GeoEngineers Inc., which has operated a Spokane office for 20 years, is seeing a rise in work and revenues and is looking to add to its staff, its principals here say.
The Seattle-based firm has a staff here of 25 people, up one from last year. The staff includes six engineers, four geologists, two hydrogeologists, and a biologist.
The mix of markets the firm targets and the services it provides enable GeoEngineers to reach a broad client base and reduce its reliance on any one market, says Bruce Williams, managing principal at the Spokane office.
"We're having our best year since 2007, in part because of our diversity," Williams says.
James Harakas, a senior principal at the Spokane office, says he's been in the engineering business long enough to have seen several economic downturns. While the most recent recession, with its lingering effects, is by no means typical, he says an upswing in engineering business generally precedes growth in the economy by up to 24 months.
Meantime, Harakas and Williams say they expect GeoEngineers' business to continue to grow.
"We're hiring," Williams says. "We have an ad out for this office, and we have 15 openings firmwide."
The multidiscipline engineering firm serves the energy, government, site development, transportation, and natural-resource markets out of the Spokane office, Harakas says.
Among its many engineering services, GeoEngineers specializes in evaluating how site, soil, and groundwater conditions should be taken into account in development plans. GeoEngineers also conducts special inspections at development sites, tests for soil and groundwater contamination, and recommends cleanup methods when contaminants are found.
The Spokane office is working on nearly 200 active projects, which also are geographically diverse, with about half in Spokane County and the remainder mostly within 200 miles of Spokane.
"The number is higher than average, and trending upward," Williams says.
Most years, the project backlog slows down in the fall, he says.
"Even when it holds steady this time of year, that's a positive sign," Williams says. "The fact that it's increasing bodes well for 2012."
Harakas says it's difficult to quantify which of GeoEngineers' services are most in demand.
Geotechnical engineering services, which include working with civil engineers to design plans based on site conditions, bring in up to 30 percent of the Spokane office's revenues. Environmental engineering projects, such as stream restorations, while smaller in number, bring in up to 40 percent of the revenue, he says.
Current projects it has provided services for include the Spokane County Water Reclamation Facility, at 1004 N. Freya, in East Spokane; a Cheney middle school project at 6120 Abbott Road, in Cheney; Waste Management Inc.'s planned materials recovery facility west of Spokane; and Trader Joe's, on the South Hill.
The majority of GeoEngineers' jobs, though, are of short duration lasting one to three months, Harakas says.
"If we can see two months of backlog, we're doing well," he says. "Two months ago, we were hoping to have a good end to the year. Now, we're confident we will."
Adds Williams, "And we're expecting a strong start to next year."
GeoEngineers was founded in Bellevue, Wash., in 1980. The company operates 12 offices in seven states and Canada, including four offices in Western Washington.
The principals decline to disclose the firm's revenues, but say they're back on the rise from the depths of the recession. Companywide revenues peaked in 2007 and leveled off 2008 before starting to slide in 2009 and taking a steeper drop last year, they say.
While this year's revenues aren't expected to return to 2007 levels, they're exceeding projections in most GeoEngineers offices, including the Spokane office, Harakas says.
"Every office is making a profit," Williams adds. "Firmwide, we're exceeding profit goals by 65 percent to 70 percent."
Harakas joined the firm in 1991, about six months before GeoEngineers opened an office here largely to serve Unocal Corp., a California-based oil company with a network of facilities in Eastern Washington.
"Unocal kept us busy with existing stations and bulk plants," Harakas says.
A number of people at the Bellevue office wanted to move to Eastern Washington, providing an opportunity for GeoEngineers to expand its client base here.
"We had a ready-made staff," Harakas says. "It wasn't exactly a cold start."
Today, GeoEngineers' Spokane office occupies 8,100 square feet of leased space at 532 E. Second, where it has been located since 1999, shortly after absorbing former Spokane competitor Gifford Consultants Inc.
Gifford had a staff of 10, and GeoEngineers had six people on staff here at the time of the merger. "Within 6 months we had a total of 24 people," Harakas says.
Williams joined the firm 14 years ago, having come from another Spokane engineering firm.
The office staff peaked in 2007 at 32 people. Staff reductions here during the recession occurred mostly through people moving to other GeoEngineers offices or returning to school, rather than through layoffs, he says.
With 19 staff members having worked for GeoEngineers for more than five years, employee longevity is one key to the firm's success, Williams says.
"The fact that they want to stay here speaks volumes," he says. "That culture brings in the talent we desire."
Looking ahead, sustainable, low-impact projects and other forms of green engineering will expand as areas of emphasis for the firm, Williams predicts.
On the other hand, historically contaminated sites that will have to be cleaned up, also referred to as legacy sites, will continue to provide work for the foreseeable future, he says.
For instance, the Washington state Department of Ecology last month awarded GeoEngineers a contract to develop cleanup recommendations for four Spokane River beaches contaminated with lead, arsenic, zinc, and cadmium washed downstream from Idaho's Silver Valley, Williams says. Those sites are two beaches near Barker Road and beaches at Myrtle Point and Islands Lagoon, across from Plantes Ferry Park, all in Spokane Valley.
"I think there's going to be increased demand for engineering," Williams says. "I couldn't think of better professions to go into now than engineering and sciences."
Subscribe today to our free E-Newsletters!SUBSCRIBE