ProFile: David Evans & Associates, Inc.

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Our latest ProFile takes us to the West Coast to the headquarters of David Evans and Associates, Inc., (DEA) to interview company founder David Evans, PE, LS, and the Director of Surveying and recently appointed Vice President of Professional Services Jim Griffis, LS. One of the leading firms in the Northwest, and now with offices coast-to-coast, DEA has ridden the booms in land development, telecommunications, and now, transportation, and has grown from a two-person enterprise to a 20-office, 900employee multi-disciplinary giant, listed as number 85 in ENR’s annual ranking of the Top 500 A&E firms nationwide. In 1987, the firm was number 487.

Our story begins in Portland, Oregon on April Fool’s Day 1976, when, "filled with the spirit of the day," David Evans and a trusted colleague struck out on their own. Evans had spent the previous 10 years with another Portland firm, Wilsey and Ham. After launching DEA, he quickly learned that subcontracting survey work didn’t work, so he hired Bob Hermann, LS, along with a field crew to manage survey operations. Hermann is still with the company in its Everett office.

Over the past 30 years, Evans has made 20 acquisitions, mostly 3-4-person firms. Most of the people in the acquired companies are still with DEA. The survey division came into being on Jan. 1, 1986, with the acquisition of TMI, the firm Griffis and Ken Wightman, PE, LS owned (Wightman is now the CEO of DEA). Along the way other disciplines were added, including architecture; aviation, bridge, civil, construction, and transportation engineering, environmental sciences and planning, landscape architecture, marine services, real estate services, and transit and transportation planning.

Evans recalls the early days of using sawhorses and doors for office desks. Today, DEA’s Portland headquarters are situated in a beautiful 90,000-squarefoot, eight-story building overlooking the Willamette River in the heart of the city. About 250 employees work from the Portland location. The remaining DEA people work from offices in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Washington, and a project office in Manhattan.

While the major market focuses for DEA are in transportation, land development, energy, and water resources, the market mix for DEA varies by office. Most of DEA’s offices offer a full gamut of multi-disciplinary services that can take nearly any kind of project from pre-concept through post-completion. Other boutique offices specialize in airport engineering and design, bridge design, and advanced structural engineering.

The company works on many challenging and unique projects, including:
• Advanced structural analysis for the federal government, including work at air force bases and bomb analysis for bridges
• Flood studies for FEMA
• QC and QA for a project that spanned 270 river miles through the Grand Canyon
• The T-REX project (for Kiewit) in Denver
• National Park Service work in 18 parks, including Yosemite, Glacier, Yellowstone, Lewis & Clark, Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, Manzanar, the Statue of Liberty, and the National Mall.
• On-call contracts for the COE, including work for the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the de-activation furnace at Umatilla Army Depot, and topographic surveys along the U.S., Mexico border.
• On-call contracts with the Federal Highway Administration that has taken staff to Glacier Bay, Alaska; Glacier Park in Montana; and Yellowstone in Wyoming
• Forensic accident reconstruction
• A 900-scan project at the SeattleTacoma Airport, and the development of a 1:10 model. Both the SEATAC work and the accident reconstruction have fostered the development of expertise in fly-thru modeling.

From the early days of lead-lining for bathymetric surveys, DEA has developed a world class capability in hydrographic surveying. It owns its own boats, including a 30-foot custom designed survey vessel, the John B. Preston (named after the first surveyor general of Oregon). As testament to this hydrographic capability, DEA has just been awarded a five-year, $50 million IDIQ contract with NOAA.

The company deploys in excess of 40 GPS receivers every day, typically using RTK positioning techniques. It uses Leica total stations and digital levels, and recognizes the safety issues associated with reflectorless and robotic total stations. Griffis said DEA uses the on-board firmware, developed by Leica and integral to DEA’s field-to-finish mapping process. Evans laughed as we talked about using state-of-the-art equipment, saying, "The manufacturers keep inventing equipment for us to need!" The company was also an early adopter of laser scanning technology and currently deploys three of the Leica’s HDS units every day on a variety of projects Recognizing that every client has unique "mapping" requirements, DEA is capable of delivering products in any format, but has standardized internally on two platforms, Autodesk and MicroStation.

The secrets to DEA’s success are many. First and foremost is its emphasis on core ideology. These include values, a core purpose statement, and a vision of "being the best." The firm’s philosophy of freedom and support for all employees exists within an environment of mutual respect and accountability. The core ideology is reinforced continually through office meetings, company literature, the intranet, and, most important, through the behavior of its leaders. The firm is proud of the fact that it has very low turnover in mid- to upper-level management.

Hourly-based and non-exempt employees receive an hourly wage and time and a half for overtime. Salaried employees receive their regular hourly rate for hours worked over 40. Professionals are expected to put in 42-46 hours per week, but they are paid for their effort. Medical, dental, and vision benefits are paid at 100 percent for the employees and their dependents. Life, AD&D, and disability insurance coverage is also paid by DEA for each employee. DEA is 100 percent employee-owned through its Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) and individual shareholders. The ESOP holds 35 percent of the company’s shares and each full-time employee is automatically an ESOP member. Its 401(k) program offers several investment choices and provides a 50 percent match up to the first $1,300, and each year financial counselors are brought in to work with employees concerning their investments.

DEA has a 23-person information services department that serves the company with a robust wide area network that links all offices to one another. State-of-the-art software and hardware support the firm’s staff. However, Evans went on to say that "computers are smart" but there’s no substitute for the experience which allows an employee to look at something and say, "This doesn’t look right." As an example, he used the recent collapse of a complicated, computer-designed concourse at Charles DeGaulle Airport in Paris. DEA believes in using stateof-the-art tools, but Evans cautions against falling into the trap of believing that these tools provide instantaneous work for free. DEA firmly believes in charging for value. As an example, Evans mentioned one particular job in which the specifications at the time called for L1-only GPS receivers. DEA demonstrated that the use of L1/L2 receivers would result in a $60K savings. DEA and the client split the difference and both were happy.

"Involvement" is one of DEA’s core values. In 2004, DEA partnered with its employees to contribute $70,000 to provide relief for the victims of the Southeast Asia tsunami. Employees regularly contribute to their communities and their effor
ts are lauded in the annual "Giving Issue" of the company newsletter. With an eye to the future, DEA has provided scholarships at Portland State University (PSU) and sponsored the Surveying Lab in PSU’s new engineering building. In addition, DEA has contributed $100K to the Oregon State University (OSU) foundation in support of building a new student lounge. Each year, DEA provides financial support and practical experience to students participating in the CECOP (Civil and Environmental Engineering Cooperative Program) program at OSU. This business/university/student cooperative program has been designed to better prepare engineers for working in the "real world." Griffis has served on the board of directors for this program since its inception seven years ago. This year, DEA sponsored four six-month internships that routed the interns through both public and private work.

To keep its employees informed and connected, the company employs a four-person corporate communication department. These folks are responsible for a monthly paper newsletter; two biweekly electronic newsletters; a comprehensive intranet that includes company forms, its project management manual, and pictorial and biographical directory of all employees; and design and maintenance of the company’s external website. The corporate communication department also handles the Good Egg program (see graphic). DEA has a nine-person corporate marketing group, responsible for trade shows, proposals and presentations, marketing training, and graphic design; a full human resources contingent; and of course, accounting and risk management support on staff.

Obviously, DEA’s success is more than being in the right place at the right time. Timely acquisitions, intelligent discipline additions, and the right management structure and company culture have all played a part. As Evans said, "This industry does not just produce drawings and designs. Its work makes the world turn."

Marc Cheves is editor of the magazine.

A 1.044Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE