In the architectural and engineering industries, business can fluctuate like a roller coaster ride, with projects peaking during the summer and plummeting during the winter.
Womer & Associates Inc., of Spokane, hopes to rise above that trend this year, returning to the point where its project volume peaked last year and continuing an upward climb.
Sometimes when one thing hits, a landslide comes, and then you have to start shifting and hiring more people, says William Womer, the companys president and a member of the Colville Confederated Tribe of Indians.
The full-service architectural and engineering concern, which now employs about 25 people, plans to add more employees and grow its business after it receives approval for special U.S. Small Business Administration certification, Womer says. The certification, administered through the SBAs 8(a) business-development program, gives economically and socially disadvantaged businesses more access to federal contracts and other business assistance.
The designation could nearly double the firms current volume of projects, Womer says. The company has billed out about $2 million to $2.5 million annually in engineering fees for the last three years, and about half as much before that, he says.
If we get this, well be the only one in our region as a Native American-owned small business to have this certification, he says. Were engineering in uncharted territory.
Brian Clark, one of the companys two vice presidents, says that Womer & Associates, which currently is applying for the SBA certification, has noted the success of other businesses with the designation and hopes to enjoy the same results.
Weve worked with other 8(a) businesses in Fort Mojave and Nellis Air Force Base, and its nothing but helped those businesses, he says. Were excited for the same opportunity.
The SBA 8(a) program encourages federal agencies to award a percentage of their contracts to small, disadvantaged businesses, and allows those businesses to form teams to bid on large prime contracts.
The certification might help Womer land more government projects here, including work at Fairchild Air Force Base, Clark says.
Womer says the SBA rejected the companys first 8(a) application in 1993 because of some confusion over whether its board members were all members of American Indian tribes. After that, the company delayed submitting a second application as it added employees and moved to different locations, he says.
Now that the concern has gained more employees and project experience, its more likely that the SBA will approve an application, Womer says.
Womer says the company hit a peak last year when it won a contract for a Northern Quest Casino expansion in Airway Heights plus contracts for a number of projects in the Phoenix area. Its business then tapered off and held steady, with its work force dropping to about 25 people from 30.
Clark says the firm gradually will add more employees this year, including an electrical engineering intern who received a scholarship from Womer & Associates in that field.
Well get back up to 30 employees, and then stay up and grow, he says.
Womer says he and a friend started Womer & Associates in 1992 when they rented out and renovated a storage room in the old Bovay Northwest Inc. building at the corner of Scott Street and Sprague Avenue.
The partners began work as planning consultants for environmental, tourism, and recreation projects, and later applied for engineering certification after Clark joined the staff. The state requires that all companies or firms offering engineering services have the certification, much like a business license.
When the concern grew to eight or nine employees, it moved into office space on Second Avenue, and soon thereafter renovated and moved to its current location, at 723 N. Crestline.
It added more employees and services in the late 1990s after winning three major contracts including a Spokane International Airport Business Park project and a casino project in California.
Womer now offers civil, structural, mechanical, and electrical engineering, architectural design and planning, and environmental services.
Construction on one of the firms more prominent projects yet, a big expansion of Northern Quest Casino, began two weeks ago and should be completed this fall, Womer says. Womer & Associates will provide all of the engineering services for the roughly $12 million project, which will add almost 60,000 square feet to the north side of the 92,000-square-foot casino.
The expansion will add a nonsmoking gaming area to the casinos Pend Oreille Pavilion that will offer seating for about 1,200 people, and three new food venues, including a 24-hour caf, deli, and sports bar.
For an earlier expansion that added about 36,600 square feet to the then 55,000-square-foot casino, Womer & Associates had created the preliminary architectural designs, and provided all of the engineering services.
The company also is providing engineering services on a $1.5 million project to perform utility work and add connecting roads near the intersection of U.S. 2 and Spotted Road in Airways Heights for the Spokane International Airport Business Park. Clark says the firm is waiting for state approval of the projects construction, which is slated to begin later this year.
In another highway project, Womer is teaming with David Evans & Associates Inc., of Spokane, to study and estimate costs for the Spokane Transit Authoritys plan for a light-rail transit system connecting downtown Spokane to Liberty Lake. That project is nearing the end of the conceptual-design phase, Clark says.
Most recently, Womer has bid on a large project to expand the main water pipeline for Vera Water & Power Co., of Spokane Valley, Clark says. The project will extend Veras water transmission into a district that doesnt have public water service, he says.
Womer employs members of a number of American Indian tribes, including the Spokanes, Coeur dAlenes, Colvilles, Nez Perces, Blackfeet, and Navajo. About two-thirds of the companys current clients also are American Indians, Clark says.
The company has offered a scholarship program since 1997, helping American Indian engineering students gain more professional experience, Clark says.
William Womer says the company is working on projects with a number of tribes outside the Spokane area, including one with the Colville Tribe of Indians for a project that will replace the Omak Stampede Arena with a larger arena that will seat more than 8,000 people.
On that project, Womer & Associates will provide master planning and design services, and will work with Northwest Architectural Co., of Spokane, and David Evans to refine architectural plans. The new arena is expected to be completed in time for the stampede next August.
The company also will provide design services on the $12 million to $15 million construction of a 127,000-square-foot entertainment pavilion and a small casino for the Fort Mojave Reservation in southern Nevada, Womer says.
Womer & Associates wants to add employees and expand services at its two-employee branch office in Phoenix in the next six months, he says.
Womer says the company recently put its building on Crestline up for sale and is seeking another location to accommodate its expansion plans here. Its considering leasing about 8,500 square feet of floor space in the Freeman Center in downtown Spokane, which is more than double the size of its present location. Womer & Associates hopes to move there in the next four to six months.
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