Bret Weiss, WSB president & CEO, appointed to Gold Shovel Association’s Board of Directors

Bret Weiss, WSB’s president and CEO, was appointed to Gold Shovel Association’s (GSA) Board of Directors. GSA is a nonprofit organization committed to improving public and workforce safety and the integrity of buried infrastructure.

Weiss joins 14 fellow board members who have extensive experience and knowledge in the design, engineering, construction, community planning and energy industries across the nation. Together, the board members represent companies that are known nationally for safe operations and industry-leading utility and construction practices.

GSA’s Gold Shovel Standard (GSS) guides the organization’s belief that greater transparency in all aspects of damage prevention among buried-asset owner/operators, excavators, locators and contractors is essential to drive continuous improvement, and vital to ensure increasingly safe working conditions and communities. The organization seeks to raise the performance bar by providing tools and measurements that drive superior performance.

“I am thrilled to join GSA’s board of directors and believe strongly in their mission,” said Weiss. “The underground infrastructure that powers our communities is incredibly important and I look forward to working together to create positive change within our industry.”

GSA announced the expansion of their board in a press release earlier this month. The full announcement is available at

The benefits of building your staff with outside resources.

Preparing for and planning staffing support and resources at the local level is crucial to ensuring that the needs of the community are met, and statutory timelines adhered to. Sometimes, internal team members do not have the capacity to handle all the workload. Busy seasons, staff turnover, leaves of absence and unexpected challenges or needs arise that can throw a wrench in original staff and workload plans. In these instances, a consulting partner can be helpful to maintaining a high level of service while staying within budget and resource constraints. Here are four reasons to consider a professional consultant to help augment your staff’s capacity:


Unlike a full-time staffer, a consultant can be there for you as much or as little as you need. This gives you the ability to scale the level of service depending on your busy times or when your staff are unavailable. A consulting team can quickly adapt to your workload.


Consultants offer many different pricing structures that can range from stable monthly retainers to on-call hourly services. One of the strengths of a consulting partner is the range of expertise levels. Matching expertise with the level of skill needed allows for flexibility in budgets. In addition, an outside consultant can also present other options for partners or creative resources that weren’t initially considered.

Team approach 

A team approach means that you have access to the expertise and resources of an entire consulting firm when issues or challenges arise. When partnerships are formed between public and private entities, you are hiring a team and not just an individual. There is always someone with the necessary experience when a question needs an answer, a problem needs to be solved or an application needs to be completed.  

Always available 

With a consultant comes a deep bench of expertise. When someone isn’t available, you can rest assured that there is always someone available to attend meetings, field questions and review information in the event of a vacation or illness.

People often associate consultants with unnecessary expenses, but there are many cost-effective and creative ways that a consultant can actually reduce costs and help stretch budgets.

The engineering behind snow drifts

By DJ Sosa, Sr Project Manager, WSB

During long winter months, managing and improving infrastructure that is affected by snowfall becomes a top priority. Snow, combined with wind, creates dangerous conditions. Meteorologists have a system that predicts snowfall events and wind patterns, but many people don’t know the science behind snowdrift prevention. To help prevent dangerous driving conditions, engineers model and analyze snow drifts on roadways to determine how they’re impacted by winter weather. Today, snow drift challenges are solved by combining snow drift models with historical data to pin-point snow drift spots and create a more focused solution to mitigate the drift problem.

The benefits of a well-designed ditch

The width and depth of a ditch that borders a roadway can work to a commuter’s advantage and can reduce agency owners’ snowplow maintenance. Well-designed ditches prevent snow from blowing onto a roadway. Historical data and snow drift models help to determine the proper location and size of a ditch. Ditches are designed best when existing topography and right-of-way are both considered to create a well-balanced solution.

Living and structural snow fences

Snow fences became a leading solution to combating snowdrifts and keeping roads open after record snowfall and disastrous blizzards pounded the Midwest in the 1990s. Since then, roads that were often closed due to impassable snowdrifts are now kept open with a little help from nature and modern materials.

There are two types of snow fences – living and structural.  A living snow fence is a group of trees or bushes planted strategically to catch drifting snow. The line of trees or shrubs prevents the snow from reaching sections of roads that tend to become blocked during or after storms, creating an effective barrier and increasing driver safety.

When living snow fences aren’t suited for a site, a structural snow fence is another option to consider. This is the preferred method when soil is too compacted, or the area doesn’t allow for shrubbery or trees due to maintenance complications.

