Civil Engineering Firm Builds Better Communities
With a civil engineering degree under his belt, Lake Randall could have left the small town area he grew up in for a big city. Maybe Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or, heaven forbid, even out of his home state of Pennsylvania (officials lament brain drain in the state, as young people often have to go elsewhere to find good jobs). He mentions a friend who escaped to the Washington, D.C. area and went on to start an engineering firm in Annapolis, Maryland.
Both became successful and achieved the same results, but Randall did it by staying close to home with a small firm that has made a big splash in a small burg. A native of Watsontown, Pennsylvania, he is president and chief engineer of Mid-Penn Engineering, a civil engineering consulting and surveying firm with 25 employees in Lewisburg, population 6000, just eight miles down the Susquehanna River.
How has Randall’s firm done it? Mid-Penn Engineering has made its mark in community development. Drive down Route 15 through Lewisburg, and you’ll see a host of projects bearing their handiwork. “As my specialty, over the last ten years, I’ve gotten highly involved in economic development,” he says. “I view that as very positive work. You’re bringing jobs into the area. You’re increasing the work base, and many of the jobs are keeping a sustainable community. Part of that is developing sustainable communities that are self sufficient in many aspects, not just in economic development but culturally. We do residential development, economic development, and parks and rec, and we try to tie all those things together in a community to make it a healthy place.”
Midd-Penn Engineering was formed in 1969 by six founding owners, including Roger Hepner, who served as president until he retired in 1999. Original clients consisted mainly of private landowners doing subdivision planning. Randall started with the company in 1988 and then purchased it from Hepner when he retired. The other owners had retired or moved on before then, and Hepner was the sole stockholder.
‘We’re not setting the world on fire, but we’re doing good things,” Randall says in summing up the success he and Mid-Penn have since enjoyed. “We’re growing about eight percent a year since I’ve taken over. And it’s controlled. It allows us to be more financially solvent and healthy.”
This comes partly because the firm offers a broad range of services for a small company. “We do primarily civil site, which is probably 60 percent of our business,” Randall states. Customers include state and local governments, municipal authorities, and private sector clients. Their bread and butter is land development engineering that encompasses feasibility and conceptual planning and final designs for commercial, industrial, recreational, and private end uses. Mid-Penn not only provides analysis and designs for grading, utilities, landscaping plans, stormwater management, and erosion and sedimentation control, but they also facilitate permitting and approval processes. And their work occasionally includes transportation projects such as traffic impact studies and traffic signal design. They operate in the Susquehanna Valley within roughly a 60-mile radius of Lewisburg.
One of Mid-Penn’s signature projects came in the form of Great Stream Commons, a 670-acre business park 15 miles north of Lewisburg. The land it occupies almost became the site of a hazardous material incinerator, but citizens protested, and the county later bought it by floating bonds. Regarded as a sustainable community model, the site will incorporate 156 acres of open space with walking trails, a pond, and a recreational area when complete. Mid-Penn received the 1999 Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Environmental Excellence Award for its stormwater management design in the park.
Mid-Penn's services also include their Building Technology department, enabling them to provide complete designs including structural, mechanical, and electrical engineering for residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. They have architectural technicians and structural engineers on staff, while they contract out mechanical and electrical engineering. According to Randall, “Right now our building systems is more industrial, heavy commercial situations where we’re teaming on design-build applications.”
Several of Mid-Penn’s services came into play when they prepared the site design for Evangelical Community Hospital's $16 million East Expansion project, which included a 19,000 square-foot emergency department and 24-bed inpatient unit. Designs generated included a land development plan for grading, utilities, stormwater, expanded parking, and landscape as well as traffic control planning for the new entrance and emergency room facilities. Mid-Penn also handled site work for a 28,000 square-foot ambulatory surgery center, a physical therapy center expansion, offices, and a hospital facilities physical plant.
Heading west out of town on Route 45, Mid-Penn completed surveying, sketch plans, and final land development planning for a new intermediate school and future athletic fields in Mifflinburg, nine miles west of Lewisburg. Designs for the 57-acre site blend the new building parking lots and driveways with adjacent elementary and middle school campuses. Traffic studies addressed safety concerns for the students and smooth traffic flow in and out of the school zone. Construction recently finished in time for the fall semester.
Mid-Penn's preliminary environmental site assessment services (Phase 1) can help property owners and potential owners determine if their site is clean or contaminated and if it complies with regulations. It may contain contaminants from underground storage tanks as well as asbestos, PCBs, and other hazardous materials. They also do environmental work such as designing water and wastewater treatment processes and stream flow discharge systems.
In Watsontown, F.B. Leopold Company recently completed construction of a new multi-treatment train stormwater system for its manufacturing facility, which manufactures filter media for the water and wastewater industry using state-of-the-art anthracite processing technologies. Mid-Penn prescribed two components of an innovative stormwater treatment system, developed by Terre Hill Concrete Products in Terre Hill, Pennsylvania, to prevent anthracite from leaving the site in stormwater runoff. They prepared an erosion and sedimentation control plan for a network of sumped inlets, trench drains, and a sediment basin for collection, sedimentation, and filtration of the anthracite.
Randall says their environmental projects often come at brownfield or grayfield sites. One example that has made the news recently is the former Pennsylvania House furniture manufacturing plant, a mainstay in Lewisburg for many years. Some 425 jobs vanished when La-Z-Boy, the owner, closed the plant and moved its facilities to China in 2005, leaving the property vacant. Meridian Development Partners, a property developer based in New York City, has purchased the site and hired Mid-Penn for a preliminary environmental study on it.
Meridian seeks an anchor tenant or two that would serve as a catalyst for redeveloping the 45-acre property. The group is entertaining ideas and input on how to develop the property, saying it won’t be just another strip mall. Randall envisions the site becoming more pedestrian friendly, with a network of paths emanating from it. And the developers hope the site will create synergy among area recreational properties and schools.
In emphasizing his community development thrust, Randall reveals, “I’m on a couple economic development boards locally, so we end up getting involved in several industrial parks, and as a result, doing many of the industries or businesses that come in there.” This has happened at Great Stream Commons recently, as Mid-Penn has taken on developing a 1.6-million-square-foot Target stores distribution center in the industrial park that will bring 500 jobs to the area. “It’s one of our biggest projects. We’ll be responsible for in access of $30 million worth of construction activities. That’s a good size project for our size of firm.” This comes at a time when local taxpayers have been pressuring officials to bring tenants into the park to ease the county’s financial burden.
“We’re continuing to get larger and larger projects every year as our name gets out there,” Randall comments. “We’ve only been marketing for about three or four years, and we’re starting to put together a more organized business plan and marketing strategy.” Looking to the future, Randall plans to establish an architecture division, and they may add satellite offices and get licensed for engineering work in bordering states.
Lofty goals for such a small firm? Sure. But don’t put it past a local boy who has made a big dent in the development of sustainable communities in this rural area.
Company: Mid-Penn Engineering Corporation
Type: Civil engineering and surveying firm
Location: Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
Types of engineers they use: Civil, environmental, and structural on staff. They contract out electrical and mechanical.
Outlook for hiring engineers: “We try to hire one or two people a year, but it has been difficult,” reports Lake Randall, president and chief engineer. “We aren’t getting a lot of responses because we’re a small company. We aren’t getting a lot of people applying here who are PEs, who have that level of experience. Maybe they don’t see the opportunity in this region you do in a more urban center.”
To remedy that situation, Randall says they’ve taken a back-door approach. “We’ve been finding EITs and mentoring them into that license, giving them the experience and growing them. I view it as growing our own employees.” In similar fashion, they also hire interns. “We’re going to start a recruiting and mentoring program and advance our employees from that direction.” He puts the interns with experienced engineers to guide them.
Although Mid-Penn doesn’t have mechanical/electrical/plumbing (MEP) engineers on staff, that could change, Randall reveals. “If we found a mechanical engineer who had an interest in developing that part of the company, I’d be interested.” Seeing a need to develop processes for industries, he adds, “I also have the potential to hire a process engineer.”
Contact information for submitting resumes: Submit by e-mail to Lake Randall at firstname.lastname@example.org