In 2009 Ridgeland-based Aquaterra Engineering, derived from Ware Lind Engineers, the first geotechnical engineering firm in Mississippi, had offices in five Southeastern states. The company decided to grow even larger by merging with Terracon Consultants Inc., a firm that is now the largest geotechnical engineering firm in the country with more than 3,000 employees and more than 130 offices in 39 states.
The move to Terracon Consultants, which is a 100 percent employee-owned firm, has helped the company grow and prosper, said Richard M. Simon, senior principalvice president and regional manager for Terracon.
“Aquaterra Engineering became part of Terracon as part of a growth strategy to fill geographic gaps in the country with quality firms that matched up with Terracon’s culture, services and desire to provide excellence in engineering and consulting,” Simon said. “We liked the idea of joining a national firm, and increasing our ability and available resources to serve our clients. Aquaterra was able to bring additional opportunities to Terracon, as well. Joining Terracon was really taking the company to the next level, and I think our clients, as well as our employees, recognize that. Almost four years later, I still get asked if it was a good decision. It makes me proud to say, absolutely, and I would do it again any day.”
Simon said the advantages for Terracon Consultants in acquiring Aquaterra was that the company was able to expand to the Southeast region of the U.S. and further strengthen its services. With the acquisition, Terracon gained additional professionals with experience in environmental, geotechnical, and construction materials engineering and testing to grow their presence in this region of the country.
Being part of a nationwide engineering company means they are now backed by more than 3,000 employees, which Simon said provides their company the ability to mobilize resources on their clients’ projects faster.
“As Aquaterra, we were providing environmental, geotechnical, and materials engineering and testing services, which Terracon also provides, but now we can offer a stronger level of expertise,” he said. “With professionals in every discipline across the company, we can just pick up the phone and talk to an expert whenever we run across a unique challenge on a project. Being part of a national firm also provides opportunities to work on projects for our national accounts that we never would have had previously. Our national account program is second to none and allows our national clients’ consistency and dedicated managers regardless of the office assigned their account. We also can now work on larger and more complex projects across the country.”
Terracon’s client base is very diverse. On any given day, they may work with a commercial developer or architect on a new development, assist an energy client with new transmission lines, provide an indoor air quality survey for a hospital, provide a civil engineer with soil characteristics for a new roadway, and be at a 3 a.m. concrete pour at a new retail facility. Simon said to help them focus on certain markets such as energy, they have dedicated sector leaders who work with firms that design and build that type of facility. They have the same sector approach with transportation Brownfields, and other large areas of business.
Some major projects the company is currently working on include providing services at the Whole Foods project at Highland Village in Jackson, and at the EPA Superfund site American Creosote Works in Louisville. Terracon has also been doing work on the North American Coal Corp. Red Hills mine located in Ackerman and the Liberty Fuels coal mine for Mississippi Power’s Plant Ratcliff in Kemper County. Another current project is a new middle school in Moss Point.
Past projects from around the state include the Central Mississippi Crime Lab in Jackson, the Blackburn Middle School, Kroger in Madison, Habitat for Humanity Metro Jackson developments, the McCoy Federal Building renovations, Singing River Hospital in Ocean Springs and The Ridge at Turtle Creek in Hattiesburg.
Terracon has four service lines: geotechnical engineering, CMET, environmental consulting, and facilities.
“This combination of services allows us to work with a client from project conception and design, to construction, to maintaining the appropriate functionality of the facility,” Simon said.
Simon said the company’s strength is its people.
“Company-wide and locally we have a team of people committed to providing quality service to their clients,” he said. “We live in Mississippi, raise our families here, and take pride in helping with positive economic growth. Our national network is made of professionals and technicians with many years of experience. It’s a unique company structure that allows us to learn from each other. Having worked for a large national firm earlier in my career, it was important to me that offices work together and that corporate operations provide management and administrative support. Many large companies don’t operate in that manner, but our executive management sends this message so our culture promotes team work and efficiency in everything we do.”
All employees are afforded the opportunity to become owners of Terracon through the Employee Stock Ownership Program which allows employees who choose to contribute to a 401(k) plan to receive matching contributions from Terracon in the form of both cash and stock. Currently, 95 percent of Terracon employees are owners through the ESOP program. Employees can also receive stock options that further expand their ownership in the company.
“Since we are employee owned, Terracon truly is our company and we all feel personally responsible for its success,” Simon said. “It’s a true team effort and we are united in working towards the same goals. From the folks in the office to our technicians out in the field, we feel empowered to contribute to the success of the firm. We work together to make cost-effective decisions and think long-term about our goals. Furthermore, we’re empowered to influence and provide input to our strategic vision.”
Terracon has about 35 employees in Mississippi, including one who has been with the company for 40 years.
“We have very good employee retention,” Simon said. “I believe largely because of our culture and desire to provide a rewarding career for every employee. We care about our employees and their families. One of our programs that demonstrates this is our Incident and Injury Free Safety Program. We train our employees to practice pre-task planning in every activity so that they can determine the safest way to complete each task and go home safely to their family each and every day.”
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