On Thursday, October 27, the Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal (MSPBJ) announced their 2022 Fast 50 List, an exclusive ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the Twin Cities. Landing at #46, this marks the second year that WSB was included on the list with a revenue growth of 29.86%. In 2021, WSB ranked #47.
The Fast 50 awards recognize the region’s 50 fastest-growing, privately held, for profit companies. To be eligible for the Fast 50, companies must show year-over-year revenue growth for each of the past three completed fiscal years, be headquartered in the Twin Cities 24-county metro area and have revenue of at least $1 million in the first fiscal year.
WSB, a Twin Cities-based design and consulting firm specializing in engineering, community planning, environmental, and construction services announced the hiring of Sarah Rohne as its new director of human resources.
Rohne will be supporting human resource needs throughout the company. In addition to her role as a HR Business Partner, Rohne will also focus on talent development, employee engagement, and strategic HR initiatives. She joins WSB from Schwan’s Company, where she most recently served as their senior human resource manager of talent pipeline and development.
“WSB is an amazing organization with a team of incredibly talented people,” said Rohne. “It is my job to act as a supportive resource, connector, innovator, educator, and talent developer for staff so we can successfully drive business forward. I look forward to strengthening our HR team, managing our day-to-day operations, and advancing strategic initiatives to help our firm grow in size, scope, and tap into new markets and opportunities.”
As director, Rohne will help organize and oversee HR practices at WSB. She has received multiple leadership and recognition awards and has published impressive legal articles throughout her 15-year career in the HR industry.
“Sarah will be an amazing asset to our human resources team, as well as to staff and leadership across our organization,” said Julie Thiel, vice president of human resources at WSB. “She brings passion, expertise, and meaningful insights on how to foster and develop talent. We are thrilled to have her on the WSB team and know she will be valuable in advancing internal initiatives.”
More information about WSB and its services are available at wsbeng.com.
Karls will focus on driving growth for the firm’s transportation services in North Dakota.
Engineering and consulting firm WSB announced today that Jessica Karls has joined the organization as their director of transportation design. Karls will be based in the firm’s Fargo office where she will focus on driving growth and expanding the firm’s reach across North Dakota. Karls will also act as senior project manager for WSB’s large-scale transportation infrastructure projects throughout the U.S.
The strategic hiring of Karls represents WSB’s investment in the Fargo metro area. The director role will strengthen and expand the firm’s transportation services and solutions throughout the Midwest. For years, WSB has been delivering engineering services in and around the North Dakota region, but the addition of Karls forms a stronger presence of boots on the ground, local expertise in the area. WSB has prioritized building their transportation team in North Dakota over the past year.
“Through our commitment to innovation and cutting-edge technology, WSB has the unique opportunity to support infrastructure projects in North Dakota in a more efficient and effective way than in the past,” said Wieber. “We’re continuing to make investments and the addition of Jessica will build our momentum. Her experience expanding into new markets and geographies and her strategic approach to project management and client service will be invaluable to our clients both in North Dakota and throughout the Midwest.”
Karls was most recently the associate vice president of transportation – senior project manager at KLJ, a Bismarck-headquartered civil engineering firm. She was named a Top 25 Women in Business in 2022 by the Prairie Business Journal and has managed some of North Dakota’s largest infrastructure projects including the U.S. 85 four-lane expansion from Long X to County Route 30, the U.S. 84 four-lane expansion south of Watford City, and the New Town Bypass.
“The opportunity to grow and support transportation locally, while also having the full backing of a multi-disciplinary firm is something that attracted me to WSB,” said Karls. “Joining a firm that is not only committed to exceptional client service, but one that is also leading the industry in the way we deliver projects is something I’m looking forward to being part of.”
WSB first entered the Fargo market in 2017. The firm is expanding throughout North Dakota and currently has an office in Bismarck and will open an expanded office in the Fargo metro in early 2023.
