From the ground up

David Evans & Assoc. to open office in Vancouver

It was one of those conversational notions in the Portland-based engineering and planning firm David Evans & Assoc. lunch room:

"What if we could open a satellite office in Vancouver to better market to Southwest Washington?"

"We could build on existing clients and market better to the newer ones."

Soon, a focus group was put together to explore the market potential, and a business plan emerged.

The next step would be to run the idea past the chief executives in the company.

The idea to expand to Vancouver did not come from the boardroom at DEA, it came from the ranks – four employees with more than 20 years collective experience with the company, as well as experience working on Clark County projects, such as the Columbia River Crossing.

"Nobody told us to do it, we just met on our own and put together a business plan," said DEA Project Engineer Neal Christensen of the idea he and fellow employees hatched one year ago. He said he found a business plan template on the Internet one night and used that as the model, and admits he and his cohorts were brand-new at such a game, and unsure what to expect from the higher-ups.

"We had to sit down and convince the executives this was a good idea," said Christensen.

The main point in their pitch was that to properly market to Southwest Washington, it would be a good idea to put down stakes here. To this end, they conducted a survey of local existing and potential clients, such as Clark County, the Port of Vancouver and the Washington State Department of Transportation.

"We asked them if it would make a difference in doing business if we moved here and they all said it would," said Christensen.

DEA Transportation Marketer Sheila Muckridge added that local knowledge and understanding is far better if a company lives where it works.

"Especially if you’re driving past your projects every day," said DEA Project Engineer Alex Lockhard.

Still, they had a bit of a hard sell. Considering three members of the team, Christensen, Lockhard and Project Engineer Gavin Oien, all live in Vancouver, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome was to convince the executive staff the proposal was not a ploy to eliminate their commute.

"We really did have to convince them that was not a factor," said Lockhard. But Oien allowed the commute factor could help in recruitment.

"I think that’s one of the great things about doing business up there is that there’s probably more talent up there that would rather not (cross the bridge)," he said.

"When I first met with them, I told them (the expansion) wouldn’t be strategically sufficient if it was only to shorten their commute," said DEA Co-Chief Operating Officer and Portland Office Manager Al Barkouli. "But mainly I said that to challenge them."

Further, Barkouli said the pitch played well into the company’s interest in opening doors in Vancouver.

"We have always had an eye on being in Vancouver," he said. "So when the case was made, it was hard to pass."

The group got the green light for the expansion in early September, and all are just a bit surprised.

"I think we could probably comfortably say we were never really confident we would get this far," said Muckridge. "So we were all pretty surprised."

Surprising, perhaps, but the situation is right in line with the firm’s founding philosophy, which is, "We find outstanding professionals and we give them the freedom and support to do what they do best."

Oien said the experience has shown him the company lives by that philosophy.

"They really do support an entrepreneurial spirit," he said.

Now that they have their nod, the team has shifted to planning the expansion. At first, they will operate with seven people, but plan to expand to 13 over the next few years. As for operation, the Vancouver office will run more or less autonomously from the Portland office, handling its own marketing, bookkeeping and project management.

"We’ll be a satellite of the Portland office, but we’ll be responsible for generating our own work," said Oien.

The group plans to be up and running in their 2,200-square-foot office, leased in the Bank of America Building at 805 Broadway St. in downtown Vancouver, by early March. The remodeling will be designed by DEA’s in-house architects.

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