Spokane Journal of Business

Strata forges ahead after management changes

Company expects to top $17 million in revenue

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-—Kevin Blocker
Strata Inc.’s Jim Murphy, left, and Ryan Matteson stand in front of a moist room at the company’s Spokane Valley facility. The room is designed to cure concrete samples.

Jim Murphy, CEO of Strata Inc., which specializes in geotechnical engineering and construction material testing and inspection, says the company has transitioned quickly from a leadership change that occurred in March this year.

Murphy—who previously shared Strata’s COO duties—replaced Travis Wambeke as CEO. Wambeke left Strata to operate his own construction material testing company in Pullman.

 Meanwhile, Paxton Anderson, who was a COO alongside Murphy, was named as Strata’s northern region manager overseeing the company’s offices in Spokane Valley, Coeur d’Alene, Richland, and Missoula.

Strata hired Murphy and Anderson in 2011 when it merged with former Gillette, Wyo.-based Consolidated Engineers & Materials Testing Inc., which Murphy owned and operated.

Strata’s corporate office is based in Boise and that office has the largest number of employees among the company’s 12 offices with 40 workers. The Spokane Valley office has 20 employees. Overall, Strata has 120 employees working in five states, Murphy says.

Here, Strata operates an accredited materials testing laboratory. The office and lab space combined occupies 6,000 square feet of space at 10020 E. Knox. 

The laboratory applies daily stress tests to concrete and asphalt for projects it oversees to ensure they meet building design criteria and required regulatory codes. The company also deploys a fleet of mobile labs across the region to conduct field tests, he says.

Strata’s job is to oversee the interaction between a construction project and the soil and rock upon which the project is being built, Murphy says.

“It’s taking a little bit of geology in with constructive materials like concrete, asphalt, steel, and wood and making sure that those interactions are going to give us the right performance in the construction project,” he says.

It had total revenue of just under $16 million last year, and Murphy says the company has set a goal to reach $17 million this year.

Locally, Strata’s offices here, Coeur d’ Alene, and Richland reported $4.3 billion in combined billings last year, up from $2.8 million in combined billing for 2015.

Murphy credits Anderson for his efforts in establishing an office in Richland two years ago and for recognizing the growth taking place in the Tri-Cities.

“He’s re-established us in that market, and it’s been good for us,” Murphy says.

Strata’s Coeur d’Alene office is at 280 W. Prairie and has four employees working in just a little over 1,500 square feet of office and laboratory space. The Spokane Valley and Coeur d’Alene offices collaborate on projects regularly, Murphy says.

Strata’s offices are located in Twin Falls, Pocatello, and Idaho Falls, Idaho; Casper, Cheyenne, and Gillette, Wyo.; and Williston, N.D., he says.

“We work on large, public works projects; dams, power plants, and airports are just a few of the kinds of projects we have a hand in,” Murphy says. “We stay away from residential projects.”

Strata was the geotechnical engineer and materials tester during the expansion of the Spokane Convention Center, and currently is performing those same duties for the city of Spokane in its $64 million renovation of Riverfront Park, Murphy says.

Strata’s other clients include Spokane Airports, the Idaho Department of Transportation, and a “major utility company” in the Pacific Northwest that Murphy declines to identify.

“We’re doing close to 20 airport projects this year across the entire company,” he says. “And schools, lots of school work this year, including the Liberty High School project down in Spangle.”

The majority of Strata’s work centers on construction materials testing, with a small amount of work dedicated to environmental consulting, Murphy says. 

“So, when you’re building a bank building in downtown Spokane, we do the inspection to make sure the contractor is building it to the design that was put forth by the structural engineer and the architect,” he says.

Internally, Murphy says Strata is in the process of crafting a new strategic plan based on feedback from employees. Not long after Murphy took over as CEO, Strata hired an independent consultant to help the company create short-term and long-term goals for itself.

“It’s about refocusing the company on the people within the company,” Murphy says. “And they all deserve the same care and concern.”

Rather than create a management-based plan, Strata went to its employees and solicited feedback, he says.

“We went to the employees and said, ‘Tell us what our values are, what’s important to us as a team and as a group of people who come here to work every day,’” he says.

Murphy says geotechnical engineering has changed dramatically in the more than three decades he’s been in the industry.

“The forces of the market have really pushed our business into being more of a commodity. The creator of the project often thinks, ‘I’ve got to have this certain amount of testing and inspection done so I’ll just hire the cheapest company for it,’” Murphy says.

“We don’t want to be the cheapest. We want to be the best at a reasonable price. We want our employees to feel secure and satiated professionally,” he says.

As for Murphy, the 53-year-old Gillette native earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Gonzaga University in 1986. 

“I worked for the Wyoming highway department in the summers, and that’s what eventually led me into this business,” he says.

“A lot of people chuckle when I tell them I have a philosophy degree, but I have to say, it has served me in my role as a leader immensely,” he says.

Murphy says his degree helped him become a strong critical thinker.

“So many people I’ve seen are well trained, but being able to take the training and apply it outside of the box in new and innovative ways can be real challenging,” he says.

 Kevin Blocker
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Reporter Kevin Blocker, a University of Colorado alum, is a rec league basketball addict. At age 47, he still sports a 32-inch vertical leap. He has three children, all of whom are hooked on hoops.

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