Russell Engineering, a homegrown Durango business, has merged with a larger Minnesota engineering firm, but contrary to what many have assumed, the move is likely to strengthen the office’s presence in Durango.
“One of the goals here is to continue to grow this office,” said Michael Russell, founder and owner of Russell Engineering, who is now a principal and regional practice center leader for SEH Design Build, headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“Actually, it’s probably good to say: Contrary to popular belief, we’re not packing up and vacating this office. We intend to grow more employees over the years,” Russell said in an interview Monday.
On Aug. 1, Russell Engineering formally merged with SEH, which has 31 separate offices across the country, including its Western Region headquarters in Denver. The Western Region for SEH now consists of offices in Denver; Pueblo; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and now, Durango.
Russell’s 25 employees join a firm with 800 employees. The merger, Russell said, creates new resources and services Durango’s office will be able to offer its clients.
The merger centralizes managerial and administrative functions such as payroll, marketing, accounting and human resources in SEH’s headquarters in St. Paul.
Most of SEH branches are similar to Durango’s operation – smaller offices that developed on their own before being acquired by SEH. The offices, he said, have their own client bases, cultures and ways of doing business.
Since the merger, the Durango office has added an architect and a surveyor to its staff, and it has increased the range of structural engineering services it can provide.
“The other attractive thing is we can share work across offices. They have expertise back there that we don’t have here, and we could offer those services to our clients, services that historically, we have never been able to offer here,” Russell said.
The office currently is working on a landfill project, which is something it didn’t have the expertise to offer before the merger, Russell said.
Beyond new services, merging with a larger firm also gives the Durango office diversification geographically.
“One of the things that was important for me was the diversification of their offices. Geographically, they are located in different areas. And for me – after going through the recession – it’s always good to have any kind of diversity in your office, whether it’s geographic or the types of services you offer. So, for instance, if our office got slow, we could help out the St. Paul office with a road design project,” Russell said.
Russell started his engineering firm Sept. 1, 2001, 10 days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and immediately weathered a recession. The additional experience of going through the Great Recession of 2008 convinced him the merger with SEH will help the Durango office survive future economic downturns, he said.
SEH’s client base is split 70% among government clients and 30% private clients, while Russell’s client base is virtually the opposite. Russell’s private-sector client base was attractive to SEH, which wanted to lessen its reliance on government business, Russell said.
Durango’s office also was attractive to SEH because the firm sees Colorado, and Durango in particular, as an easy place to attract and retain talent.
Russell said: “Historically, we have never had a problem recruiting engineers to our office here in Durango. I think they look at Durango as a place where young people coming out of school would like to live, and that’s what we’ve found in the past. We could recruit engineers right out of college who are excited to live in a place like Durango.”
Russell, who served as La Plata County engineer before opening his firm, said merging with SEH affords him the ability to retire in five or six years and be assured the company he built in Durango remains on solid footing with a thriving operation on Main Avenue.
“I’m 59 years old now, and I’d definitely like to retire sooner rather than later,” he said. “I personally want to get out in several years, the age 65 would be ideal, and having this kind of exit strategy to me was important.”
firstname.lastname@example.org This story has been updated to correct the name of the St. Paul, Minnesota, firm to SEH.