The diagram below shows how a snow fence prevents snow from drifting.

Engineers automatically design roads for drainage, but snow should receive the same attention – particularly in states that experience winter weather for half the year. As you navigate your way through winter driving conditions, take notice of what surrounds you. The line of trees or the ditch next to you may just be helping keep the roadway clear.

DJ has been a quality manager and a senior project manager in transportation, both in preliminary and final design, for over 14 years. Prior to joining WSB, DJ was a design engineer and project manager for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and has managed or been part of a wide range of designbid- build transportation projects.

[email protected] | 763.762.2817

Positioning your community for economic growth

Bart Fischer, Senior Public Administrator discusses economic growth strategies with WSB’s Economic Development Coordinator Jim Gromberg, and Director of Land Development Bob Barth.

Following the Great Recession, many communities were caught playing catch-up as economic growth ramped up again.  As many cities face budget deficits and shortfalls in the coming months due to the pandemic, I wondered if there were cost-effective ways to get cities ready for an economic recovery?

I recently sat down with two WSB leaders to unpack what cities and communities can do in times of economic strain to better position themselves for future growth. As many of us who’ve worked in the public sector for years know, the challenges of today will soon pass, and it’s important to be ready for the future.

BF:  In your opinion, what is the number one thing a city can do to better prepare themselves for future economic growth?

BB: Review your zoning.  Today, communities need more flexibility within zoning.  Future opportunities will not come neatly packaged.  For instance, consumers interact with retailers differently every year.  If your zoning does not allow for an intermixture of residential, light industrial, small-scale fulfillment, artisan, and commercial you may find yourself losing out to communities that welcome a mashup of different uses. I think we’ll see existing commercial and industrial spaces repurposed and that trend will continue into the foreseeable future.

BF: What lingering effects will COVID-19 have on commercial real estate?

JG:  I think it’s obvious that we’ll see significant shifts in the way people use office space. How offices are set-up and the way people work has probably changed forever. I also think preparing for the future of what restaurants will look like is important.

BF: What is one piece of advice you would give cities when working with site selectors or future businesses?

BB: You must move beyond the optics. Some cities can be very selective about the types of businesses and industry they allow, and that approach is outdated.  If I told you a shingle factory would be a great addition to your community, I would be laughed out of most city council meetings.  But I bet if a community withheld judgment and really investigated it they might find that it could be an asset to the community. Manufacturing has changed. What was once considered ugly and undesirable can now be a modern asset that provides hundreds of jobs and increases the communities tax base.

BF: It’s hard to balance all the moving parts of economic development. What is your advice for cities who want to strengthen their economic development priorities?

JG: Don’t be afraid to look for outside help. There are organizations and professionals who dedicate their careers to economic development and that expertise can be very valuable. The best thing about economic development are the opportunities for collaboration between public, private and nonprofit entities.  This combination of expertise can really help bolster a community and prepare them for opportunities down the road.

BF: Equity is a big topic in today’s political and social landscape. How does equity fit into economic growth?

BB: Building equity within a community has multiple aspects.  Most communities think only of affordable housing.  However, equity requires ownership and opportunity.  How does your community increase ownership? How does your development process invite participation among diverse groups? Are minorities encouraged to participate in your economic development process or are they not present? Competitive communities will need to answer these questions if they are to understand their prospects in this new political and social landscape.  

BF: Funding seems to be the most common barrier to economic development.  What would you say to cities that are facing funding issues?

BB: Funding can be challenging, but cities need to be creative. Grants and TIF should not be your only tools. Get creative.  Talk to and partner with the private and non-profit sector on creative, community-based and mutually beneficial funding opportunities.  Get to know contractors who have insight into the modular building movement and consider how your architectural standards might affect project affordability.  Time is money.  If modular construction and streamlined approvals can knock six months off a project schedule that is six months of lease payments that can be brought into the project proforma as equity. 

BF: How can cities best prepare for potential large expansions in our region?

JG: Get your sites shovel ready! Although there are many definitions of what it means to be shovel ready, following the Site Selector Guild’s definition will help you take your sites to the next level. This will help you be prepared when opportunities arise.  As Bob mentions above, time is money. When turnaround time for new projects is shortened, jobs and tax base creation result in better cash flow and performance for the development.