As director, Earp will work across divisions and regions to support client public engagement needs
Engineering and consulting firm WSB announced today that Ryan Earp has joined the organization as their director of public engagement. Earp will oversee WSB’s public engagement team and will help advance the firm’s service offering and overall approach to public engagement.
Earp’s tenure providing stakeholder engagement in the energy market has shaped his understanding of the need for a wholistic approach to communications. He will work across service areas to provide a comprehensive public engagement foundation that ensures clients are effectively managing stakeholders, risk and communications.
“The demand for intentional and strategic public engagement is growing, especially in the architecture, engineering and construction industry,” said Ben Maurer, vice president of marketing and communications at WSB. “Increasing transparency and listening to the community are important aspects of any major infrastructure projects across the U.S. As a trained communicator, Ryan will bring a lot of value to our clients.”
Earp was most recently with Environmental Resources Management (ERM), a multinational consultancy firm that provides environmental, health, safety, risk and social consulting services. In his role as a Principal Consultant, Ryan managed long-term public engagement strategic communications campaigns for clients in a variety of markets including energy, infrastructure and asset management.
“At WSB, we have the unique opportunity to engage with the public on projects that shape our communities and our way of life,” said Earp. “I look forward to developing a shared model of public engagement that positions our clients and their projects for success.”
WSB’s public engagement services support the government, energy and commercial markets and offer comprehensive, intentional and strategic communications and engagement planning through both traditional and digital tactics.
In May of 2020, a natural gas transmission pipeline ruptured in Hillsboro, Kentucky, causing a fire and millions of dollars in damage. The rupture, which occurred on a hillside pipe segment, had previously been identified by the operator for geotechnical monitoring and mitigation due to the presence of an active landslide. Following the incident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a pipeline investigation report (PIR-22/01) on the incident. While thankfully there were no fatalities or injuries, the operator estimated the cost of property damage and emergency response was $11.7 million.
Between 2018 and 2020, the operator performed multiple integrity management studies, including in-line inspections (ILIs) and geohazard assessments at the site of active landsliding. Integrity studies indicated that the affected pipeline was exposed to external loads, or loads transmitted to a pipeline from an external source. Although the operator planned to mitigate the hazardous site in Summer 2020, hillslope failure and pipeline rupture occurred before mitigation was completed.
Tips for Proactive Pipeline Management and Risk Mitigation
For gas and hazardous liquid pipelines, proactive management of geohazard risks is critical. To ensure pipeline safety and integrity, here are some tips for operators:
Perform comprehensive geohazard risk assessments, including field surveys, to efficiently identify, document and prioritize the nature and extent of potential threats. Detailed investigations should reduce uncertainly and improve risk and financial-based decision-making.
Quantify external loading and load distributions for at-risk pipelines.
Monitor environmental conditions and changing weather patterns. Soil stability can be adversely impacted by changing weather patterns, so it’s important to check soil and surface materials regularly.
With the assistance of geotechnical engineers, design and implement site-specific monitoring and mitigation plans based on risk analyses and load calculations. Monitoring and mitigation plans should provide operators sufficient time and information to act in response to geohazard events.
How WSB Can Help
Due to the complexity and variability of geohazards, WSB’s Energy Sciences team recommends comprehensive geohazard risk assessments be performed for energy pipelines on five-year schedules. Our team of scientists and risk assessment specialists can help you identify, mitigate, and manage geohazard risks through services tailored to meet regulatory requirements and individual risk profiles.
October 14, 2022 By Christopher Kester, Sr Estimator, WSB
Economic instability, rising inflation, and labor and supply chain issues have created price fluctuations and instability in the construction industry. Simply put, costs and supply availability are harder to predict, adding undue complications to those planning and executing construction projects.
Every project, every client, and every contractor is different, but many are facing similar challenges. While there are no quick and easy solutions to completely predict and overcome rising costs and swift market changes, there are some things to consider that can help mitigate risk and help you overcome obstacles.
