Employee-owned architectural and engineering firm Halff has had a stellar last few years—nearly doubling revenue, hiring hundreds of new employees to tackle significant design projects and keeping its people-first business model.

For those reasons and more, ENR editors have named Richardson, Texas-based Halff as this year’s ENR Texas & Louisiana Design Firm of the Year.

In the face of Halff’s steady-and-stellar growth—with regional revenue growth of more than 90% over the past five years—leadership has intentionally focused on maintaining the people-first culture that company founder Albert H. Halff established more than seven decades ago.

President/CEO Mark Edwards says the firm’s growth is largely due to its employees. “They are not here for their work life, here for their life’s work,” he says.

A core belief at Halff is that when employees are treated well, success will follow.

The Mill Creek drainage relief project

The Mill Creek drainage relief project in Dallas required digging a five-mile-long tunnel.
Photo courtesy Halff Associates

With that in mind, in 2022 Halff leadership traveled to the majority of its offices—which includes 22 offices in the Texas & Louisiana region—conducting workshop discussions with more than 500 employees and receiving survey feedback from 600-plus employees about their views of the company’s culture.

During the workshops, says Edwards, he and other leadership team members sat down with employees to listen to what Halff’s culture means to them. Employees also ranked their experience with the firm and what makes the engineering firm unique and different.

The findings aren’t just going into an unread report. Edwards says that building off the qualitative and quantitative feedback from employees, Halff will conduct approximately 50 culture camps for all employees in 2023.

“We wanted to create a culture message everyone can believe,” he says.

Ownership is a differentiator at Halff. The firm has an employee stock ownership program that all individuals are enrolled in after a year of employment. In addition, there are 450 individuals who have decided to purchase shares “and for a firm our size, it’s highly unusual,” Edwards said.

The Mill Creek drainage relief project

The Mill Creek drainage relief project in Dallas required digging a five-mile-long tunnel.
Photo courtesy Halff Associates

Over the last six years, Halff has witnessed substantial revenue growth, with design revenue growing 93% from $117.4 million in 2017 to $226.5 million in 2022.

During that span, Halff increased its office footprint from 15 offices to 22 in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Employees grew from nearly 700 in 2018 to more than 1,200 in the region today.

A significant contributor to the firm’s 2022 success was its late 2021 acquisition of Morrison-Shipley Engineering, a provider of civil engineering, land surveying, aerial mapping and 3D laser technology services.

Upon the announcement of the November 2021 acquisition, Greg Shipley, Morrison-Shipley Halff vice president, stated: “Our firm prides ourselves on excellent culture, accelerating growth and continuing to put our clients first. This acquisition allows Morrison-Shipley Halff to expand our professional services and provide more resources and tools for our employees and clients.”

“We want to create a culture message everyone can believe.”
—Mark Edwards, President and CEO, Halff Associates

As a result of that expansion, Halff is now the third-largest engineering firm in Arkansas, with four offices and more than 100 employees.

Other notable accomplishments in 2022 included Halff’s first ranking inside the top 100 of ENR's national list of Top 500 Design Firms, entering at No. 97. In 2023, the firm jumped 12 spots to land at No. 85 for the 2023 rankings—its highest ever.

Despite job market stresses, the firm hired 400 new employees, allowing it to return to pre-pandemic hiring levels. This was accomplished by leadership quickly expanding the firm’s human resource department by building out its talent acquisition team.

Also in 2022, Halff provided new employee opportunities via a sharing workload balance through workshare. Two examples of this new program are 12 different teams working on Halff’s Airport Boulevard project in Austin, while another nine teams engaged in workshare for the Springdale Bypass project in Arkansas.

Halff also has a unique profit center. “We don’t have separate profit/loss centers, whereas most firms have [them] by office or practice/service line. We are one. We all work for each other, which allows us to share work without any competition between teams and offices. We are all in it together for each other,” says Edwards.

Last year, Halff continued its commitment to community service. Halff’s employees donated more than $119,000 in support of 118 charities in 2022. Halff Community Initiative (HCI), a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, logged 2,327 volunteer hours through 98 events in 2022, benefiting 74 charities.

Recently, Halff created a DEI committee and hired a DEI consultant. The DEI committee is providing advice to the leadership and helping craft Halff’s DEI progr.

“The bottom line is we want diversity of thought at Halff,” Edwards says, adding, “It makes us more valuable to our clients.”

Just as importantly, Edwards adds, “We want everyone at Halff to feel like they belong to the Halff family [and] are comfortable bringing their whole lives to work.” Notably, the company hired a DEI consultant to conduct a dialogue with employees at each office.

This tour ended with action plans that will be implemented going forward. One of those action plans will be to explain how employees are promoted in detailed progression.

Additionally, a DEI page on Halff's intranet website that even answers anonymous questions from employees about diversity and inclusion was created.

Big Tex

Known simply as Big Tex, this massive tunnel-boring machine was used on the Mill Creek Project in Dallas.

Halff continued working on large, complex projects during 2022. It led the design effort for the $320-million drainage relief project, including the centerpiece Mill Creek Tunnel, constructed at depths reaching 170 ft. Once completed, the project will provide flood protection during the 1% annual chance flood (or 100-year flood) for nearly 2,200 commercial and residential properties in East Dallas.

The large-diameter tunnel boring machine (TBM) broke through the shaft wall to complete the excavation phase in July 2022. Nicknamed Big Tex, the TBM completed a five-mile journey that included two miles of 37.5-ft-dia excavation and three miles of 32.5-ft-dia excavation. Big Tex was the largest hard-rock TBM in operation in the U.S. during the excavation phase, according to the company.

Another 2022 project was the Austin Airport Boulevard project. The $150-million six-plus-mile effort aims to provide mobility and safety improvements along Airport Boulevard, a historically industrial corridor facing rapid development and a history of minimal infrastructure improvements. The project has been segmented into four packages to assist in phasing and construction. The project has numerous challenges, such as coordinating with multiple stakeholders—including the local transit agency, multiple internal city departments and the Texas Dept. of Transportation—as portions of this project are on the state system. As the project limits are primarily within East Austin with old and undersized systems, the project team has continued to find innovative ways to maximize improvement while limiting capital costs, a statement from the project team reads.

Halff won the Gold Medal in 2022 for its work on the East Austin Emergency Utility Repair from ACEC Texas and the ACEC National Recognition Award and APWA National Award.

“This project serves as a blueprint to remedy an infrastructure emergency quickly and effectively,” the Texas announcement reads.

Edwards says 2022 was a spectacular year for Halff, filled with success and learning. “Lessons learned in 2022 are that culture, taking care of people, brand, and reputation are more important than ever,” he says. “Flexible work is one of the highest-rated comments we receive when we travel around offices. Employees place a high value on having a flexible work place.”

Edward said Halff experienced a strong first quarter of  2023. “We have seen 30% growth in gross and net revenue for Halff. We’re optimistic about the future based on our client relationships and funding resources they currently have. I think our industry is in a good spot, and we are positioned better than most,” he says.