How do you build an engineering and environmental powerhouse? For Fehr Graham, you begin by assembling an excellent staff in Rockford and in the firm’s nine other offices in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
Fehr Graham has been in business since 1973 when Allen Fehr and Joseph Graham opened an office in Freeport. Twenty years later, the firm opened the Rockford office on Daimler Road in southeast Rockford. In 2013, the firm moved its Rockford office to the second floor of the Prairie Street Brewhouse along the Rock River downtown. The unique location gives young staff plenty of opportunities for entertainment and social interaction at the Brewhouse and at other nearby establishments. A handful of employees live downtown and walk to work.
The company pursues exciting, important engineering and environmental projects, which challenges and motivates staff. Fehr Graham serves as an important engineering and environmental resource in the northern Illinois area by delivering solutions to development and community infrastructure-related projects.
For Fehr Graham, success builds on success.
Mick Gronewold, one of the firm’s five owners, said Fehr Graham needs to attract the brightest engineers coming out of the area’s universities.
“We decided to promote internships to college freshmen and sophomores, giving them real-world experience to go along with the classroom education they are receiving in college,” Mick said. “We develop relationships with the students as much as we develop business relationships.”
He said the interns work on meaningful projects and contribute to solutions and designs. They interact with other professionals in the office, and they get an opportunity to work with clients.
“This takes the interns into the real fun of seeing a project sold, designed and completed, whether commercial or municipal,” Mick said. “The interns get a feel for consulting engineering work. This connects their academic work to real practical applications.”
Joel Zirkle, an owner and manager of the firm’s Rockford office, said working with interns in their first two years of college allows Fehr Graham staff to give constructive advice on courses they need to enhance their technical education.
“We suggest communication, speech and business courses,” Joel said. “This gives students the soft skills with the technical expertise to work with clients and coworkers. They should be able to communicate easily and clearly. They also need to understand the financial implications. Designs need to be technically and financially feasible.”
By creating meaningful opportunities and significant interactions with staff and clients, Fehr Graham attracts its share of highly qualified college graduates. The revitalization of downtown Rockford has helped.
“There are a lot of things going on in our office neighborhood,” Joel said. “This gives us a great advantage in competing with employers in Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison.”
Another plus for prospective employees is that Fehr Graham has been involved early on many of the community’s largest developmental projects.
“Oftentimes we start working even before the project is being publicly discussed,” Mick said. “We get our young people integrally involved in some professionally exciting work.”
Some of those exciting projects are:
- Barber-Colman campus revitalization in downtown Rockford.
- Landscape architecture design for Woodward’s Rock Cut campus in Loves Park.
- Javon Bea Hospital-Riverside off Interstate 90 and Riverside Boulevard in Rockford.
- Sanitary sewer extension from the village of Winnebago to Rock River Reclamation District.
- Amerock building transformation into the Hilton Embassy Suites and Rockford Conference Center in downtown Rockford.
- Rockford Public Library environmental remediation and rebuild in downtown Rockford.
- City of Rockford Water Department Capital Improvement Program.
These projects are certainly transformational and give interns a good taste of what type of work they could be doing with Fehr Graham after they graduate. It’s a win-win. The students are prepared for the real world, and Fehr Graham gets to know the young people before many of them come to work for the firm full time.
Do you know someone who might be a good fit for an internship at Fehr Graham? Send an email of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org. Summer interns are typically chosen by mid-January.
By John A. Crone, RAEDC correspondent