Consider alternate materials. Material acquisition is more difficult than ever as our industry feels the squeeze of supply chain shortages. It can be difficult for suppliers to provide certain building materials to contractors at certain times, and short summer construction seasons in colder climates can squeeze supplies even more. This then causes problems for owners who don’t have a backup material they would like to use for their project. When preferred materials aren’t available, have a contingency plan and substitute building materials where possible. Clear communication between contractors and owners about which substitute materials should be used is an important part of the design process.
Plan ahead. It is important to plan out projects ahead of time as much as possible and stick to your timeline. Right now, suppliers are having difficulty putting materials on hold for clients. Planning ahead and coordinating with suppliers on timing of materials can make a huge difference.
Be flexible and work in stages. As the road construction season comes to an end in northern states, many suppliers are out of high-demand materials, meaning a good number of projects will have to be put on the waiting list as supplies come in. If you can delay certain parts of a project and work on others to keep a project on schedule, this can help overcome temporary roadblocks. Completing the project in increments also gives the construction team enough time to complete the tasks and gives the contractor and owner time to coordinate material acquisition.
Understand risk and how developers predict cost. Trying to predict project costs has become more difficult, from the price of materials to the cost of labor, and everyone is working to keep their financial risk at a minimum. Often, there is a sizable imbalance between the price it takes a contractor to complete a project and the price the contractor bids for the work. Dramatic price fluctuations have caused a great deal of frustration for owners who are confused as to why a project might be so expensive compared to the price of the same project a few months earlier. Different types of projects like design-build and construction management/general contractor, for example, come with different amounts of risk, so it’s important to think through what works best for your project.
While there’s no crystal ball in the construction industry, common sense planning and following these tips can help mitigate risk, provide confidence to all parties involved, and set your project up for success.
Chris spent most of his career with a regional construction company where he prepared production-based estimates in excess of $300 million annually, many of those being DOT or State-Aid. He provides the ability to analyze from the perspective of a contractor and assemble a contractor-style estimate while identifying, analyzing, and mitigating risks.
October 14, 2022 By Bart Fischer, Sr Public Administrator and Kim Lindquist, Director of Community Planning, WSB
Staff turnover, economic conditions and resources all impact the capacity and workload of city staff. Scalable staff augmentation has become another tool in the toolbox of cities who are hoping to backfill a role, complete a special project or increase available resources. Bart Fischer, Sr. Public Administrator, explores the benefits of staff augmentation with Kim Lindquist, Director of Community Planning & Economic Development.
BF: Why would a city consider staff augmentation?
KL: The number one reason to consider staff augmentation is to support staff turnover and coverage during a time of transition. If a staff member resigns, it often takes months to fill a vacancy. The great thing about staff augmentation is that cities can keep their projects and workload moving forward with limited interruption during that interim time. It also allows cities to evaluate a position to determine if it requires a full-time employee, or if tasks can be handled on an as needed or part-time basis.
BF: Is there a magic number of hours or roles for staff augmentation?
KL: No, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s scalable. A city may need support for a month, or for a long-term project. In my experience staff augmentation looks different for each community, which is great because WSB has the flexibility to fit the client need. We have situations where the augmentation is project based, like review of a specific planning project, and we have other clients where the augmentation is service based, for example conducting code enforcement for the community. We work with the client to arrive at a solution that works for their needs including providing in-office hours, dedicating two or three days a week or working within a specific time period until the project is completed. It’s a flexible option for cities that can be scaled up or down at any time. It really depends on the community and their unique needs.
BF: How is the talent shortage impacting staffing resources?
KL: In many local governments, we’ve seen a wave of baby boomers retiring that held upper-level director positions. As they retire, finding leaders to replace them has been challenging as attracting and retaining talent is a struggle across industries. Communities who are having a hard time finding candidates to fill roles are relying on augmentation to ensure they’re moving their projects and initiatives forward while they work to fill those positions.
BF: What do you think are the biggest benefits of staff augmentation.
