior/habits, can reduce ALL4's consumption and overall carbon footprint. All employees that have been working for ALL4 for more than one year have the opportunity to work from home one day per week, thus reducing the company's daily commute-related greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 20 percent.

ALL4 has monthly Continuous Improvement Meetings in lieu of an annual review, so employees and management have an ongoing dialog throughout the year. At the conclusion of ALL4's weekly meetings, time is set aside to give out "High Fives," where peers are able to recognize coworkers who have gone "above and beyond" the normal call of duty and to convey positive client feedback.

"ALL4 continues to dedicate a lot of time and resources to its ‘Best in Class' program. At the beginning of each year, we hold a round table discussion where we encourage employees to provide feedback and suggestions for the upcoming year. It is the responsibility of the Best in Class Coordinator to implement these changes throughout the year, which also includes reaching out to fellow employees and asking for volunteers to aid in spearheading some of the initiatives," the firm said.

Barr Engineering Company's structure includes flex time and elements such as fun and social events, encouragement of creativity and innovation, and generous spending on employee training and development.

Barr Engineering Company (Minneapolis; www.barr.com), with an impressive 655 full-time employees, still manages to create an environment that makes employees feel motivated and valued as individuals. Barr's commitment to employees begins with its human resources strategy, which was recently reaffirmed in the process of developing its 2011 to 2015 strategic plan. The strategy says in part that the firm wants to be the place to work in the communities it serves.

The firm said its people say they join (and stay at) Barr for several reasons, including the flat organizational structure and free-market staffing model, employee trust and careful hiring practices, and employee ownership and input.

In addition to all-company meetings and shareholder communications, the firm has included all staff input into the 2011 strategic planning process, and in 2012 the firm went through a significant process to consider what internal changes were needed to continue growth and "engage and challenge staff in a meaningful way."

The firm structure includes flex time and elements such as fun and social events, encouragement of creativity and innovation, and generous spending on training and development. The firm prides itself on embodying a spirit of "fairness," meaning there are no lushly appointed corner offices and senior leaders work in the same space as other employees. Barr also has a broad distribution of ownership and rewards through an ESOP and a very small amount of direct shareholding. Barr is owned by its employees, with no employee owning more than 1 percent of the firm. All of the company's profits are distributed to its employees as cash bonus, and for the ESOP participants as ESOP contributions and dividends.

Barr's most recent process resulted in many changes that were implemented in late 2012. These new developments included creation of formal practice groups, support teams in business units, embedded HR and communications specialists in business units, and more formal leadership roles in its branch offices.

The firm also has implemented a number of improvements to its orientation, training, and development offerings. Barr's Project Management Resource Group (PMRG) went through a 12-month process to retool its internal project management training. In response to a survey of project managers, in which they cited a key need of helping staff develop project management skills earlier in their careers, the firm decided to offer a Delegation Training course with the help of an outside vendor to enable staff to become more comfortable with effective delegation.

The firm has a strong safety culture and has developed a safety gauge to regularly communicate to staff the status of its monthly safety metrics and to help communicate lessons learned from incidents and close calls.


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