Ackerman — Engineer Thomas “Marty” Crowder had a dream of being able to operate a business providing engineering and surveying services back in his home county. But could a town located a 100 miles north of Jackson with a population of less than 2,000 support an engineering firm?
That was the question when Crowder Engineering and Surveying Inc. opened in 2000.
“I started out on my own five years ago after a lot of prayer and thinking,” said Crowder, a 36-year-old graduate of Mississippi State University (MSU). “I had worked for engineering firms in Starkville and Jackson prior to going out on my own. I decided early on that I worked too hard for other people to not reap the benefits of my hard work.”
Instead of buying a house with his savings, Crowder put it all into starting his own business. He began with one employee, working off his kitchen table.
“I started doing boundary surveying and construction staking with myself and one employee,” Crowder said. “After six months I was able to hire another employee, and a few months later I was able to hire two more employees to allow me to get back into the office. It has really grown from there. I now have nine employees, including myself.”
Crowder Engineering does a variety of work. They specialize in boundary surveying and construction staking.
“That is what got me here, basically,” he said. “We still do a lot of that because it is good cash flow, and we have an established client list that calls on us for that kind of work. We do design work, site grading and drainage design for commercial and industrial- type developments, water system design, wastewater system design, hydraulic design of storm drainage structures and systems, stormwater environmental permitting for construction related projects, roadway and bridge design and soil and concrete materials testing.”
In addition to a lot of work for private contractors, Crowder is county engineer for Choctaw County and works for several municipalities in the area.
Ackerman Mayor Bruce Burney is impressed with the work ethic he sees in Crowder. “If he is not at church or at home with his children, he is at that office,” Burney said. “He is a very dedicated young man. He does quality work. He is a man of high moral character. When you have an engineering firm just three doors down the street from City Hall, it is mighty convenient. We can stop in at the drop of a hat. He just completed a major sewer project for us and is working on two new projects — one sewer project and a Rails-to-Trails walking park. I know he also has a lot of county work going on.”
Ackerman has been in the process of revitalizing the downtown, and Crowder Engineering is part of that. Currently, the business is renovating its offices.
Working in Jackson and Starkville earlier in his career helped Crowder make contacts that have been helpful since.
“I worked with Marty six or eight years ago when he was with a bigger firm,” said Chuck Peel, a geologist with Peel Consulting, PLLC, in Madison. “He was a great help to me, and I have tried to utilize him ever since. He does exceptional work. I have worked with a lot of engineers, and Marty is an exceptionally easy person to work with. He has excellent work ethics and made good contacts before he went back to Ackerman. I think that is part of the reason for his success.”
Crowder Engineering has one project 120 miles from Ackerman. But mostly the firm stays within about an hour’s drive of home. That helps keep travel time and expenses more reasonable.
Some projects Crowder is involved in include providing engineering services to the Choctaw County Board of Supervisors for a bridge replacement project, construction staking services for the Mississippi 16 construction project in Neshoba County, providing engineering services for upgrades at the Ackerman-Choctaw County Airport and providing engineering and surveying/mapping services for a PCB remediation project in South-Central Mississippi. The company also provided construction staking services for the Golden Moon Resort and Casino in Philadelphia.
Attention to detail and experience that help give clients the best products are important factors to the success of the firm.
“Our philosophy in doing everything we do is to do it right the first time so we don’t have to worry about it any more,” Crowder said. “Sometimes we have to sacrifice efficiency to maintain quality. I don’t like to worry about anything when I go to sleep at night. I want to know I have done it right, and it won’t come back to bite me. Being hands-on, and having in-depth interaction with my clients in all the projects I do is the most important thing I can do for my clients. Applying common sense to everything I do is also important in the business.”
Probably the biggest challenge for the business is cash flow. The larger projects take longer to pay. On average, it takes three months to get paid. Over five years, the cash flow situation has gotten in better and better shape, but Crowder said it is something he still hasn’t completely overcome.
Another challenge is finding good employees.
“I have been real lucky in the ones I have,” Crowder said. “In the area I’m in, it is hard to recruit experienced people. So most of the employees I have are people I have trained. I have some college and high school graduates. All of them required training. I haven’t had the luxury of being able to recruit experienced professionals to come to Ackerman.”
Crowder grew up in Weir, which is a few miles down the road from Ackerman. He wanted to come back to his home county to live and raise a family.
“I decided that everywhere I had worked, whether in Jackson or Starkville, to go to a job site, I had to get in a truck and drive somewhere,” Crowder said. “So it doesn’t really matter where you start from in the morning. The phone rings here just like it will in a big town. As long as we do quality work, the majority of your clients don’t care where you are located. You are only limited by your travel time when you have to charge for that. But it hasn’t really affected me. We don’t get the walk-in clients in Ackerman that we might in a larger town. But the relationships we have developed with contractors, other engineers and architects have really paid off in the success of my business.”
Crowder said he has been very pleased with the local work he has gotten. The local people have recognized the importance of supporting Crowder Engineering as a local business that hires local people.
“I like working at home, and I’m happy with being able to do what I worked real hard at going through college at Mississippi State,” Crowder said. “I worked hard at getting licensed. I’m glad I can practice my profession where I grew up and be successful. I couldn’t have dreamed how successful I have become in five years. Of course, there are always plenty of struggles and challenges as far as keeping the business running. But I’m in the best shape I have been in the five years I have been in business. I have discovered that opportunities even in a small rural community are just wide open. There are so many opportunities, and I am only limited by the amount of time in the day to go after them. Going out on my own was the right thing to do.”
While growing his business, Crowder and his wife, Kathrine, have also been growing a family. They have a son, Clay, 5, a daughter, Annabelle, 3, and are expecting another child this month.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.