Engineers hope to ride infrastructure spending to expansion

By Troy Brynelson, Columbian staff writer



Burns & McDonnell

Architecture, engineering and construction firm

20 employees

312 S.E. Stonemill Drive, Building A, Suite 145

Engineering firm Burns & McDonnell cut the ribbon on a new downtown Vancouver office Tuesday night and hopes to position itself for an upcoming expansion.

The Missouri-based firm’s Vancouver office has 20 employees today, but that could double in the next five years thanks to a rise in demand for electrical infrastructure in the rapidly growing Pacific Northwest, company representatives said.

“The number we’re throwing out is, we hope to double our workforce over the next five years, and I’ll tell you: That’s conservative,” said Mark Lichtwardt, senior vice president and regional manager.

A full-service firm that handles architecture, engineering and construction, Burns & McDonnell deals mostly in the transmission and distribution of electricity, including projects like substations. It counts Portland General Electric, the Port of Portland and the Bonneville Power Administration among its top clients.

Lichtwardt declined to name any specific projects they hope to land.

“We don’t just do infrastructure projects, but that is one of the big drivers in the area,” Lichtwardt said.

Burns & McDonnell, with 5,700 employees nationwide, first opened in Vancouver in 2011 with one employee. It grew to 10 employees by 2014, after what Lichtwardt called “pretty steady growth.” The local office plans to take on projects outside of the Vancouver-Portland metropolitan area as it continues to grow.

“I think what we’ve found is that if you can jump in a car and drive somewhere in three or four hours, usually it’s a good fit,” he said. “At least for now, we’re trying to cover everything out of this office. If we need to open an additional office, we’ll do that as we grow.”

Still, the company will have to find able bodies. Many of the Vancouver employees were transfers, and Lichtwardt said there seems to be a nationwide shortage of engineering students.

“That’s probably one of our bigger challenges,” he said.