For Dauphin County firm, low-profile work, fast-paced growth
Mussels and mold are not a recipe for growth at most engineering firms, but they are for Skelly and Loy Inc., which specializes in environmental work.
The firm sends scientists into fields and streams to study how aquatic life – such as mussels – may be impacted by projects to widen highways or build warehouses.
Other employees craft plans to clean up mold growing in public schools and in properties poised for redevelopment.
The firm also has teams who design water and wastewater treatment facilities. Others follow up to inspect those systems to ensure they are complying with environmental permits.
“We’re not a typical engineering design firm for roads and bridges,” said Sandy Basehore, executive vice president of environmental services at Skelly and Loy.
But firms that handle that higher-profile work often turn to Skelly and Loy.
Indeed, Skelly and Loy is one of the first calls for civil engineering firms like Evans Engineering Inc.
“We constantly work with them,” said Holly Evans, president of the Susquehanna Township-based firm, which provides site design and structural engineering for new warehouses, office buildings and shopping centers. “They help guide us to make sure we are not stepping where we don’t want to be.”
Evans said her firm does not want its projects to harm critically endangered species like bog turtles. By hiring Skelly and Loy early in the design process to study the area and mitigate any impacts, Evans said the firm can keep projects moving and avoid costly delays – especially as rules tighten.
“Environmental regulations have gotten more stringent,” Evans said. “There is a need for their service more and more.”
Under the radar
Skelly and Loy has been around for 50 years and has grown to about 160 employees in six offices in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia.
But while it is busy, the suburban Harrisburg firm is often a subconsultant to other engineering partners on projects, so it flies under the radar.
Skelly and Loy also doesn’t have a history of growing through mergers or acquisitions. The company’s growth — it’s now a $21 million business — has occurred organically over the years.
But as the economy has grown and the pace of construction has picked up over the last decade, Skelly and Loy is capitalizing.
The firm has made 28 new hires over the last year, including a biologist with expertise in freshwater mussel surveys.
But the firm also is considering opening new offices, which could help raise its profile.
The company is currently looking at expanding into Philadelphia and Charleston, West Virginia.
Southeastern Pennsylvania is a draw because of its fast-growing population, Basehore said.
Charleston is desirable because it is not far from the firm’s Morgantown office, which has been adding staff to work on transportation projects.
Much of the firm’s work in Pennsylvania is for the state Department of Transportation and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. However, the company has been trying to diversify.
Lately Skelly and Loy has been handling more work, such as groundwater studies, for quarries and gas pipelines, among other projects in energy and mining.
After one of the wettest years on record, Skelly and Loy also has been tackling more mold remediation in schools. The firm has fielded more calls for lead-based paint and asbestos investigations tied to building construction projects.
Staffing and tech upgrades
Last year, most of the firm’s new hires were entry or junior-level positions needed to support field work.
“We needed more technicians and field scientists to keep up with work demands,” Basehore said.
She said the company now has the people it needs, but more growth could be in store.
Indeed, townships and boroughs have been tapping environmental firms like Skelly and Loy to design infrastructure to meet more stringent stormwater requirements under the federal Clean Water Act.
Many local governments need to reduce sediment from stormwater discharges and stream bank erosion to improve the health of waterways that ultimately funnel into the Chesapeake Bay.
Over the past few years, a growing number of local governments across Pennsylvania have been adopting stormwater management fees to help cover higher costs for maintaining underground pipes, inlets, detention basins and other stormwater infrastructure. The fee is typically determined by the amount of impervious space on a property.
Skelly and Loy also is investing more in technology, including drones for aerial mapping and 3-D modeling services.
“We’re hoping to use it more for clients who want complicated designs to make them more visual for municipal planning commissions,” Basehore said.
Basehore said drones are a good first step in the surveying process, especially for hard-to-reach places.
The visuals from a drone can help influence the design of access roads and parking lots for a building project, for example. And they can save time and money at the front end of a project.
On the back end, the firm uses drones to ensure stormwater controls such as detention basins, storm drains and constructed wetlands are operating effectively.
She said the firm is also experimenting with drones as a way to monitor streambank erosion for clients.
Officials are hoping to add infrared camera attachments in the future. The thermal-imaging capabilities could, for example, help the firm assess how specific plants in wetland areas are being impacted by construction or how new vegetation is growing.