As a firm grows, however, such ties tend to fade. After all, it’s simple to offer tailor-made solutions to 10 clients, but far more difficult (or even impossible) to do so for hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of clients per year. Some would say that it is the price a company must pay to flourish — but not anyone from Brown and Caldwell.
“We don’t want to be seen as a large global firm,” says Charlie Joyce, vice president of infrastructure at Brown and Caldwell. “We want to stay focused in a middle zone of engineering and consulting so we can provide the best service to our clients.”
It is this promise — dedication to the needs of the client before, during and after a project — that has been the guiding principle for Brown and Caldwell during its 59 years of operation.
Brown and Caldwell started as a water, wastewater and environmental services firm and these remain its main business areas.
“We made our name originally with wastewater plants and haven’t strayed that far,” says Ron Ablin, vice president and southwest practice leader for Brown and Caldwell. “We currently provide a full range of potable water, stormwater and wastewater facilities and infrastructure services, but still provide little street-type work. It’s still very close to what our core services have always been.”
This specialization is intentional. The company stresses quality over quantity, something that has kept it competitive in the face of larger, more diversified companies. It allows for a closer, more personalized approach toward both clients and employees alike, something that is appreciated by both groups. This is especially evident through the company’s training and safety programs, which strive to help all employees reach their potential and perform a job in an efficient and cautious manner.
“One of the things that we’re very proud of at Brown and Caldwell is that we were recently given an award for our professional development by the International Water Association for our Young Professionals Training Program,” says Joyce. “It really recognizes the effort we go through as a firm trying to promote and grow our young professionals into more seasoned, knowledgeable and better-performing engineers. It’s an ongoing challenge. But the projects and the work experience are great things and to know that there is a real opportunity to continue to grow professionally and technically is a real opportunity for a lot of younger engineers.”
The training doesn’t stop with young professionals. In fact, the company’s commitment to its employees also includes a comprehensive safety program that goes above and beyond to ensure that its employees are cared for in the field and in the office — down to ergonomic checks at employees’ desks. Classes for engineers cover everything from confined space entry to specialized training for those performing environmental services work.
This attention to detail and caring for the individual — be they employee or client — is the cornerstone of the Brown and Caldwell business philosophy.
“Part of why I came to Brown and Caldwell is because we’re long-term oriented,” says Jon Holland, infrastructure practice leader at Brown and Caldwell’s Portland, Ore., office. “There’s nothing short-term as far as how we work with our clients or in the types of solutions we propose. We want to earn the confidence of our clients over the long term by delivering their projects successfully and by having those projects prove themselves over time.
“What really has to happen is that the client has to succeed; our success goes with that.”
Part of ensuring that success has led Brown and Caldwell to what at first may seem like a paradox — to better serve its clients, it has carefully avoided expanding its business too far too fast. Yet, the combination focus on clients, service and technology has led Brown and Caldwell to 11 consecutive years of steady growth and a regular place among the top-ranked firms in the trenchless industry.
“The company prefers to run more like a traditional engineering firm and has resisted becoming a big mega-conglomerate,” says Ablin. “Brown and Caldwell’s preference is to stay a mid-size firm, a science and engineering-based company. We’ve kept very close to the service that we provide best.”
“We have a lot of internal flexibility, so we can work on a very small project or a very large project for our clients, be on top of it and get the job done right,” says Joyce.
The Trenchless Solution
For more of those clients, getting the job done right means employing one or more trenchless applications. Brown and Caldwell’s trenchless projects stretch back for many years, according to Joyce, and are used to address a wide variety of infrastructure needs, such as new installation or rehabilitation, in areas where an open cut operation is not an option.
“The real driver for trenchless technology was in trying to minimize the community impact,” says Joyce. “The conventional way of digging up the street to put a pipe in worked fine when the area was just an open field. Now, of course, it’s a four-lane road with houses and businesses on each side, and we can’t just shut down half the road for a month. We had to come up with solutions that would serve the client in a way that didn’t severely impact the public.”
