ProFile: An Interview with Trent Turk, LS, of GeoSurvey Ltd in Marietta, Ga.

A 1.060Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

This month’s ProFile focuses on Trenton D. Turk, president and general manager of GeoSurvey Ltd. in Marietta, Georgia. Turk is the author of the "Field of Flags" that appeared in our Charter Issue. In the course of our discussions about that article I visited Turk at his office, and from what I learned about his company on that visit, I knew there was another article waiting in the wings. This is it.

While in high school, Turk worked at a grocery store in his hometown of Sandersville, Georgia. As he went about his job he would watch crews come and go from a surveying firm across the street. Something about those crews seemed adventurous. During his senior year in high school, he went across the street and applied for a job. He ended up working summers for the firm while attending Middle Georgia College in Cochran, GA. The drafting courses he took– back in those days of "Leroy" and hand lettering–were immediately applicable to his work at the survey firm. He laughed as he recalled a licensed surveyor telling him that he was going to "break" him from wanting to be a surveyor.

Turk continued his education at Southern Polytechnic State University (formerly Southern Technical Institute). He graduated in 1986 with a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering technology (BSCET) with an emphasis on surveying, then went on to work for other local engineering firms, developing relationships with developers and attorneys along the way. When the firm he was working for went out of business, he went to work at Hartrampf Engineering, a local engineering firm with large government contracts. While working for this firm, he spent some time working on Howard Air Force base in the country of Panama establishing a second order control network to be utilized for improvements on the base. He also continued to work for his established client base. Desiring to work for a smaller company, Turk went to work with Robert Armstrong of Armstrong Land Surveying in Douglasville, GA, and brought his clients along. Turk spoke highly of Mr. Armstrong and the influence Armstrong had on his career. In 1988, at age 27, Turk became a licensed surveyor, and by 1996 he had established a large enough client base that he was able to start his own company.

GeoSurvey began with five people, including one crew. One year later it had grown to 14 people, based simply on word-of-mouth and its existing client base. Today, GeoSurvey employs 35 people and has seven crews. Prior to 9/11, GeoSurvey primarily did and surveying for commercial land development and power line mapping for Georgia Power Company. Since 9/11, they have added construction layout services and residential/subdivision services in an effort to better diversify the company. Currently, GeoSurvey has two crews that work full time doing right-of-way work for GPC, and the remainder of the work is primarily boundary, topographic, and ALTA surveys. They are one of three companies in the state that supply GPC with contract survey crews.

Turk commented on a new breed of surveying companies that has emerged in the metro areas–companies that only do primarily land development surveying for engineering companies. In Turk’s opinion there is not enough accountability when a surveying department is part of an engineering firm. His philosophy is that, as a subcontractor, each delivery might possibly be the last, therefore accuracy and timeliness is not only essential, but paramount.

GeoSurvey has grown to be a very progressive organization that has incorporated technology in many interesting ways. After conducting a careful cost/benefit study, they abandoned their ammonia-based blueprint machine and replaced it with two HP 1050C color plotters. Even though the plotters are slightly more expensive than blueprints, the benefits of being able to use color outweighed the increased costs. (Turk did admit, however, that he still misses the smell of ammonia that seemed to inspire confidence when he’d unroll a set of plans.)

In last month’s editorial I mentioned the value of using a color plotter to color-code easements on ALTA surveys; GeoSurvey has taken this idea one step further by using aerial images. On the wall in the conference room is a standard ALTA survey in which the planimetrics were overlaid on a color aerial photograph. According to Turk, GeoSurvey is one of only a few firms in all of Georgia that is using aerial images as backdrops for planimetric maps. The 8,500 square foot office space is well laid out, and has plenty of features for the crews. Foremost are individual cages where crews can store and lock their equipment and chargers. The cages help to eliminate "equipment borrowing" that can reduce crew efficiency. In the rear of the building is a spacious garage area where large equipment is stored, including two GPS trailers that can be locked and left on a job site while the crews are working. The larger trailer is equipped with a desk. Other trailers carry the company’s two four-wheelers and a small boat for underwater cross-sectioning. Each of the trucks have GPS tracking, and each morning, the project managers are e-mailed a report on the truck’s previous day activities. (The service costs $30 per month per truck.)

