Even before the recession struck in 2008 and 2009, management at Bowman Consulting Group knew the firm needed to diversify. Based in Chantilly, Va., near Washington D.C., Bowman had largely depended on residential work to propel revenues to a peak of $38.4 million in 2006. When the economy went south, the firm’s gross revenues dropped to a low of $24.6 million in 2009. That year the firm had 163 employees; but it was already working toward a plan put in place several years earlier, in 2004. “The residential market was grinding to a slow stop,” says Mike Bruen, PE, chief operating officer. “We knew we needed to do more public sector work, including federal military base projects, and more retail projects. And we began to do more energy work. We started a geothermal energy group in 2005. We have a culture that allows us to go into another geographic market, open an office and do business.”
By 2011, the firm had 10 offices dotted around Virginia, two offices in Maryland, and one each in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Arizona. It had also opened an office in Pittsburgh to capitalize on the growth in the Marcellus Shale natural gas projects that are opening up in Pennsylvania. Most importantly, its strategy was working: By the end of the year, the company had 300 employees, and revenues were on pace to exceed the firm’s 2006 record.
Established in 1995, Bowman lists its primary services as civil engineering, land surveying, land planning, landscape architecture, environmental work, geothermal, transportation and construction management. The firm also handles water and wastewater design, traffic planning and engineering, and dry utility engineering. Land surveying provides between 20 and 30 percent of the firm’s revenues.
In 2009, Bowman reorganized the firm’s survey operations. Prior to that time, the firm had branches, with each branch offering different services, including surveying. “So we said, let’s organize our surveying around surveyors and put a surveyor in charge of it,” Bruen says. “Many engineering firms think of surveying as a small part of the project and organize their firms that way,” says Bruen. “Instead, we said surveying is 25 percent of our business, so let’s bring surveyors to the head table and make it central to our strategy.”
In September 2011, Bowman acquired the business and assets of DEI Professional Services LLC, a full-service civil engineering and surveying firm based in Phoenix led by DEI principal Jason R. Kack, LS. Along with Kack, 15 former DEI people have joined Bowman. Their positions range from instrument man to land surveying manager. “We saw DEI as a talent pool that fits in with our culture, service-wise and market-wise. We had bought Vantage Resources, which was based in Phoenix, so DEI and Vantage helped us expand geographically,” Bruen says.
The firm also recently formed a group called Bowman Development Advisors. “As land development work declined, developers laid off staff,” says Jeff Blair, PE, a principal. “We hired two men, Andrew Vinisky and Rick Lanham, as employees. They know a lot about projects that were dropped for various reasons, and some of those have now begun to move forward. And some developers want to outsource their development management work to Bowman.”
Not long ago the firm completed surveying and engineering work on 20 miles of storm and sanitary sewer lines at Fort Myer, a U.S. Army base close to the Pentagon. “Their storm and sanitary sewer lines were 100 years old,” Bruen says. “We mapped all of the sewer lines, performed closed circuit TV inspection, documented the condition of the lines, ran an engineering analysis for capacity, and recommended changes.”
Technology has been a crucial part of Bowman’s growth strategy. The firm was an early adopter of GIS, and it often uses software to gain a competitive advantage.
One of the firm’s recent major survey projects was a boundary survey of 25,000 acres in Pasquotank and Perquimans Counties in North Carolina. The survey was conducted to the standards of an ALTA land title survey for Iberdrola Renewables, an international energy company that is developing a wind turbine farm on the land. The land is the former Great Dismal Swamp; it was drained and converted to farmland. Several owners hold large parcels of a few thousand acres each, and the boundaries often ran down the center of a drainage ditch. “We spent seven days in the field to set primary control and working control for surveying,” says Charles Walls Jr., LS, director of survey and a member of the board of directors. “That includes collecting all of the GPS data for those points.” Crews used Topcon GR3 receivers and FC 2500 data collectors to handle the field work.
In-house GIS support at Bowman provided draft parcel maps with the initial boundary of the lease areas. “GIS information provided two kinds of data,” says Pandeli Stoja, PhD, a GPS specialist at Bowman. “First, it gave us the name of the owner and the status of whether or not we had permission to work on his land. And after seven days we had our shape file from in-house research. Instead of uploading coordinates we could upload a shape file with the Topcon FC 2500 data collector. The more data we collected, the more we were able to refine the overall shape files.”