Bart Fischer has over two decades of experience in public administration. Throughout his tenure, he’s worked in five Minnesota communities as the city or assistant city administrator.  Bart joined our firm in 2019 as a senior public administrator and focuses on lending his public service expertise to our clients.

A Principal at WSB, Bob leads WSB’s Land Development Services. Over his 26-year career, Bob has worked for both public and private sector clients, beginning as a water resources engineer and evolving into his current land development role. Bob’s current interest – and a focus for WSB’s Land Development Group – is sustainable redevelopment within urban communities. 

Jim has over 25 years of experience in economic development, including both redevelopment and greenfield development projects. Most recently, Jim was the State of Minnesota’s Business Development Representative for the Twin Cities metro area, responsible for attracting new businesses to the State and assisting businesses in expanding their current locations. In addition, he managed the State’s Shovel Ready Certification Program which prepares a community for projects that are interested in locating or expanding in their community.

Q&A | WSB’s Founders

More than 25 years ago, a group of engineers early in their careers met for happy hour and decided to start something new. A firm that would be different than all the others and one that would focus on staff, clients and innovation. In this Q&A, founders Bret Weiss, Pete Willenbring and Ron Bray reflect on the early beginnings of WSB and what the future holds for our firm.

B – Bret Weiss, President & CEO

P – Pete Willenbring, Vice President

R – Ron Bray, Vice President

When you first formed WSB, what were your goals?

P: My goals were relatively simple and straightforward: To create a company that had internal and actively involved owners focused on hiring and retaining only the best staff, providing client service second-to-none, and creating a positive, supportive and fun work environment.

B: When we started, we were focused on creating a firm that focused on our staff and clients. We have spent a lot of time and energy achieving that goal, but also realized that there was a need for a firm that pushed outside of how others operated. For us, that involved looking beyond the established solutions toward using technology to create a better deliverable.

R: The formation of WSB was to establish a top-notch engineering company with great service, but with an emphasis on the value of its employees.

Did you anticipate this level of growth and success?

R: WSB was able to grow faster than we anticipated based on quality service, great employees with unique talents, and well-established client relationships. Our goal of 50 employees in five years happened much sooner than anticipated, which was great, and we’ve kept growing since then. I think that establishing a key management structure helped facilitate our continued growth.

P:  I anticipated our firm would grow to a level like other successful consulting firms in the Twin Cities.  I did not envision growth in some of the new service areas we have created.

B: I knew that if we wanted to be the firm of choice that we would need to grow and expand. Our goal was to be a long-lasting and independent consulting firm. In order to do that, growth is required to provide opportunities and resources to build the systems and structure that would support a larger firm.

Any advice for leaders now and for those who come after you?

B: Be unique. Too many businesses follow the lead of others and then become images of each other.  It can be very hard to differentiate. We have charted our own path and that will continue. It is not an easy road, but most anything we do in life that’s worth it requires hard work.

P: Although other management elements are important, the consulting business is about hiring and retaining staff that our clients and staff need and want to work with. This means they have not only technical skills, but interpersonal skills that allow them to fully relate to the client as well as fellow staff members. If you have staff with those attributes, you will be successful. 

R: Our focus on expanding our services and opening strategic office locations is key. At the same time, let’s remember what made us great was quality client service and an emphasis on the value and growth of our staff. It is very important to me that we remember to be humble.

What do you think WSB looks like in the future?

P: All that we know for sure is that it will change, and we need to be receptive to that.  This year is a prime example of how quickly things can change. Many of us may be working remotely in the future, and the way we deliver service to our clients will likely change as well. We will need to constantly stay nimble, reevaluate our markets, make sure we understand what our clients need and find the best ways to meet those needs.   

B: I don’t know for sure, but we will be larger, more diverse and a leader in our industry. The staff that we have been able to attract to WSB continues to be stronger every year. We are finding our stride in using and developing cutting-edge technology. This will help us broaden our reach and increase the locations that we serve.

R: WSB will continue to grow and expand into other market areas. At the same time, the business model will change and adapt to continue to be the leader in quality client service. Technology is advancing at a faster rate than ever, so the way we do business will need to incorporate this technology and the business model will need to change to stay on that leading edge.

What has been your biggest motivator over the past 25 years?

R: I would say it has been the energy of the folks at WSB. Energy just builds more energy and moves all of us to do better and be more competitive.

P: Getting new and interesting projects, and then working with our awesome clients and staff to provide the best service possible.   

