Headquarters moving to former Nokia site; will reduce commutes

[caption id="attachment_26695" align="alignright" width="432" caption="Tomales Bay site of restoration projects"][/caption]

SANTA ROSA -- After 30 years in the same location, consulting engineering firm Winzler & Kelly plans to relocate and expand its corporate offices early next year.

Demand for environmental restoration, federal public works – including ports and harbors – energy efficiency and contract municipal engineering has been keeping the company moving through a time when a number of engineering firms locally and nationwide have been consolidating because of a slowdown in certain construction sectors, according to Iver Skavdal, P.E., president and chief executive officer.

"We're working in the built environment, and it has been impacted significantly, especially with housing projects," he said. "Fortunately, Winzler & Kelly was not heavily into residential real estate."

Started in 1951 in Eureka, the firm specializes in designing complex urban redevelopment projects, which need to keep water and traffic flowing during construction, and public infrastructure such as ports, harbors and municipal facilities such as the $40 million West College Avenue plant for the city of Santa Rosa.

"Even in this economy, there is a lot of import-export business," Mr. Skavdal said.

Winzler & Kelly expanded to Santa Rosa in 1978, San Francisco in 1980 then to U.S. military bases in Guam and Saipan in the mid- to late 1980s. Today the firm has more than 300 employees in 12 offices. The acquisition of engineering firm Norris-Repke late last year allowed Winzler & Kelly to more effectively expand into general engineering in Orange County, according to the company.

The Santa Rosa office has expanded from 15 people in 3,000 square feet to about 100 employees in five Santa Rosa Business Park buildings, three of which are connected.

A search for a new location focused on southwest Santa Rosa as the closest to the geographic center of where employees live and able to reduce average commutes by 24,000 miles a year for the 100 employees. The location was also near the bike trail connecting Sebastopol and Santa Rosa.

"One of the goals was to minimize the commute," said managing principal Alex Culick, P.E.

Around the beginning of the year, the headquarters office will relocate to a 24,000-square-foot office in the former Nokia building at 2235 Mercury Way in southwest Santa Rosa's Northpoint Corporate Center.

As part of making the new office more efficient, the company plans to move its in-house dataservers to virtual servers hosted by telecommunications services provider Sonic.net, which is based nearby in Northpoint.

"File sizes are getting so large, we can't have enough storage with the workstation model," Mr. Skavdal said. "We're going back to the days of the 'dumb' terminal."

Environmental engineering and restoration is a small but growing segment of the firm's business, according to Tony Williams, principal engineer in the federal markets group of the firm. Projects include wetlands and stream restorations, including reworking culverts and dams to allow protected fish to migrate.

Two large recent such projects are the restoration of coastal wetlands on 550 acres of former Giacomini family dairy pasture near Tomales Bay and at nine locations in the estuary where Drakes Estero connected to that bay.

The two-phase $2 million Drakes Estero project involved removing an earthen dam, replacing a culvert with a bridge and installing a pedestrian crossing.

The $10 million Giacomini project was completed over three years ending in September of this year. The project won several awards, including one from the Secretary of the Interior. Significant work was completed last year, and this year thousands of migratory birds have been noted to have alighted on the restored area.

In the public works arena, Winzler & Kelly's longtime presence in the South Pacific has put the company in a prime position to plan for the needed highway, port, electrical and housing infrastructure to accommodate 20,000 Marines and their families relocating from Okinawa in Japan to Guam by 2012.

Another market is contract municipal services, both for "peak smoothing" to allow government staff to accommodate project applications during busy periods and for taking on staff functions during budgetary cutbacks.

A new venture for the firm is construction management with the newly formed company WKF Constructors. The first two projects could be groundwater and soil remediation for a former dry cleaning plant in Southern California and a waste treatment and disposal project.

Jeffrey Wilmore, Gil Saydah and Shawn Johnson of Keegan & Coppin brokered Winzler & Kelly's lease deal.

For more information, call 707-523-1010 or visit www.w-and-k.com.