Tuesday, November 01, 2011
Business Spotlight: Water Works
Schultz & Summers Engineering's Branson office builds forte in rural water systems
Tuesday, November 01, 2011
|Schultz & Summers Engineering co-owner Stan Schultz, second from left, reviews engineering site documents with the team building athletic fields for the Joplin School District. |
|Brad Allbritton, Branson branch manager, says the office has found a niche helping rural towns and districts obtain funding to meet water and sewer needs. |
Coming off 12 months that eclipsed $2 million in revenues, principals Stan Schultz and Bob Summers reviewed their Poplar Bluff-based firm’s work orders and saw a lighter-than-comfortable load on the horizon.
“We started pursuing more work in the Branson market because it appeared strong to us,” Schultz says, noting a second strategy in the works at the time. “We had information that New Orleans was just getting ready to boom from the post-Katrina construction.”
Juggling both ideas, the civil engineering partners thought they’d be glad to hit on one.
“We ended up executing successful ventures in both markets,” he says, and the moves ultimately advanced SSE this year on Inc. magazine’s 5,000 fastest-growing private companies list to No. 1,613 with a 169 percent three-year growth rate to $5.7 million in 2010 revenues. The company placed No. 3,832 on Inc.’s 2010 list.
Branson in-roadsFounded in 1997 and offering civil engineering, land surveying and materials testing, SSE already had a project track record in southwest Missouri, having completed jobs for Table Rock Dam and Branson Airport and on highways 65 and 13.
Schultz started the Lake of the Ozarks branch office from scratch in early 2003 and discovered it took at least five years to build a sustainable office. Seeking quicker in-roads in its Branson plan, SSE officials – through a consultant – identified an acquisition opportunity with Mesa Engineering in early 2009.
“It was our strategy to purchase Mesa to give us a seat at the table with local developers,” Schultz says. “But then the market evaporated, and we had to rely on our ability to get municipal customers in southwest Missouri to keep the Branson office afloat.”
Government projects emerged as the firm’s bread and butter, both in southwest Missouri and in New Orleans. A combination of federally funded jobs, local municipality water and sewer systems, and state highway projects have pushed the company faster than expected.
“It just loaded us up with more work than we’ve had in the history of our company,” Schultz says, noting the company now employs 60 firmwide.
Efforts to get employees on the ground in New Orleans paid off as SSE secured roughly 40 jobs under the federal $14 billion hurricane protection system rebuilding project. At the peak, the company had 35 employees in the New Orleans office to work on surveying and materials testing, including temporary assignments among the six employees in the Branson office. The firm netted about $3 million, or 60 percent of 2010 revenues, from the post-Katrina work.
“It’s managed for us to keep about 15 people from Missouri employed when we may not have had work for them locally,” Schultz adds.
This year, Branson officials were tabbed by the Army Corps of Engineers for a $1 million job for the Joplin School District. In response to the May tornado, school officials were determined to quickly provide athletic fields for fall sporting events as the community regrouped, and SSE began working with Doniphan-based C&M Contractors Inc. in July to design and build football, soccer, baseball and softball fields to high school standards on more than 10 acres at Joplin South Middle School.
“It was a super-fast-track deal. We worked very hard on that project and were able to provide the fields right as the school started,” says Brad Allbritton, a project engineer and the Branson branch manager. “It was a very good feeling to know that you’re helping that community.”
Funding strategiesThe forte of the Branson office is helping rural towns and districts obtain funding to meet water and sewer needs, Allbritton says. Companywide, SSE has helped townships and nonprofits secure nearly $100 million in public funding, and Branson officials are working with Kanakuk Camps for water and sewer testing, and with Fort Leonard Wood for the design of an Army training support center.
Lampe-based Mo-Ark Water Co. partnered with SSE this year to upgrade its water systems in Lampe and Blue Eye. Mo-Ark assistant office manager Chris Davidson says the not-for-profit water company is seeking government funding to extend and improve its drinking water lines, which pumped more than 45 million gallons of water in the last year to its 582 residential and commercial connections. The $1.1 million project, which would be largely funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development loan, comprises a new water tower in Blue Eye and additional lines in Lampe.
Davidson says Mo-Ark Water is now seeking a Missouri Department of Natural Resources grant, the company’s first financing efforts since it opened in 1973.
“Brad has helped me get all of the numbers together – a pretty massive amount of information – and this is the first time I’ve done this,” she says. “He’s helped me every step of the way. We actually got preapproval on the DNR grant, and we’re still working on the loan.”
Such work involves writing reports and applications, holding public meetings, getting a bond issue on the ballot, promoting up to the vote and securing government agency funding, Schultz says. “It takes about three years from the first phone call before we get pipe in the ground,” he says.
SSE officials project more than $6 million in 2011 revenues and say a glimmer of hope rests in the private development market.
“We’re getting an uptick of activity from developers in just the last 30 days,” Schultz says. “We think we’re close to the bottom if we haven’t already bottomed out. We look for the private investment market to be active again.”