You might not recognize it as such, yet every day in Shelby County thousands of people pass by, or over, the work of W.H. Porter Consultants PLLC.
William Porter (left) with partner Matt Bingham in W.H. Porter's conference room.
(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)
The engineering consulting firm has been in business since 1946 when William Porter, then with the Corps of Engineers and having just returned from Italy after World War II, partnered with W.S. Pigott to found Pigott & Porter Engineers. Pigott retired 20 years later and Porter’s son, William “Butch” Porter, took over the business in 1980.
The long history certainly speaks to the quality work handled by Porter and his team of engineers, but it’s the work itself that underscores the success. Porter calls it a “boutique company” that concentrates in civil engineering and surveying specializing, in part, in transportation engineering for the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The HOV lanes on Interstate 40 was a 9.5-mile project with five interchanges.
The I-240/I-40 flyover is impressive as well, rolling up from the asphalt like a tidal wave to move travelers seamlessly in all directions. But it may be the more subdued, picturesque Wolf River Boulevard extension that Porter takes the most pride in. His company furnishes design services to local municipalities and this included the engineering and environmental work on that bucolic road through Germantown. It was recently designated a Certified Signature Sanctuary by Audubon International.
From Audubon International’s website: “The roadway is the first roadway in the world to earn certification in the prestigious Audubon International Signature Program. The goal for the Wolf River Boulevard project team was to design and construct the roadway to limit the impacts to adjacent aquatic systems and wildlife habitat, as well as to promote wildlife habitat connectivity.”
To hear Porter talk about the work done with its challenges and rewards is to hear someone at the top of his game describe the creation of nothing less than a work of art. “We worked on that a long time, but we finally got a beautiful road out there,” he said.
It’s a business of details and the engineers must complete their due diligence when they move into any area for construction. On a recent job of a new 1,000-foot bridge over the Loosahatchie River at Raleigh-Millington Road for Memphis and Shelby County, they had to conduct studies on the endangered Indiana bat.
“We did find out a secret: if you don’t have any scaly-bark hickory trees, you don’t have any Indiana bats,” he said. “So that saved us about a year.”
Services provided include drainage studies and improvement, land surveying and environmental services, as well as zoning and subdivision planning to the private sector. The original planning for Southwind in 1984 is a job that is still ongoing. They’ve worked on commercial projects such as the first five Target stores built in Memphis, and provided layout work for Ridgeway High School, Bartlett United Methodist Church and Memphis International Airport.
Porter says that as the economy slumped in 2008, financial institutions were left holding a lot of property they didn’t know what to do with. W.H. Porter worked with several of them exclusively. One had $80 million in bad loans and Porter has gotten it down to $20 million.
“We did that by finishing developments and dressing them up and getting them where they didn’t look totally foreclosed on, and make them where people want to go invest in it, and that worked for us,” he said.
It’s something they continue to work on even as the industry begins to improve.
Porter’s company has a lot of expertise when it comes to land development and has remained on an even keel despite the ups and downs of the construction industry, aligning himself with proven and reliable developers.
“I bet you, if I added them all up, I’ve probably done 300,000 lots in this area,” Porter said.
As the forecast brightens, W.H. Porter sits in a good spot to prosper along with the improvements. The job market, as well, is a bright spot among the economic gloom with a career in engineering still a sound one. Porter and his family have graduated four generations from the University of Mississippi; his son, also an engineer, most recently.
The team at W.H. Porter has been helping Shelby Countians with where they live, shop and how they move about for half a century. And such development is a team effort between all parties involved, Porter said, and points to the Wolf River Boulevard construction and input from such agencies as The Wolf River Conservancy, the Memphis Garden Club and The Sierra Club as example.
“We worked as a team on that whole project, so those environmental groups should take as much credit for how that road is out there as we do,” he said. “We really had a good relationship with them.”