Neel-Schaffer Inc. has grown from a modest beginning with 20 employees in 1983 to become the state’s largest engineering firm and one of the largest in the South. As the multi-disciplined engineering and planning firm celebrates 25 years, it has more than 400 employees and an annual payroll of approximately $22 million.
Founders Hibbett Neel, Gorman Schaffer and Slade Exley continue to lead the organization into additional services needed by communities. It’s that commitment to local communities while providing access to engineering expertise that is at the core of their success.
“Being part of the community is a fundamental thing. That model goes along with our work in all the cities where we work,” says Neel, president and CEO. “We do a lot with governmental agencies. It makes sense, if you’re here and work with government. It’s good to give back.”
The firm gives back through public service and chamber of commerce and charity involvement that he says are a vital part of its values.
With 107 licensed engineers and numerous other professional and technical employees, Neel-Schaffer offers a wide range of services that include engineering, emergency management, landscape architecture, environmental, surveying, geotechnical, strategic planning and community development services. Emergency management was added to the list following the firm’s response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“We can identify needs and help solve them,” Neel says. “We have to offer different kinds of services. We must be more than traffic engineering. We even help with the engineering for cell towers now. Embracing change while holding on to our traditional values enables us to grow.”
Having different geographical locations helps the firm diversify, too. “We’re able to utilize our offices to get projects expedited and provide and maintain expertise,” he added. “As we get a larger footprint, the challenge is to offer all services to all areas.”
Gorman Schaffer, the firm’s executive vice president, identifies other challenges as he looks ahead. “The economy is slowing some, and federal transportation funding doesn’t accomplish as much as it used to,” he says. “Another challenge is keeping the best people in place and attracting them as we grow.”
He points out that attracting experienced people in the current competitive market is the hardest part about hiring quality employees.
“Without a question, our success is due to the talented people we’ve brought into the organization,” Schaffer says. “The next generation of leadership will take it to a higher level. We will continue to develop relationships. It’s all about that and having clients trust us to do quality work.”
He notes milestones in the firm’s history as the inclusion of certain talented people to provide more services, business with the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) that opened up a significant arena, having an office and quality people on the Coast to respond to the disaster and having successful operations in other states.
“We have a goal to expand our services in Texas, Florida and Georgia, and to continue to build services in the states we’re doing well in,” Schaffer says.
In addition to Mississippi, Neel-Schaffer has offices in Texas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama and Tennessee.
Neel says the future will be determined by the firm’s model of 25 years. “Our model is solid to hire quality people with great technical expertise, entrepreneurial skills (and that’s not necessarily the same people),” he says. “I feel confident we’ll continue to grow.”
He recalls the firm’s milestones as three main components. “In the late 1980s, we did a lot of site work for casinos as they were coming in. In the 1990s, we worked with a lot of solid waste initiatives for counties getting rid of dumps. Then Katrina has been a big milestone,” he says. “All three resulted in major growth.”
He also remembers when the firm did traffic engineering and transportation planning to help New Orleans get prepared for the World’s Fair.
Recently completed projects include a large expansion of the Jackson Water Treatment Plant; site work for the Renaissance Development in Madison; and work on the Interstate 69 project for MDOT.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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