In addition to community concerns, there also are examples of times that Brown and Caldwell used trenchless technology to simplify complex projects for not only a municipality but the engineers and contractors as well. One such project was the City of Phoenix Unlined Concrete Sewer Program, which consisted of the rehabilitation of more than 40 miles of 24- to 90-in. diameter pipes. This included the company’s first large diameter cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) lining project in 1996 for a pipeline underneath the Salt River. While there were initially some reservations about the use of the liner and the project itself, its use saved all involved a considerable amount of trouble.
“Trenchless technologies were utilized due to the location and having to do a deep excavation in the Salt River,” says Albin. “A dig in that location would have been difficult because it’s a riverbed, and it’s mostly cobbles. To do an excavation — and a deep excavation at that — would have been very difficult. The success of this first project precipitated a 10-year, award-winning program to rehabilitate all of the ulined pipelines using CIPP.”
Streamlining processes through trenchless applications such as these also have another benefit — that of saving clients time and money. Helping clients with limited funds find long-term solutions to problems is a point of pride for Holland.
“We excel not just at design solutions but also in helping clients plan and implement a program,” says Holland. “Sewer systems may have widespread structural and I/I [inflow and infiltration] problems but there is usually limited funding available. An asset management approach that helps determine where to invest that funding for highest and fastest returns and demonstrates measurable results is crucial to tackling these kinds of challenges. Trenchless methods can play an important role in addressing these problems.”
While trenchless technology has helped Brown and Caldwell make projects easier for its clients, the various issues affecting those clients are becoming more complicated. Deteriorating infrastructure, urban sprawl and shrinking municipal budgets can all affect a project’s timeline and outcome. But Joyce believes that Brown and Caldwell’s focus on catering to a client’s unique needs — as well as the company’s trenchless expertise — can go a long way toward alleviating many of these problems.
“Early on in trenchless technology, one of the challenges was convincing the client that a trenchless solution would be a good solution for them. But with increasing public awareness and public disruption becoming a bigger issue associated with these agencies, a big challenge is getting the work done and working with the public so that we do minimize the impact to the community,” says Joyce. “Everyone is so busy that no one wants to be stuck idling in their driveway waiting for construction equipment to pass. If there’s a trenchless solution that will help do that and won’t be too much more expensive than conventional methods, then that becomes a productive and viable solution.”
This newfound interest is a good thing for Brown and Caldwell, which has seen a dramatic upswing in the amount of trenchless projects it performs each year — a response to customer needs, according to Holland. He says that many of the issues he sees today, such as a need for rehabilitation and dealing with I/I and capacity issues, will continue to be problems, especially as America’s population continues to increase and puts a strain on already beleaguered systems.
“For new pipelines in congested urban environments or other areas where excavation just isn’t feasible. I think microtunneling and HDD [horizontal direction drilling] solutions are going to see increasing usage,” Holland says.
No matter what the future holds, Brown and Caldwell is prepared to meet it through continued investment and research into trenchless solutions. It is an arrangement that is mutually beneficial to both the company and its clients — by providing said clients with efficient, money-saving solutions to its problems, Brown and Caldwell builds a close, lasting relationship with them. It’s an area that continues to grow, which is fine by Joyce.
“I see so many opportunities in the infrastructure and trenchless industry,” says Joyce. “Somebody who is not sure about it or they’re not sure if this is a career they would want to pursue, I would encourage them to jump into it. It’s a wonderful area to work; one of the things I like about it is that it really makes you think about where we’re going to get our solutions and to move forward in helping the public maintain its infrastructure.
“Brown and Caldwell is really committed to the trenchless market — all aspects of it, whether it’s new construction or rehabilitation. I think the breadth of our projects really shows that. We’re here to help.”
Katherine Fulton is assistant editor of Trenchless Technology.