KL: I think many communities don’t realize the financial savings that come with staff augmentation. It alleviates the need to hire an FTE and allows staff to have additional bandwidth to focus on higher level tasks and council policies rather than routine tasks. When the economy is strong, people don’t think about the pluses and minuses of hiring someone, but at the same time, no one wants to lay anybody off. The true benefits lie in the scalability and flexibility of staff augmentation.
When WSB supports communities, we stress the full resources behind us. I work in planning, but have quick access to expertise in many areas including economic development, code enforcement, public works, city engineering, sustainability, etc. We bring a wealth of expertise to the table to help support a community’s comprehensive needs.
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.
Kim is a planning professional with over 30 years of experience overseeing a variety of complex planning projects. Kim worked in high growth communities working with developers and the public on entitlements for residential development and business attraction to the city.
October 14, 2022 By Lori Johnson, Sr Professional Community Planner, WSB
Housing prices are expected to jump nearly 10 percent by the end of 2022. Interest rates are on the rise and inflation is pushing the price of labor and materials up and up. The result, tied with an already exacerbated shortage of starter homes and affordable housing, is a growing demand for multi-family housing. Market rate apartments are a big trend in communities across the country right now as the demand for rentals grows.
What does this trend mean for communities, for developers, and for long-term strategic planning? Here are some things to consider around multi-family housing.
Developer and Consumer Demand
With more people searching for apartments, developers are on the hunt for land zoned and guided appropriately for multi-family uses. There are, of course, a limited number of parcels that have the proper land use and zoning for apartment buildings and townhomes. If developers cannot identify parcels of land currently designated for apartments but see an opportunity, they are encouraging community leaders to rezone or reguide land where possible.
And what makes a parcel of land ideal for market rate apartments? Developers look at several factors including uncomplicated access to major roads, proximity to restaurants, bars, shopping and commercial property, and good visibility. Moreover, many local businesses like to have apartments nearby, as they provide customers concentrated in a centralized location and may encourage multi-family and mix used development builds in certain areas.
Considering the Pros and Cons of Multi-Family Housing
For communities, comprehensive and strategic planning means developing land in ways that meet both short and long-term goals and benefits residents, small businesses and overall growth. Not every project a developer proposes will be approved or should be approved, but communities are also looking at the market which is driving apartment growth right now.
Whether a community is rural, exurban, suburban, or metropolitan can also impact decision making between single family and multi-family housing. Are you a suburb or city where promoting concentrated apartments that are walkable, accessible, and attracts nearby commercial businesses make sense for land development? Or are you an exurban or rural community where the greater attraction in the long-term will be single-family dwellings? They also must weigh going with current market demand or waiting to see if and when the market may shift.
Rezoning land for apartments can also bring concern and protest from local property owners. Many people worry that apartments bring more cars, more noise, more lights, and can change the character of neighborhoods. City councils can also explore opportunities to mitigate neighborhood concerns, looking at things like berms and landscaping, fencing, traffic studies, building height ordinances, and more.
On the positive side, apartments provide the type of housing that is wanted and needed right now as rising prices make home ownership out of reach for many. Apartments also provide amenities many people want like gyms, pools, no maintenance costs, greater social connections, etc.
All cities have different types of constituents, so the question is how to balance the needs of renters and non-renters.
How WSB Can Help
For communities navigating rezoning, developer engagement, and a growing demand for multi-family housing, WSB can help. We can help city leaders navigate ordinance compliance, planning augmentation and staff review of site applications, and can provide market guidance to elected officials to know what is happening right now. We can also help local governments review and update their comprehensive plans.
The market for multi-family housing is moving quickly, and our expert staff can help guide you through it all and ensure you make the decisions that best meet the needs of your residents and community.
Lori has more than 25 years of experience working in a municipal planning department, having worked her way up through the planning department at the City of Blaine to become their city planner. She has worked in all aspects of city planning activities including project management, site plan and application review, public participation and long range planning.
October 14, 2022 By Bridget Rathsack, Program Manager and Eric Zweber, Sr Planner, WSB
The $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill opened the door to many new opportunities that can help improve historically underserved communities through healthy streets. With such a large infusion of money into our nation’s infrastructure, now is the time to ensure that future planning and investments in public spaces serve those who have been too often overlooked in community planning.