A certain density of points was needed to support aerial mapping, construction of the wind turbines and the use of local RTK base stations. With no cell phone coverage over the wind farm, crews used Topcon GR3 receivers with internal UHF radios for communication. Stoja says he could cover the entire wind farm site with two base stations, by moving one from one end to the other.
Instead of using the North Carolina State Plane Coordinate System for localization, Stoja designed his own method--one he believes is more accurate--for localization of large parcels. The general idea is that if the 25,000 acres had to be divided into smaller parcels and localized with the State Plane Coordinate System, the errors would compound across the 10 km by 9 km span of the Desert Wind Farm. By contrast, Stoja used Topcon Tools software to build a low-distortion cartographic projection for the entire wind farm site. The Earth’s surface is projected on an ellipsoid in shape, and the average ground elevation of the ellipsoid can be calculated by using its radius. “We add this average ellipsoid elevation to the Earth-centered radius related to the centroid point of the project to calculate the combined scale factor for all sides,” Stoja says. “Using the combined scale factor you get the correct ground distance from the low-distortion cartographic projection.
“This method is accurate, fast and simple,” Stoja says. “We want to give them a solid map. We can achieve accuracy of better than 1:50,000 using this method with the low-distortion cartographic projection. You can create one file and export the file to Topcon’s TopSurv software.”
Bowman has also used technology to gain a foothold in the BIM market. When Crystal City, Va., began redeveloping a city block, Bowman was hired by a publicly held real estate investment trust (REIT) to complete an ALTA survey and BIM of the site. The site is approximately 850 feet by 550 feet and includes five mid-rise buildings. Bowman first surveyed the site with Topcon GR3 receivers and located the site relative to the NGS control system. Next, a survey crew used a Topcon Series 9000 robotic total station to check the quality of the GPS work and to densify work in control. “Then we used a Topcon 101C digital level to get better elevation on our control,” Stoja says.
The client sought to demolish one 10-story building and a portion of a three-level underground garage. A new building will adjoin the remaining old parking structure. “We were required to submit an engineering site plan for the redevelopment of the site,” says Michael Pfaff, HD laser scanning specialist with Bowman. “Part of our package is the certified survey plat.”
To complete the BIM, Pfaff and Stoja used a Topcon GLS 1500 laser scanner to scan the exteriors of the five buildings, the three levels of underground parking and surrounding buildings. The team scanned the parking garage at night, when no cars were parked in the garage. The crew scanned tie-in points and identified clean breaks from which to rebuild, ensuring the accuracy of structural foundations so that floors would match when rebuilt.
“We had 63 control points per floor of the underground parking structure,” says Pfaff. “Once we completed a night of scanning, we downloaded that information into Topcon ScanMaster for processing. We processed the work and registered it.
“At that point we can check the quality of the data,” Pfaff continues. “We look at the point clouds in succession, looking for vertical or horizontal irregularities. We used the robotic total station to take some shots of specific building elements like interior corners so that we could look at the point clouds in relation to the survey points. We expected to achieve accuracy of a half-inch from one end of the site to the other. There was 850,000 square feet of garage space.”
In addition to ScanMaster software, Bowman uses kubit software for extracting architectural and mechanical-electrical-plumbing data. Scanned data is exported to IMAGINiT Technologies' Scan-to-BIM software. Bowman uses Autodesk Revit as the basis for the BIM model.
Although technology is important, Bruen says the keys to success for Bowman are its culture and diversity of services. The firm’s cultural values include:
- Growth, both personally and as a firm
- Responsible freedom: Hold people accountable yet give them the freedom to make mistakes
- An emphasis on results over process
- Relationships: Work together to achieve common goals; assign credit to others
- Entrepreneurial spirit: Own your career and professional growth; be creative, innovative, and passionate; have a rational tolerance for risk
“Our firm is a great place to work simply because we are surrounded by outstanding colleagues whose personal values are consistent with our cultural values,” says the firm’s vision statement. “We work collaboratively as a team to delight our clients and to realize our vision.”
For more information about Bowman Consulting Group, visit www.bowmanconsulting.com. Additional details about Topcon equipment and software can be found at www.topconpositioning.com