By Victoria Kertz, California Business Journal.
Over the last two decades, one of the most remarkable growth stories has been that of Phoenix, Arizona. Even as recently as 2018, the southwestern metropolis drew more new residents than any other city in the nation and as one might expect, the outlying suburbs flourished.
While not every town can become a football-fueled Tempe or an affluently-famous Scottsdale, the city of Maricopa, located just 34 miles from Phoenix, was dogged by something that Californians are far too familiar with: traffic. A major railway passed through the city’s main thoroughfare, SR 347, and congested traffic in all directions.
“It prevented the city from growing south because of the activity along that railway route,” recalls Bryan Kitchen, president of EPS Group. Real estate developers scouting the region were neither impressed nor willing to invest in the traffic-riddled town. Maricopa needed a solution and after 16 years of drafts and re-drafts, the city got it from EPS Group.
Currently the largest Arizona-based civil engineering firm in the state, EPS Group (which stands for Engineers, Planners, and Surveyors) presented a plan that the city and Arizona Department of Transportation agreed on. In July 2019, when the six spacious lanes finally opened and cars passed up and over the railroad freely, then-mayor Christian Price declared, “This is the day that is going to transform Maricopa.”
At least 20 new brick-and-mortar businesses have opened since the overpass was built and another 20 are under construction, while about a dozen are in the planning or zoning phase. “Something that was dreamt of for years came to fruition,” Kitchen says of the Maricopa project, a reminder that his firm’s work is more than just designing infrastructure.
Civil engineering, as a field, involves the design and implementation of a lot of elements that people take for granted every day, like roads and traffic lights. “The majority of what we do is infrastructure work,” Kitchen explains, including potable water systems for bringing water to and from pools, showers and toilets. “We design the infrastructure to deliver that water.”
EPS Group has the ability to cover the majority of the aspects of a project and the ability to bring in specialized sub-consultants, whether it’s land management, transportation, water resourcing, landscape architecture and municipal engineering.
Surveying & Engineering, is now available at their first office in California, formerly of Azimi & Associates, an Irvine, Calif.-based civil engineering and land surveying firm that EPS Group acquired in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. EPS Group brought on Ali Azimi, a registered professional civil engineer in California with impeccable credentials in land development, to expand its offerings in the region.
“If you asked me two months ago if I thought it was possible to send 85% of our staff home to work remotely, I would have said no, and yet remarkably so, it has worked out really, really well,” Kitchen says.
Local lockdowns haven’t had an adverse effect on EPS Group, because the Governor deemed engineering as an essential business. “The challenge is more for our clientele and the adverse effect it has on them and our economy. In Arizona, we had some really good metrics up until COVID-19. We are working hard to finish the year strong.”
The prevailing thought is that development will bounce back quickly. The key for businesses is to stay afloat in difficult times by diversifying service offerings.
“We don’t have all of our eggs in one basket with just civil engineering,” he says, “It makes for a stable company and a stable environment.”
A worldwide pandemic is just one of many “unknowns” that stall projects, though this one is unprecedented. Kitchen and his team are always locked in for those unexpected pitfalls that get in the way of a project, or encumbrances, as they’re called it in civil engineering.
Off-site drainage, easements and everything in between needs to be monitored closely, just in case Plan B needs to be implemented, as in the case of C-19. “We’re constantly anticipating the unexpected in every project,” Kitchen says.
While his team gathers data for what is allowed in a project – zoning, planning and costs – “we conceptualize what we see in the clients’ head.”
Major land and transportation projects all start as ideas and firms like EPS Group “bring them to life with plans, budgets, and schedules,” Kitchen says. “There is a massive number of moving parts. The science of land surveying, development and planning continues to evolve along with the technological advances in construction.”
As for the future of civil engineering, Kitchen has identified a business and investment opportunity in an unusual space: parking lots.
When self-driving cars become more of a reality on the roads, the need for “seas of parking lots” will diminish and allow for dense development on what was once just acres of asphalt.
Wall Street is already recommending buys on companies that specialize in parking-lot construction.
EPS Group will next expand in the Southwest and keep its close-knit, family-like corporate culture as is. “As we grow, we want to keep locally-motivated because that’s what has made us successful,” Kitchen says. “We want to feel local no matter where we are.”
Copyright © 2020 California Business Journal. All Rights Reserved.