Engineers of all specialties are gearing up for the workload that will follow implementation of the Transportation Equity Act, a new federal highway bill that will funnel more money to Mississippi.
The Mississippi Business Journal talked to a number of metro engineering firms last week to find out what else is going on in the state and Southeast.
Few people know that Neel-Schaffer Inc. is the only southeastern engineering group based in Jackson, said Hibbett Neel.
“We saw the passage of the new federal highway bill coming and we planned for it,” said Neel.
With offices in Atlanta, Birmingham, Baton Rouge and Nashville, five southern states are represented. With in-state offices in Tupelo, Columbus, Biloxi and Hattiesburg, the state of Mississippi is covered.
“We’re strategically located,” Neel said. “Southeastern states will be allowed almost 70% more money than they’ve gotten before, so we’re located in most of the southeastern states to do that kind of work.”
Established in 1984 with 20 employees, most of the growth has come through acquisitions. Neel-Schaffer, an employee-owned firm with 270 employees, including a surveying company called Map Tech, has major clients including the Corps of Engineers and the Department of Transportation, Neel said.
The bulk of their projects includes medium-sized highway and bridge engineering work and contracts in planning, design and inspection. But several multi-million dollar projects have been high profile. Neel-Schaffer recently completed expansion and renovation of the Columbus Water Treatment Facilities, is working on the high level bridge on U.S. 90 over the Pascagoula River, and a traffic signal project in Memphis.
WARE LIND FURLOW/AQUATERRA ENGINEERS INC.
Charles Furlow, vice president of Ware Lind Furlow/Aquaterra Engineers Inc., said there’s still a lot of clean-up going on in the environmental arena, particularly in areas where facilities have operated and left some environmental impairment.
“Clean ups that are occurring now are not being done to try to get the site to a pristine condition, but to achieve a level based on a risk assessment that will not pose harm to human health in the environment,” Furlow said.
Furlow said working for two groups, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Quality, at the same time is challenging.
“Laws are changing almost every year as to what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, so it is a bit of a dynamic target that you’re trying to hit,” he said.
With a staff of 25, Ware Lind Furlow/Aquaterra Engineers Inc. specializes in geotechnical and environmental work. The firm was established as Ware Lind Furlow Engineers in 1961 and renamed when it was sold eight years ago. It’s still privately owned,” Furlow said.
The firm provides a variety of services to other engineers, architects and the industrial sector, from preacquisition site assessment to ensure no contamination to in-depth geotechnical study to determine the type of foundation needed for a particular structure. They are currently working on the design of the Mississippi River Bridge on U.S. 82 in Greenville. Construction should begin next year, he said.
ENERFACE ENGINEERING INC.
EnerFace Engineering Inc. is so specialized, there’s no similar independent agency in Mississippi, said James Snider, owner and president.
Snider, who grew up in Montgomery, Ala., and received a mechanical engineering degree from Auburn University, formed the company in 1977. A professional engineer registered in Alabama and Mississippi, Snider’s firm handles performance contracting and engineering, mechanical engineering and energy conservation. As certified building systems commissioners, they test, adjust and balance HVAC systems.
“We deal in three areas — comfort and process, indoor air quality and energy conservation — for commercial, industrial, institutional and government projects,” Snider said.
With a home office in Rankin County, Snider and associates travel around the nation, working with existing building owners to make buildings more energy and cost efficient, usually saving a minimum of 20 cents per square foot on utility costs, he said.
“We can do that by using the money building owners are paying the utility company and the building owners end up with capital improvements,” Snider said. “Also, with improvements in lighting, heating and air conditioning, workers are more comfortable and work more efficiently. Studies have proven that if you improve the indoor air quality in a building, the payback is about 6% of your payroll.”
Deregulation won’t make any difference, he said.
“People are either going to build new buildings or fix up old buildings,” he said.
MICHAEL BAKER ENGINEERS
Even though theirs is the largest engineering firm in the state of Mississippi, Michael Baker Engineers is not recognized as such because the company is incorporated in Pittsburgh, Pa., where its international headquarters is located, said Glenn Calloway, regional manager.
Established in 1940, the company opened its Mississippi location five years later. More than 100 of the company’s 4,000-plus employees are on the payroll in Mississippi.
“This past year has been an excellent year for engineering firms in Mississippi and the U.S.,” Calloway said. “With the passage of the Transportation Equity Act, it will benefit Mississippi because it does assure a greater return to the states.”
With a digital mapping department in the Jackson office, the engineering firm has landed overseas contracts with the Panama Canal, as well as projects closer to home. Michael Baker Engineers has a construction management inspection contract in Olive Branch for the new 302 bypass. Considered a major part of the 1987 Four-Lane Highway Program, it should be completed within a year. The firm will be completing the engineering location and environmental phase for a new 50-mile interstate project for the state of Arkansas, from Monticello to Pine Bluff, he said.
“Construction management and inspection for the DOT is an area we’ve moved into in the last couple of years,” Calloway said.
Calloway said he has noticed a trend toward “a better grade of graduates from Mississippi universities.”
“The graduates we’ve retained for the last few years have excellent overall qualifications and very strong educational backgrounds,” he said. “When the engineering market is good, it’s very competitive. I interview some graduates who have three and four job offers and I think that’s great for the engineering profession. We’re always looking for well-qualified graduates.”