The big catch

Fish conservation equipment developer Smith-Root acquires Parkin Engineering to focus growth efforts

Following an extended courtship, two long-standing Vancouver companies consummated their partnership and, in January, Parkin Engineering will cross the threshold and join Smith-Root at its Salmon Creek location.

Parkin Engineering, led by President John Parkin, has operated in Clark County offering structural engineering services since 1982. Parkin, originally from Sydney, Australia, was lured to the community from San José, Calif., while working on construction of the Interstate 205 bridge and never left.

Smith-Root is a developer and marketer of fisheries conservation equipment. The company was originally founded in 1964 in Seattle by Dave Smith and Lee Root. Smith moved the company to his family’s property in Salmon Creek in 1972 after gaining sole ownership of the company. Dave Smith’s brother, Jeff Smith, joined the company in 1989 and became president and CEO of Smith-Root following Dave Smith’s retirement in January 2005.

"It’s going to be an excellent marriage," said Jeff Smith. "We are better than two by combining one and one."

Parkin Engineering has provided Smith-Root with structural engineering services for some of Smith-Root’s projects for 15 years. With plans to expand its business, Smith-Root saw the need for an in-house engineering group.

Smith-Root specializes in developing electro-fishing equipment, which is used in fisheries research for non-lethal collection of fish. Electro-fishing products range from backpack devices to fully-equipped boats. The equipment is capable of "shocking" fish in entire lakes or rivers.

"The structure of the company has been static, but what has changed over the years has been the engineering part of it," said Smith. "The electronic equipment that we manufacture for the fisheries industry has changed primarily because of new technology coming out."

Since users of electro-fishing equipment must be licensed, Smith-Root’s clients include fishery and conservation agencies all over the world. The company also produces fish counters and electronic and physical fish barriers. Very little of Smith-Root’s products and services are sold locally.

In all, Smith-Root develops and manufactures upwards of 600 products at its four-acre Salmon Creek site in three buildings totaling 30,000 square feet, where it has just fewer than 50 employees. Parkin will move from its downtown Washington Street office to Smith-Root’s site in January.

Moving Parkin Engineering in-house will help Smith-Root in the company’s efforts to expand its physical fish barrier business.

"Smith-Root wants to expand its efforts in the business of controlling the movement of fish," said Smith. "We want to be the one-stop shopping center for all of the agencies out there looking for technologies to control fish movement."

Having worked with Parkin Engineering on the fish barrier systems in the past, Smith said bringing in Parkin’s team of seven engineers was a natural extension.

"John brings a tremendous capability and reputation to this whole effort," said Smith. "It provides a way for Parkin Engineering to grow with Smith-Root and a way for Smith-Root to develop credibility in the engineering world."

Parkin said the actual percentage of work done for Smith-Root is small when compared to the firm’s total business, but he expects the company to grow in all aspects of its work. "We don’t want our current clients to think we are abandoning them," said Parkin.

The engineering firm does most of its work locally, including structural engineering for commercial and residential construction. But it also specializes in cast-in-place bridge construction, which evolved from Parkin’s work on the I-205 bridge.

"It’s a little niche we have developed," said Parkin of the bridge work the firm does across the country.

By combining their expertise, Smith said the companies have the ability to expand into construction of dams, fish hatcheries and ladders.

Through the partnership, Parkin Engineering became a wholly owned subsidiary of Smith-Root in a stock exchange. Smith said Smith-Root is an employee-owned company with no majority stakeholder. The companies will maintain current employee levels, but expect numbers to grow with future expansion.

Smith said there is continual demand for work because of environmental mandates and fisheries issues. And while Smith said the company is likely to be a victim of cutbacks in governmental agencies, he said the company has a solid foundation regardless of what happens in fisheries.

"It depends on governments’ concerns of invasive and endangered species," said Smith. "As time goes on, I have no doubt there will have to be growth. The pendulum swings back and forth."

And with continued work internationally, Smith said the company may physically expand its presence into other countries.

Smith and Parkin project that both segments of the company will double in size and efforts within five years.

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