GeoSurvey has implemented the latest technology, including Topcon 800 robotic total stations with TDS Rangers on every crew. Turk and Senior Vice President and partner Jamey Coleman (a University of Georgia graduate and also a licensed surveyor) decided that they wanted to understand the new total stations to ensure that the crews were using the most efficient procedures, so they went to the field and did actual work while learning to use a robot.

Coleman handles the day-to-day operation of the field crews and project managers, while Turk handles business development and company personnel management. Trenholm Baker is GeoSurvey’s problem solver and mentor. Baker is a retired Georgia surveyor and long-time editor of the Georgia Land Surveyor, published by the Surveying and Mapping Society of Georgia (SAMSOG). GeoSurvey also has a dedicated research department for in-house records and courthouse records.

For GPS, GeoSurvey uses Topcon HiPer dual-frequency RTK units. For flexibility, the robots allow a one-man crew when needed. They buy the majority of their equipment from Allen Precision Equipment (APE), located nearby in Duluth, Georgia. (Turk praises APE for its training and support, in particular, the all-day training seminars APE provides with its equipment sales.) For software, GeoSurvey uses AutoCAD 2000/Land Development Desktop in the office and Carlson in the field for automated linework.

It’s no secret that running a successful company is a challenge. First and foremost Turk believes that success requires a leader to be a people manager. He establishes different levels of achievement for those surveyors who don’t wish to become licensed. He supports the Certified Surveyor Technician program. He is a firm believer in outreach programs, and many of the firm’s employees are active in SAMSOG.

Several factors help to give GeoSurvey a family feel. The workplace is drug-free. To begin, everyb ody (including the company owners) was tested. Employees were notified two months in advance of the testing. Assistance was provided to help those that may have had a problem during this time to get "cleaned up". Today testing is random. Turk also tries to limit weekend work for his employees and watches time sheets to see if someone is working too much. In all, he feels that the employees and their families are part of the company "family." Every two weeks on payday the company
brings in food for lunch, and breakfasts are offered for the field crews periodically. Curiously, the company does not use voice-mail because Turk believes that messages are more efficiently delivered via email from the receptionist. All managers carry email PDAs, and receive their messages while out of the office as soon as the receptionist takes them.

Turk is a past-president of in SAMS O G, and currently serves as the legislative committee chairman. He is a firm believer in education, and said they are close to getting a four-year deg ree requirement passed in Georgia. Turk lamented a recent situation in Tennessee where, unless stopped, tax parcel maps will soon take precedence over surveys. He believes that problems surveyors are having with GIS stems from a lack of education of surveyors and those that operate GIS systems.

In rural areas of Georgia (and in many other states), the surveyor is often the engineer for a land development project. Like most parts of the country, GeoSurvey often encounters headaches when having to deal with the engineering approval process. Turk mentioned the fact that in most states, surveyors are outnumbered by eng ineers by a ratio of 10 to 1, which sometimes makes it difficult to get "surveyor-friendly" legislation passed. Even so, last year Georgia passed legislation allowing surveyors to perform minor engineering.

When I asked Turk to name the greatest challenges surveyors face today, he smiled. He related an encounter he once had with a locksmith who expressed his fascination with the "cool" tools of surveying, but called it a mysterious profession, not really knowing what surveyors do. Turk feels that this basic lack of understanding about the profession results in young people’s lack of interest in surveying. He feels that the biggest problem our profession faces is luring young people into the profession for the future. He also feels that elevating our profession by the requirement of a four year deg ree is imperative for the future of the profession.

Is there a secret to his success? Actually, yes. Turk calls it "finding his passion." He also speaks of the importance of surrounding oneself with good people. He’s an active member of his church, and credits his faith as his moral foundation. Like any survey business, every day is a dance as efforts are made to keep everybody billable, but it’s obvious that GeoSurvey is doing the right things, and in my opinion, represents the future of surveying in the United States.

Marc Cheves is Editor of the magazine.

A 1.060Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE