Engineering firm closing in on rival in rankings

05/19/2014 4:52 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

With Kansas City one of the nation’s bigger players in the engineering field, the annual rankings by Engineering News-Record, the industry’s most respected scorekeeper, is always a must read for local professionals.

And folks at Black & Veatch, which has been the area’s largest engineering firm for many years, must be looking over their shoulder these days at fast-closing Burns & McDonnell.

Kansas City-based Burns & Mac climbed from 20th to 18th place in ENR’s latest ranking of the nation’s top design firms, posting $1.04 billion in revenues in 2013. Black & Veatch, based in Overland Park, dropped two notches to 16th in the United States with $1.3 billion in revenues.

It was just a few years ago — 2006 to be exact — that Black & Veatch ranked 15th nationally and Burns & Mac was 35th, according to the trade publication. Since then, Burns & Mac leaped past HNTB Cos. of Kansas City, which ranked 25th in 2006, to become the second-biggest engineering firm in town.

HNTB was 21st in the latest ENR report with $856 million in revenues. Terracon Consultants of Olathe, moved up from 38th to 35th in the country with $423 million in revenues.

Other big gains were made by Populous of Kansas City, which jumped 24 notches to 108th with $112 million in revenues; and Shafer, Kline & Warren of Lenexa, which climbed 64 places to 244th, with $44.2 million in revenues. All told, the Kansas City area was headquarters to 11 firms in the ENR Top 500.

Just last week the Kansas City Council approved Burns & Mac’s $140 million headquarters expansion plan. The 466,000-square-feet of additional office space that the firm plans to build on the site of the former Beth Shalom synagogue at 9400 Wornall Road is expected to accommodate the 2,100 additional employees the firm expects to hire in the coming years.

The firm, which has its global headquarters at 9400 Ward Parkway, now employs 4,300 people overall, 2,600 of them locally.

In a statement welcoming the firm’s advancement on the ENR list, Greg Graves, chairman, president and CEO of the firm, said the company’s diversification has helped boost its climb. The company has been particularly successful in the energy industry.

“We really operate like a small firm, even though we are approaching 5,000 people,” Graves said. “We think that gives us the flexibility and nimbleness we need to react to an always changing market.”

Black & Veatch has done well, too. It is completing a major headquarters expansion and renovation of its own as it approaches its centennial celebration next year.

In an interview last winter, Steve Edwards, the firm’s new chairman, president and CEO, predicted the company would double its revenues to $7 billion by 2020 and increase its global workforce by 70 percent to 17,000. About 1,200 of those jobs are expected to be created in the Kansas City area. It currently employs 3,300 people locally.

Edwards said Black & Veatch’s connection to the global economy is a big factor in its growth.

“Demand for critical human infrastructure in energy, water and communications is being driven by population growth, rising standards of living and greater access to information in emerging markets,” he said in a statement.

On another Burns & McDonnell note, the City Council vote approving the redevelopment plan for its headquarters expansion, which included hefty tax incentives, won the support of all but one member.

It’s not that Councilman Russ Johnson doesn’t support helping a growing company. He just thinks it’s being built in the wrong place.

“When our larger employers come looking for incentives, why not put a percentage of their employees downtown?” said Johnson, whose district includes downtown Kansas City. “If you want money from us, that’s fine, but part of it is a commitment to downtown.”

For the same reason, Johnson also voted against the redevelopment plan approved for Cerner Corp. for its office campus at the site of the former Bannister Mall. He praised Hallmark and DST Systems for their commitments to downtown, and said he’s trying to “start the conversation” with other growing city-based firms.

“You have to go after the large employers. They’re the only ones who can make a dent in the downtown employment situation,” he said.

I agree.

Last summer The Star reported that downtown lost 19.6 percent of its private jobs between 2001 and 2011 despite the major reinvestment made during that period. That's 16,237 fewer private workers. Many more people are living and enjoying downtown these days — it’s time for a vote of confidence from private employers, too.

Roger Dick, a spokesman for Burns & Mac, wouldn’t rule out the possibility someday.

“Our first priority is to make sure we live up to the promise we made to the City Council in growing jobs on our South Kansas City campus,” he said. “We appreciate the support we have received. Now we intend to do our part.

“Of course, as we grow, we want to always keep our options open, and we would certainly look at office space in the downtown area if it makes sense in the future.”

To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to Follow him on Twitter @kckansascity

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