Whether it’s reducing heat islands through pavement reduction or increased tree cover, reshaping public spaces to better meet community needs, or reducing the risk of pollutants and other health effects impacting low income and BIPOC neighborhoods, equity must be part of planning for healthy streets and public spaces.
Where can communities start? Here are some ideas.
Explore and Recognize Areas of Need First
Directing the money to the places that need the most investment can create the biggest impact. Communities must map out and understand the areas where BIPOC, low-income, low tree cover, and high-transit-needs are present.
Recognizing these areas of need is critical but listening to the people who live in these communities is even more important. Ensure that investments being made meet the needs of the community you intend to serve and that all voices are at the table. Infrastructure investments should make a meaningful difference for those actually living and working in those communities.
Building Healthy Streets and Improving Public Spaces
What kinds of projects can improve public spaces in underserved communities? Thinking about all three pillars of sustainability – environmental, social, and economic – will help drive a project’s potential positive impact on the overall health and well-being of residents.
Many communities are exploring installing and maintaining more sustainable pavement options to help improve safety, transit, and overall community health. For some communities in certain climates, pervious pavement, where water can be absorbed into the ground below and reduce runoff, is a sustainable choice. For others, installing light colored pavement instead of traditional asphalt can reduce heat islands.
Tree canopies and cover are also important for both the environment and human health. Studies have shown that residents in low-income and urban communities face higher temperatures due to the urban heat island effect. Urban heat islands increase air pollution, energy consumption, compromise human health, and impair water quality.
Finally, creating and improving pedestrian walkways and transit stop locations increases a community’s connection and grows opportunities for those who depend on public transportation.
How WSB Can Help
Whether it is helping you explore and identify needs within your community, planning for the future, or assisting you in applying for grants – WSB can work with you directly every step of the way to ensure your community obtains all the resources it needs.
Now is the time to make a big investment in your community, improve public spaces, and ensure you are doing it in an equitable manner that benefits traditionally underserved communities and people.
Bridget serves as the Sustainability Program Manager at WSB, helping propel sustainability projects and opportunities forward for our clients to reduce costs while meeting their community and stakeholder needs. She has led the Sustainability Growth Coalition at Environmental Initiative and served as chair of the St. Louis Park, MN Environment and Sustainability Commission, moving forward progress on climate and energy, while engaging community members and business leaders.
Eric has over 20 years experience with community planning, renewable energy, and sustainability projects. He has worked cooperatively with a number renewable energies developers to develop both solar and wind resources and is a past board member of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industrial Association (MnSEIA). He has a passion for sustainable and resilient practices to address the needs of communities and larger public.
In honor of WSB’s 27th year in business, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on our past and share a few thoughts.
In October 1995, the founders of WSB made the decision to form a new type of engineering firm. It is funny that 27 years seems like a long time ago, but also seems like just yesterday that we walked into our first office with a vision of what could be. Over the course of our journey, the number of staff, clients and partners that inspired, encouraged, and challenged us over the years are too many to mention. Throughout the almost three decades of WSB, we’ve learned, changed, adapted and advanced. This takes courage and conviction from so many.
I’m often looking forward, but on this day I reflect on the past. Today, we focus on the successes and joys and celebrate our anniversary as a company. Building strong relationships with our colleagues helps us get through the trying times and work through challenges to better serve our clients. I am grateful for our talented team at WSB who seize opportunities to advance ideas and help us lead the industry.
Together with our clients, we have the unique opportunity to shape the future. We’re grateful for the partners we’ve had throughout our tenure, both the clients we’ve had from the very beginning and the ones that are new to WSB. It’s through these partnerships that we’re able to work together to solve the infrastructure challenges of our communities. I believe that if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together!
On behalf of all of us at WSB, thank you for taking this journey with us over the last 27 years. We are incredibly proud and thankful.
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