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VOL. 127 | NO. 196 | Monday, October 08, 2012

Engineering Firms Find Growth With New Markets

By Sarah Baker

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Local engineering firms are extending their reach with new offices in niche markets that not only better serve their clients but also their employees.

EnSafe Inc., a Memphis-based environmental remediation engineering firm, has expanded this year into Pleasant Hill, Calif., to put resources close to a large project cleaning up an old rocket fuel plant “in order not to be flying people in all of the time,” said Phil Coop, EnSafe president and CEO.

The firm also in recent months has entered the Jacksonville, Fla., market due to its winning of a $160 million contract to provide environmental services to the U.S. Navy. For that deal, EnSafe formed a joint venture with AECOM, one of the largest engineering firms in the world, to form a new company called Resolution Consultants.

Leading the effort is Frank McInturff, associate principal and senior engineer, who will also serve as the branch manager.

“The Jacksonville, Fla., area is the location of a number of the naval bases at which we’ll be doing work,” Coop said. “We thought it important to put some scientists close to our client.”

EnSafe, which appeared recently on the annual Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing U.S. companies, is also working on getting a Pittsburgh branch finalized by year’s end. That will bring the firm to 12 offices nationwide, not including satellite locations.

Coop said the sole reason for the Pittsburgh office was to meet the needs of a new hire and native of the area, Mark Kimes. EnSafe’s staff roster totals 250, about 75 of which are in Memphis – “the mother ship” that houses its scientists and corporate functions.

“Finding the kinds of very talented, very smart environmental scientists that we need to work on our projects can sometimes be difficult,” Coop said. “We don’t hire entry-level people mostly. We’ll open a branch office sometimes in order to provide office support for somebody we just want to hire.”

Meanwhile, Lakeland-based A2H opened its Oxford, Miss., office in July. It was put into the firm’s strategic plan two years ago to assist client Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi in the relocating of its campus, said A2H president Mark Askew.

The new Oxford office was also put in place for A2H to pursue work at the University of Mississippi and benefit employees living there.

“As it turned out, we had some employees that were driving – one from Oxford and one from nearby – to our office in Lakeland,” Askew said. “We said, ‘this all works very well.’ It all sort of came together, not only as a business plan, but helping some of our employees not to have to drive so far to work.”

Accommodating employees is especially critical in a competitive environment with limited supply.

“There are not as many young people going into engineering,” Askew said. “When you used to be good in math and science, you went into engineering or something very similar to that. Now, there are other things that you can go into, particularly within information technology, it just opened up a whole new field. That’s a real issue with engineering schools all over the country. We’re not graduating enough engineers to do what we need to do.”

A2H’s Oxford office employs three at the present but should grow significantly over the next few years. The architectural and engineering firm employs 75 across four offices.

It’s been about a year since A2H entered Nashville to service clients like the Tennessee Department of Transportation and its aeronautics division.

“We do general aviation airports, and we do a lot of community development block grants,” Askew said. “We needed somebody in Nashville who was very knowledgeable of that, so we opened up an office there and it’s done really well.”

A2H has also hired two new senior environmental experts that will come on board around mid-October.

“That will increase our environmental engineering capabilities and expand that,” Askew said.

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