At a point in his early life, Waggoner Engineering CEO thought he might wind up taking over the family farm. He loves the country and farming, and in fact, does still have the family farm in Newton. He thought of becoming a veterinarian, which would have allowed him to stay close to farming. However, Joe’s father urged him to consider other career options, suggesting he attend law school, which he did (at the Jackson School of Law, now MC Law).
Finally, after graduating from Missisippi State University in 1972, he found his calling when he became involved in urban issues, planning, waste and water management, and similar areas. This led him to found Waggoner Engineering in 1976, and he’s never looked back.
Since its beginning, Waggoner has grown to be a major engineering firm, with multiple offices, over 100 employees and a dozen business partnerships. The company handles projects not only in Mississippi, but also in Alabama and Lousiana.
“Perhaps the most important thing I had to learn was how to work collaboratively with others,” he said. “When you deal with multi-jurisdictional problems, you have to be able to bring people to the table.”
Waggoner focuses heavily on strategic planning, and as Joe defines it, “our goal is to create a happy marriage of technical, social, and political interests.” The company has been heavily involved in many large projects, including coastal restoration following Katrina, major manufacturing projects, wastewater projects, and much more.
Both Joe and John Rounsaville, Waggoner’s vice president for strategic services, agreed that the Mississippi Gulf Coast, at least, is in a much better position now to withstand another major storm.
“There is now good redundancy in systems; there are major new corridors; and resource management is in a much better position,” John said. “Overall, we’re in much better shape than we were then.”
A concern for both men has to do with water resources.
“We are fortunate that in Mississippi, we have strong water resources, but that is not necessarily so in parts of Louisiana and Alabama,” Joe said. “We really need to get real on our infrastructure needs in America — how those needs will be funded, and by whom.”
As he sees it, the Highway Trust Fund is “broken,”and there is great need for effective water resource management.
“It seems to me that we’re in denial on some of these issues. There’s too little cooperation between political parties, and we’re just not making the progress we should be in some of these important areas,” he said.
He returned repeatedly to his theme of “working collaboratively”, of getting decision makers to see that there is a shared mission with common goals.
Where does he see the future of Waggoner Engineering?
“I guess you could say that we have an evolving vision,” he said. “We want to be involved in things that improve the quality of life. We want to make a difference.”
Certainly, it would be hard to argue that his vision since starting the company in 1976 has not come to fruition. Even though he still enjoys the farm life these days, the emphasis on his life has clearly been his work in engineering Mississippi’s success.
» Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1021.