B: I have always wanted to use the talents that I have been given to be the best I can be. When you start a company from nothing, there is a lot to grow and develop. I know that we can get better and striving to be the best for our staff and clients has always been my biggest motivation.  If we do those two things, everything else will take care of itself.

What are you most proud of?

B: A small percentage of startup companies make it to 25 years, and we did. We are focusing on the right things and it is paying off. I am so proud of the company that we have developed and the staff that make it so special.

P: Our staff and the helpful, engaged and supportive environment they create every day.

R: I am excited that I’ve had the opportunity to deliver somewhat complicated and controversial projects at a high level to our clients. Many of these projects have been recognized as award winning by our peers and that is something that really makes me feel proud – of our staff and our clients.

Any favorite memories you’d like to share?

P: They involve silly little things, like Don finding a good deal on RAM for computers, activities surrounding the acquisition and delivery to the office of our various pop machines and a fictitious issue Ron had with the State Board of Registration.

B: We held our first holiday party at the office and catered in Leeann Chin. Pete talked the deli downstairs into letting us use their ovens to warm up the food.  We did everything ourselves and at the end of the evening, we handed out our first WSB hats. I will never forget how excited we all were. It was like we were finally legitimate. 

R: I have a lot of favorite memories fortunately. I am always excited to think of our WSB Celebrations and annual picnics with our staff.

Was there a certain moment when you knew that WSB was going to be successful?

B: We couldn’t afford to fail, so we were confident from the very beginning.  Sure, there were some scary times and leading through a pandemic is one of them. However, there was never a time that I thought we couldn’t win. We have focused on our company and our staff and never compared ourselves to others.

P: I thought it would be from the beginning, but realized we had an opportunity to grow even more quickly when just a few weeks before we were to start the firm, the non-local owners of our previous consulting firm decided to replace the current CEO.  Clients work with who they know, like and have a relationship with. The firm they work for is a secondary consideration. This provided us with an enhanced opportunity to work for these clients.

R: In the fall of 1996, we were building a strong client list and the work started coming in. We felt more stable and I think that was when I knew we had something special going.

What is one misstep you wish you could erase?  What did you learn from that misstep and how did it help shape WSB and your career?

R: We were so busy and growing and things were going great, but we grew so fast and were all working so hard that we weren’t managing the company as well as we should’ve. As a group, we decided to step back and take the time to better understand what needed to be done and work to better understand our strengths and weaknesses at a leadership level. This was an important turning point and ended up setting the stage for future growth.

P: It was challenging to have multiple owners making joint decisions on everything. We learned from this and defined roles later on, but developing a structure, staying flexible and communicating with each other is very important.

B: I have always been very competitive and never shy away from conflict or a challenge. There have been a few times early in my career that I responded poorly to situations. I learned that there are times to talk smart and times where it is not warranted.  At the same time, that competitiveness and strong resolve to not let anyone push us around has driven WSB to be a successful, well respected firm.

Is it challenging to watch what you’ve built grow, change and move in different directions?

P: In terms of truly “challenging,” the most challenging times were during the early years when the firm was small. We were adding staff as fast as we could find them, the owners were not taking salaries and we had to quickly develop new service areas in order to compete in our marketplace. During these times, we were also fighting for market share against established firms with larger staff and many more service offerings.

B: Not at all. Our goal was to create a great firm that valued staff and clients. We have looked for opportunities over the years and change has been important to our success. We never had non-negotiable ideas for what the company needed to look like, so watching others helped us mold our company into what it is today, and it’s been very fulfilling.

R: I don’t know if challenging is the right word, but I would say it is exciting to see WSB take on some new life in various areas, both geographically and service wise.

How have your personalities worked together to build WSB?

R: I tend to be optimistic, often pushing for extending outside of our existing limits. But this push and pull provided a good balance. We know how hard to push each other and we know when to back off. It’s been rewarding to see Bret leading us through and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together.

P: The founding partners have different personalities and have had similar and different perspectives on the best way to run the company. For the most part, this was a good thing, but other times it created some challenges we needed to work through. I am certain that both our similarities and differences allowed all of us to grow and appreciate new ideas. It also allowed us to move in directions we otherwise would not have considered.

B: Many people have told me that they are surprised that our partnership has been so successful. We did not get in each other’s way and that has been the key.  Each of us is different, which added to our success.  Our different personalities and similar values allowed us to tackle many different problems and there always seemed to be someone that was passionate about an issue.

