Back to Basics: Century West’s Strategy Fosters Growth During Down Economy

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At a time when many companies are struggling to stay in the black and retain staff, Century West Engineering Corp. has not only remained profitable but recently added five new members to its team.

Founded in Bend in 1969, the civil engineering firm also has offices in Portland, Spokane and Ellensburg, Washington; Century West employs 45 people, having recently added two new members to its Bend office. With revenues of about $4 million in 2004, the firm expects to top $6 million in earnings this year.

Century West is no stranger to adversity, though. In the late ’90s the company was much more diversified, providing its core services of municipal and aviation engineering along with operating a materials testing lab and an environmental division dedicated to soils testing for the redevelopment of contaminated sites.

“A lot of those business lines sort of ran their course and, in my mind, we didn’t get out of them soon enough,” said Joe Roshak, Century West’s vice president. “We did have some tough times during the early 2000s. Once we focused on municipal engineering and aviation services again, everything turned around.”

Century West specializes in civil infrastructure and utility improvements, ranging from enhancements to streets and sidewalks to the design and construction of stormwater and sewage treatment facilities. Its aviation services work includes airport master planning; the design and construction of runways, taxiways and parking aprons; and lighting and other navigational aids.

The firm’s work in Bend includes the design and construction of a stormwater pump station to prevent flooding of the Third Street underpass during rainstorms. Century West also designed improvements for 78 city bus stops to make them more accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and designed 90 new curb ramps now under construction to make the city’s sidewalks more accessible as well.

In addition, Century West is now working with the Bend Airport and stakeholder groups to craft a master plan for Bend’s airport, and has worked on several projects at the airports in Madras, Redmond, Sunriver and Prineville. Roshak noted that in 2002, Century West didn’t have any of those airports in its project portfolio.

Dennis Fuller, the company’s president, said Century West’s service for new and existing clients includes identifying and applying for grants and other public funding for projects. The firm’s growth the last few years was fueled in part by the ability to capitalize on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act by helping clients package stimulus money with other state and federal funding for projects.

“A cornerstone of our business is that we help clients access available funding, and I think that sets us apart from other companies,” Fuller said.
If a municipality wants to update its aviation capital improvements program, for example, Century West will work with local officials to develop a wish list, update it each year and communicate those needs to the Federal Aviation Administration. Then, when the FAA is prioritizing projects for funding, that wish list is on its radar screen.

“We can be working on a project now while helping the owner plan for projects three or four years out,” Roshak said.

Century West’s Spokane office frequently partners with the leaders of surrounding small towns to apply for grants and other funding for community improvement projects – from sidewalks and streets to water and sewage systems.

Sustainability has played an increasingly prominent role in Century West’s projects over the last few years. The city of Fairfield, Wash., hired the company to design an environmentally friendly wastewater treatment facility. The result was an aerated lagoon that provides primary treatment, then the discharged water flows into a trio of newly constructed wetlands for final treatment. The wetlands also provide a habitat for small animals, water fowl and other varieties of birds.

Century West currently is building a water reclamation plan in Airway Heights, Wash., that provides a sustainable approach to that city’s wastewater treatment and water supply. Due for completion in November, the new plant will provide a source of reclaimed water that significantly reduces the demand on groundwater sources, creates a new aquifer recharge source that will help alleviate a ten-year trend of dropping groundwater levels, and eliminates a source of pollution to the Spokane River.

Roshak noted that Century West’s focus on public projects has insulated it from the economic hit that many Bend companies have taken during the recession. While private investment for development and other land-use projects has dwindled, the public sector continues to provide a steady stream of work.

Another factor in Century West’s growth is a restructuring of the firm that allows it to do projects on a companywide level rather than an office-by-office basis, said Fuller, who joined Century West in 1984.

“That has really helped us in our ability to market ourselves and take on new projects,” he said. “We’re smaller now than we were ten years ago, but we’re much more efficient and profitable than we were then.”

Roshak, who has been with Century West for 23 years, said lessons learned during the company’s rocky patch continue to pay off a decade later.

“By staying focused on our target market and our niche, we started getting more work, we became profitable and we’ve remained healthier financially. Everything about what we do has improved,” he said.

www.centurywest.com, 541-322-8962.

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