After downturn, Dawood promotes three to steer future growth
During Pennsylvania's natural-gas boom, Dawood Engineering went from a being regional firm to a national one with 230 employees.
But after nearly a decade of growth, the gas industry sank in 2015, forcing Dawood, along with many of its peers, to shed workers.
Dawood, a Hampden Township-based engineering and land development services firm, now has about 130 people.
The company is hoping to return to its peak employment level within the next two years by focusing on contracts for transportation consulting projects — particularly with the state Department of Transportation, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and local governments, according to the firm's president, Bony Dawood, who is confident in the firm's future.
"Our backlog of work is higher than it's ever been as an organization," Dawood said.
The company is working on several highway and bridge contracts with multiple PennDOT district offices, along with counties and local governments across the state.
Dawood credits the efforts of Nicholas Brien and Chad Decker, the company's director of bridge engineering services and director of highway and traffic engineering, for landing many of these transportation contracts. Both men have been promoted to vice president roles. James Rodgers, the company's marketing director, also has been promoted to chief strategic officer.
The company also credits Act 89 for boosting the amount of money available for road and bridge projects in Pennsylvania. Adopted in 2013, Act 89 raised the state's wholesale gas tax and imposed inflation-based increases on license and vehicle registration fees, which pumped more money into state transportation projects.
With President Donald Trump pushing for new investments in infrastructure nationally, construction-related firms are hoping to see more transportation and utility work. If federal funding grows, Dawood could see its backlog of projects expand.
The firm also sees renewed opportunity in the energy sector as gas prices rebound.
But Dawood said he has approached the energy market with a little caution because it can go from "zero to 100" very quickly.
Nonetheless, he added, oil giant Shell's development of an ethane cracker plant in western Pennsylvania could offer Dawood opportunities to pick up other energy work in the region. The firm also could benefit from commercial and residential development that might follow energy projects.
Residential, commercial and industrial development overall has picked up as the economy has improved, and companies invest more in real estate and construction.
Dawood spends a lot of time in the midstate representing land owners and municipalities on new projects. For many years, Dawood was the township engineer for Silver Spring Township, the busiest municipality in fast-growing Cumberland County.
"The general economy over the last one or two years has seen more activity," Dawood said.
Last year, Dawood moved its Wayne office to a larger space in King of Prussia to better serve the Philadelphia region. Dawood hopes to add more offices to the company's four-state footprint, which would mean more staff and maybe new services.
Growth also could come from acquisitions in states where Dawood already has offices. The company operates in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Massachusetts. Dawood also is interested in expanding into new states.
"We have to look for opportunity to grow the business, and there are a lot of opportunities outside of this region," Dawood said.
Expanding the roles of the firm's management team is a big piece of its growth strategy, Dawood said.
Other midstate engineering firms also are growing. Lancaster County-based Rettew Associates Inc. is adding new offices and making acquisitions to expand its services. Herbert Rowland & Grubic Inc., based in Dauphin County, recently added a York office to support a growing workload in York County.
The primary challenge right now for many construction-related firms, including engineering firms, is a tight labor market.
Dawood partners with small and large firms on many of its projects. Given the labor crunch and rising demand for projects, Dawood expects the partnership approach will likely continue.
"There are a lot of needs in construction," Dawood said. "Human resources will be our biggest challenge."