By NASH NUNNERY
Joe Waggoner says he can’t remember exact details of how he founded Waggoner Engineering.
But he certainly knows why.
“I’m a third generation engineer – my father and grandfather were engineers,” he said. “You might say I grew up thinking like an engineer and in an environment conducive to engineering.”
Forty years ago, Waggoner and his wife, Allison, launched what has become one of the nation’s most-recognized civil engineering and infrastructure development firms. Since 1976, Jackson-based Waggoner Engineering has served clients in Gulfport, Hernando, New Orleans, Ruston, Memphis and Washington, DC.
“We started with one employee – me,” said Waggoner. “And one uncompensated employee, Allison, who was our typist, bookkeeper and survey crew member. It was six months later when we actually hired some part-time employees.”
Prior to starting the firm, Waggoner worked for Pearl River Basin Development after graduating from Mississippi State University in 1972. The lessons he learned were invaluable, Waggoner says.
“I was hired to work in water resources, which includes storm and flood management plans,” he said. “But what was just as valuable were the relationships I made with public officials. Alvin Beck was my boss, and he had a high energy level. It was a great place to start a career.”
Today, Waggoner Engineering employs nearly 90 who work to find solutions in civil engineering, transportation, water resources, coastal restoration, and community and economic development, among others.
The Waggoner Engineering philosophy is simple – to be the “company of choice” for its vast clientele. And, adds Waggoner, constantly pursue excellence.
“I’ve learned over the years to seek input from our clients and be a good listener,” he said. “Our goal is to add value to the client. We look at projects as means to another end, and are geared to economic development and social change.”
Disaster recovery program management and compliance administration have become a huge part of the Waggoner focus. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the firm has worked closely with state agencies in Mississippi and Louisiana to streamline federal CDBG and FEMA program compliance and documentation.
“Water resources have always been our calling card, but we try to stay balanced in offering a variety of services,” he said. “Adding disaster recovery after Katrina reshaped our business model and added strength to our program management skills.”
Operating a business for 40 years has its challenges, however. Waggoner says ‘chasing rabbits,’ or every single project that comes up for bid, is not his style.
“The most real thing we’ve learned is staying focused on what’s right for our clients,” he said. “That focus includes the legal, economic and public policy aspects of a project. I want our engineers to think out of the ‘engineering box’, so to speak.”
In 2015, Waggoner Engineering was approved as an official Brownfield Consulting Firm by the Mississippi Commission on Environmental Quality. The federal government defines brownfield sites as “abandoned, idled or underused industrial and commercial properties where expansion of redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.”
“We are honored to be a part of revitalizing sites in our community that would otherwise be sitting vacant or underutilized,” said Waggoner.
According to Waggoner, one of the firm’s most memorable and historic projects was the construction of Highland Colony Parkway in metropolitan Jackson. It remains the “flagship effort of the company,” he said.
“Highland Colony was the first public/private partnership project in the state,” he said. “Madison and Hinds counties, the cities of Ridgeland, Madison and Jackson were literally at each other’s throats over annexation and water rights. Plus, the project had a very limited budget. It was complicated.” The eight-mile, $10 million four-lane road opened to traffic in April 1994.
Expansion of Waggoner Engineering and the addition of new offices in other states has been purposely conservative.
“Frankly, we don’t have a growth plan,” said Waggoner. “Our expansions aren’t grandiose. They’re mostly based on relationships and friendships we’ve established in those cities over the years.
“We don’t want to be the biggest (engineering firm), but the best.”
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