New leader of Black & Veatch sets lofty goals

Black & Veatch is seeing gold in liquifying natural gas — and a lot of other business opportunities around the world.

Steve Edwards, the new chairman, president and chief executive of the Overland Park-based engineering firm, has looked at the global crystal ball and found tens of billions of dollars of potential new work in sectors where his firm is a market leader: Energy, water and telecommunications work.

He’s so confident that Black & Veatch will capture a larger share of those markets that he’s expecting it to double its total 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.

“We want to better diversify the company to grow and become more resilient than today,” the CEO said in a recent interview. “We’re diversifying into other geographic areas, not only the U.S. and North America.”

One of the major growth opportunities is converting natural gas to more easily transportable liquefied natural gas, and Black & Veatch has developed a technology called PRICO that’s proving to be a powerhouse in the marketplace.

The PRICO technology will soon be installed on an ocean barge that will be moored off the coast of Colombia, converting natural gas piped from the mainland. It has also built eight land-based liquefied natural gas conversion plants in China with an additional 10 projects underway.

PRICO also will be at the heart of a giant facility planned for Coos Bay, Ore. The Jordan Cove Liquefaction Project, to be built with Omaha-based Kiewit, will be able to produce 6 million tons of liquefied natural gas per year for export.

Edwards said natural gas, which already is being used extensively to generate electricity at power plants, will become a growing way to fuel large vehicles such as ships, trains and trucks around the world as the liquefied natural gas process becomes more cost-effective.

Black & Veatch also finds opportunities to grow its energy business in Southeast Asia, where it has had a longtime presence, as well as South Africa, India and the Persian Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

“We’re looking at places that are safe with a steady volume of business,” Edwards said.

Another new large venture is providing water for mining operations. Black & Veatch has done plenty of municipal water treatment projects over the years, but the contract it has landed to be the engineer for a $3.4 billion desalination plant for a copper-mining operation in Chile is the largest in the firm’s history.

Another key area is building telecommunications infrastructure. Black & Veatch is the largest U.S. design firm in the telecom field, according to Engineering News-Record, and its telecom division has grown from 300 to 1,700 employees in less than four years.

Edwards, 57, has worked at Black & Veatch for 35 years. He took over for Len Rodman, who stepped down as CEO, president and chairman on Nov. 27. Rodman had been chief executive since 2000, and his career at Black & Veatch spanned 42 years.

The new chief executive takes over as Black & Veatch nears completion on a $60 million renovation and expansion of its world headquarters at 11401 Lamar Ave. The project is expected to be completed by July 2014, in time for the firm’s 100th anniversary in 2015.

“We’re a global company and support all the countries where we work, but Kansas City is our headquarters, and we take a lot of pride in doing all we can to support the community and charitable causes,” Edwards said.

This year Black & Veatch reached $1.75 million in total pledges for the Greater Kansas City United Way Campaign. It also raised $350,000 at its annual golf tournament for Children’s Mercy Hospital, and made grants of $100,000 to the University of Kansas and $200,000 to Kansas State University for engineering programs.

Edwards said attracting talented engineers to his growing firm was one of its challenges.

Over the next six years, the Kansas City area workforce is expected to grow from 3,300 to 4,500. That 36 percent increase is impressive, but it’s about half the growth rate expected for the company overall.

“Most people we attract are from the Midwest and thoroughly enjoy Kansas City,” he said, “but as you try to attract people from the coasts, they say there’s not as many things going on here. A lot of hiring will be done in other locations.”

Edwards said his firm is working with other local companies to improve the national image of Kansas City.

“We want to attract more of these young people to Kansas City and show them it’s a great place for a career,” he said. “Young professionals like the idea of the critical infrastructure we deliver. It makes a difference in the lives of people around the world.”