I’ve been working with clients in the development and civil engineering industry long enough to know that choosing the right firm can be a difficult task for many companies and municipalities. There are so many factors to consider: relevant experience, costs, staff, reputation and much more. Of course, similar decisions must be made when hiring other types of A/E consultants, not just civil engineers, but for several reasons the choice can be quite complex when it comes to civil engineers. Why? Civil engineering projects can touch and overlap with many different sectors: transportation, water and wastewater, environment and sustainability, and so on. These projects often require extensive permitting, include a significant public engagement component, and involve groups ranging from homeowners associations to the Mayor’s office.
At first blush, it might seem like a given that achieving success is easiest when working with a local engineering firm. After all, a local firm would be most familiar with local infrastructure, the community’s needs and issues, and the agencies that are involved in a project. But often, there are compelling reasons to take a trusted civil engineering firm on the road with you for projects in new cities. There’s no hard-and-fast rule, so it’s important to evaluate the many criteria associated with each unique project before making a decision. Here are some things to consider:
Benefits of hiring a local civil engineer
Strong local relationships:
As mentioned, a familiarity with the agencies and organizations that play a role in project delivery is helpful. Typically, a local firm will have dealt with departments of transportation, permitting agencies and other groups whose buy-in is important. Those relationships can streamline the work flow and improve responsiveness.
Knowledge of the city:
Each city has its own goals, challenges and hot-button issues that can affect the success of a project. When a client is unfamiliar with these things, it can be advantageous to work with a consultant who is in the loop on such trends and nuances.
New ideas and perspectives:
It likely goes without saying, but engaging a new firm when you enter a new city for a project can introduce new ideas and perspectives. Any civil engineering firm should be working to stay on the cutting-edge of the industry, but the simple act of switching things up with a new firm can elevate project quality.
Benefits of bringing your civil engineer on the road
Bringing your trusted civil engineer on the road for a project in a new location has obvious benefits. Trust is integral to any successful client/consultant relationship, and when you have a solid history with a firm, you know you can count on them and you’re introducing less doubt and unknown variables into the situation.
Familiarity with program:
For clients with a program that spans multiple locations, taking a civil engineering firm on the road means you’re also taking their knowledge of your program on the road too. There’s no from-scratch learning about program goals and objectives, and it can be quicker and easier to make progress.
Make inroads efficiently:
If a civil engineer travels with you, they are likely to be adept at making efficient in-roads with local agencies and organizations. Without longstanding relationships to fall back on, the firm might be extra motivated to build connections with partners and get down to business.
Regional perspective and connections:
Where a local civil engineering firm might offer great insight into the city’s opportunities and challenges, a non-local firm can often offer a broader perspective. They may be able to compare the project to similar projects in other cities and provide advice based on successes and shortcomings experienced in other regions.
The goal is to make an informed decision, and to consider all of the factors that might influence a firm’s ability to get the job done regardless of whether they’re local or long-distance. The most important factor when selecting a civil engineering firm is trust, with relevant experience and effectiveness rounding out the Top Three. Each project is unique, and the qualifications a civil engineering firm brings to the table will be just as unique.