Mountain States Engineering Firm of the Year: CH2M Hill
Even in tough economic times, CH2M Hill continues to build its services and push into new markets.
The Denver-based engineering giant that’s best known for its work in water and wastewater infrastructure—including the new $653-million Prairie Waters water-purification and recycling system for Aurora, Colo.—hasn’t let the post-recessionary economy slow its plans.
Since its start in 1946, CH2M Hill has grown from a handful of employees working under one roof to roughly 23,000 people spread over five continents. Today, the employee-owned firm is a virtual “one-stop shop” for engineering and construction services, with a host of services spanning more than a dozen markets.
Long gone are the days when the company’s co-founders— Holly Cornell, James Howland, T. Burke Hayes and Fred Merryfield—focused exclusively on wastewater infrastructure in the Northwest. The “Hill” of CH2M Hill didn’t come to be until 1971, when the firm merged with Clair A. Hill & Associates.
While water supply and sewer work remain consistently strong markets, the firm’s work in program management, petroleum and transportation now account for the largest share of its earnings.
The firm’s current docket of work includes civil, federal and industrial projects, ranging from a $592-million, mixed-waste treatment project in Idaho to a 630-megawatt combined-cycle power station in Australia.
“We recognize that each client is unique and has unique needs that cannot be met by a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Mark Lasswell, president and group chief executive for CH2M Hill’s civil infrastructure client group.
Extra Competitive Edge
The decision to lift its ban on design-build work in 1997 offered an extra competitive edge. Since then, the firm has gotten solidly behind design-build, with joint ventures such as the $142-million Colorado Springs Metro Interstate Expansion, which finished one year ahead of schedule.
“More so than ever, clients are working with tighter budgets and looking for the most efficient, effective solutions,” Lasswell says. “The design-build process is collaborative and unleashes a lot of creativity. It ultimately allows us to deliver a better project in a faster timeframe.”
The company’s move into program management has proven highly profitable as well. Since its foray into program management in 1976, with the 20-year, $2-billion renovation of Milwaukee’s wastewater treatment system, the area has grown to become the firm’s strongest performer, accounting for $1.7 billion of its $6.3 billion revenue in 2009.
In the international arena, the firm leveraged its experience, skills and partnerships to win several high-profile program management contracts. Among the most noteworthy are a five-year improvement program at the Mumbai International Airport and the seven-year expansion of the Panama Canal—scheduled for completion in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
In addition, the firm is building a solid footing in Britain, where several major projects are under way. In a joint venture with London-based Laing O’Rourke Plc and Mace Ltd., the company is managing the construction of $2 billion worth of sports venues and infrastructure projects for the 2012 Olympics in London.
Sustainability a Priority
Across all markets, the company continues to actively embrace sustainability. In keeping with that commitment, the company operates a group specifically devoted to sustainable strategy and management.
The firm first gained national recognition for its sustainable approach in 1971 with its work on the Lake Tahoe advanced wastewater treatment facility, in which a first-of-its-kind design prevented degradation of the scenic lake’s waters.
“We see strong growth potential in sustainable solutions,” says Tom Searle, president and group chief executive of the firm’s international business. “Sustainability is becoming more and more valued in the United States and around the world, and it is becoming a larger, more important component of our business.”
He adds that the company also plans to strengthen its energy portfolio by continuing to grow its renewable-energy business.
CH2M Hill has a long history of working with the oil, nuclear, mining and natural gas industries. Though its push into renewable energy came about more recently, the firm has established itself as a major player, with a hand in projects ranging from the carbon-neutral, zero-waste sustainable city in Abu Dhabi to the roof-mounted, photovoltaic system at the Adams Street Wastewater Treatment Plant in Hoboken, N.J.