What’s the best trait of your fellow founders?

B: Ron is very positive and optimistic. He believes that anything can be achieved and is not afraid to provide encouragement. Pete takes time to have fun and to celebrate while being cost conscious.  He has always helped us watch our pennies.

P:  They are all dedicated to creating a company that is exceptional, are not afraid of long hours or hard work and truly care about our staff and clients.

R: Pete is very budget and spend cautious, but good in his expertise of water resources. Don was good at holding the office down and cranking out the work. Bret had a good reputation in the municipal market and worked hard to secure new clients and projects. Together, with my network and knowledge of transportation and construction, it was a great balance. Our individual skills came together to venture into new areas, gain clients and build workload.

What’s your all-time favorite WSB promotional item?

R: It was the hunting hats hands-down! People love them whether it be camo or bright blaze orange. Even if they didn’t hunt, they still like to wear them.

P: It may seem trivial, but over the years, it has been our high-quality WSB pen.

B: I have always loved our golf balls, but the plastic wine glasses might be the most popular.  The funniest have been the boxer shorts and golf socks.

You can only name one thing, what’s been the key to WSB’s success?

P: Our staff. Without their dedication and commitment to the company and each other we could not have done what we have.  

B: Drive. We have advanced our company for 25 years and we continue to look for ways to be the best we can be. 

R: Great employees!

If you could set-up a WSB office anywhere NOT in the US, where would it be and why?

B: This is not outside of the U.S., but I would probably say New York City so that I could be a little closer to my son and daughter-in-law. They have been living with us during the pandemic and it will be hard to have them go back to NYC. 

P: Vietnam. They are one of the most rapidly growing economies in the world, have a significant need for many of the services we offer, have a highly educated work force and opportunities in this area will only increase with time.  

R: Not even a consideration in my mind. I am fine sticking with the good ole USA.

WSB partners with State of Minnesota on COVID-19 testing support

WSB was selected by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to assist on an emergency contract to set-up and manage the logistics of the state’s no barrier COVID-19 testing sites.

The MDH began setting up Community Testing Sites and Events to help control the spread of COVID-19 this spring.  All testing is free and does not require insurance. There are currently nine saliva testing sites available with a growing number of future locations planned.

“We are honored and humbled to apply our skills and resources in different ways to support the health and wellness of our state,” said Andi Moffatt, WSB’s vice president of environmental services. “We believe it’s important to support our local communities and their infrastructure. Right now, public health is a priority and we will continue to work with the state and our local communities to help deliver these critical testing sites.”

The firm is currently providing project management, IT, site mapping and drone photography, visual documentation and information gathering, general logistics and fiscal management activities on behalf of the state.

WSB selected to lead the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Alternative Delivery General Engineering Consultant contract

This is the second consecutive GEC win for WSB.

Engineering and consulting firm WSB announced today that they have been selected by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to lead the agency’s Alternative Delivery General Engineering Consultant (GEC) contract for a second consecutive term.

“The opportunity to work alongside MnDOT for the next five years through this contract brings a lot of excitement for our staff,” said WSB’s Alternative Delivery GEC program manager Jon Chiglo. “The GEC contract will allow us to support MnDOT on challenging projects throughout the state and we’re looking forward to assisting the agency as their go-to engineering partner.”

MnDOT’s GEC Master Contract Program supports their preconstruction design bid build project activities and services. Specifically, the Alternative Delivery GEC contract supports the alternative contracting framework and supplements MnDOT staff in a variety of roles.

“The GEC is an important contract that will allow WSB to continue to work closely with MnDOT on solving some of our state’s most vital infrastructure challenges,” said WSB’s president and chief executive officer Bret Weiss. “WSB has taken many steps to diversify our service offerings and become a trusted transportation engineering firm in Minnesota. I’m proud of our partnership with MnDOT and look forward to supporting the agency and the state through this GEC.”

WSB was previously awarded the Alternative Delivery GEC contract in 2016 and has supported MnDOT on nearly $1 billion worth of transportation infrastructure projects through the contract. These projects, some of the largest and most significant in the state, include the Twin Ports Interchange in Duluth, Willmar Wye, Interstate 94 between Maple Grove and Clearwater, Interstate 35W north of Highway 36, TH 14 between Owatonna and Dodge Center and Highway 52 between Cannon Falls and Zumbrota.