CHA Drives Growth
High-profile projects across the New York region are seldom the work of just one or two design firms anymore. Instead, complicated projects that require deep proficiency in areas such as sustainability, computer-aided design and cross-discipline coordination are calling for bigger teams of specialty firms. One of the names that keeps appearing on the rosters of these high-profile jobs is Albany's Clough, Harbour & Associates.
The firm has contributed to an array of major projects throughout the region, including the $1.6-billion stadium development for the National Football League's Giants and Jets in East Rutherford, N.J., as well as preliminary engineering design for a multibillion-dollar upgrade to a 16-mile stretch of New York's Interstate 87 and 287 and the Tappan Zee Bridge.
With regional revenue up 42.1% to $81 million last year, the firm has remained exceptionally active despite an industry-wide slump, helping it earn honors this year as ENR New York's Top Design Firm.
Thriving on transportation, energy, environmental, MEP and civil engineering work, CHA's new leadership has set aggressive growth targets. "Our [revenue] goal is to more than double the size of the company in the next five years," says Ray Rudolph, who became CEO in January, replacing Raymond Kinley Jr., who retired.
The firm's revenue jump can be attributed to acquisitions, its 10 offices in the region that anchor 21 other locations and a drive to be a "really good teammate," Rudolph says. "Almost no substantial infrastructure project now is done by a single firm," he says. "Almost every project requires some sort of teaming to bring the complete talents that clients require."
Projects underscoring such team participation include the Empire Corridor high-speed rail development program from New York City to Niagara Falls, as well as a comprehensive, long-range sustainability plan for an eight-county region around Albany. On the potential $4.8 billion in upgrades to New York's rail network, CHA is a primary planning and engineering consultant or subconsultant to HNTB.
Once a national highway design leader as the federal interstate system was being developed, CHA suffered as that construction program wound down, Rudolph says. The humbling experience led the firm's leaders to widen CHA's skills and specialties, he says.
"We've always had a growth culture because to retain good people, they need opportunity," Rudolph says. "Growth accomplishes both business and staff goals—kind of a top-to-bottom happiness quotient."
That philosophy underpins why Rudolph splits duties with Rod Bascom, president and COO. They both started at CHA when the company was a New York-only outfit nearly 30 years ago. Rudolph leads on business development and acquisitions, while Bascom guides operations and the firm's nearly 800 employees.
CHA is "pretty wide-ranging in what they do," says Jay Simson, president of New York's state chapter of ACEC. "Certainly, they've expanded geographically and by going into new market sectors."
Diversification has paid dividends, with CHA able to reassign about 20 civil engineers in recent years to its growing power and energy group, Bascom says. The firm is still biggest in its home state, where it ranked seventh in revenue with $73.6 million, but it also had revenue of $2.4 million in Connecticut and $5 million in New Jersey last year.
CHA is fueled by investment from its venture capital majority owner, New York-based Long Point Capital Partners, which acquired a stake in CHA about three years ago. "We sought our recapitalization partner because we knew the industry was headed into a contraction mode," Rudolph says. "And we knew we had to grow to compete."
CHA has used that capital to deepen specialties via acquisitions. These include the purchase of Canada's Gryphon International Engineering, a high voltage and power generation expert; Olver Inc. of Blacksburg, Va., an environmental, water and wastewater engineer; and Concord Architects, a "vertical" sports facilities architect in Concord, Mass. The latter complements CHA's "horizontal" sports design practice, which handled planning and construction administration of playing field systems at the Giants training facility.
In the background is CHA's commitment to the industry and local communities. Simson says CHA is active on ACEC committees and youth education projects. Internally, CHA encourages carpooling and public transportation as well as cutting office waste, particularly paper usage. It echoes this effort with nearly two dozen LEED-certified engineers.
While supporting Habitat for Humanity and Canstruction, the company also developed a homegrown "volunteer time off" program, offering four paid hours annually for staffers to devote as they wish. Rudolph adds that four hours for 800 people "is a big financial commitment."