Road Map for Success

As printed in The Memphis Business Journal | Author: Michael Sheffield

When it comes to the details and budgets in a construction project, an engineer is your best friend. When it comes to explaining those details, not so much.

Engineering, and the explanation of how it works, is where Powers Hill Design LLC has found its niche for the five years it has been in business.

Sensitive or time-consuming projects like the expansion of Canada Road or current infrastructure upgrades in the town of Arlington often require that specific details be provided to the community, such as where work will be done at a given time to explaining to residents why their two-lane highway must be widened to accommodate more traffic. In those often delicate situations, one misstep could derail a project. Those missteps, says Steve Hill, COO of Powers Hill, can often be avoided with simple communication.

“If you can educate people on what the issues are, they can reach rational decisions,” Hill says. “The problem is we never take the time to do that. You need to explain traffic volumes and how that will impact a two-lane road.”

That willingness to communicate has been a cornerstone of Powers Hill since it was founded in September 2005 by Hill and Nisha Powers, the company’s president. The two worked together at Barge, Waggoner, Sumner & Cannon Inc. and Powers decided after eight years she “wanted to be somewhere else.” She took a few months to decide what she wanted to do, but knew she didn’t want to leave the engineering field. What she realized there was a need for a boutique-style firm that could provide one-on-one attention to clients. Her friendship with Hill led to their partnership in the firm.

“It was something we both felt strongly about,” Powers says. “We had one client that said they would give us work on the first day, and they did.”

When Hill, who also served as city engineer for Arlington in his role with Barge Waggoner, told town officials he was leaving that firm, he was pleased when they decided to stick with him and the new Powers Hill firm. Since then, Powers Hill has worked on several projects for Arlington, including a $7 million project that involved the expansion of Airline Road, Milton-Wilson Road South and the installation of several new traffic lights. Ed Haley, superintendent for the town of Arlington, says between the quality of engineering and their communication with the local community, Powers Hill has all of its bases covered.

“They’re the finest small engineering company you can deal with,” Haley says. “They both have the credentials in engineering and they know how to deal with people on any issue. They’re really an outstanding pair.”

Powers Hill currently has four employees and revenue has held steady at close to $500,000 for the last two years. Powers says the firm’s small size is deliberate, as it gives them flexibility to make decisions quickly and give clients as much time as they need to ensure quality is maintained on projects.

“I joke with clients that I have to check with corporate when they ask a question, but we’re so nimble we can shift to what they need on a dime,” Powers says. “Who they see is who they work with on their projects.”

In some cases, the firm partners with larger firms on large projects to gain experience and create relationships not only with clients, but also those firms for potential future work. And those partnerships work both ways. Powers Hill recently received a two-year contract with the Tennessee Department of Transportation where it is the primary and a larger firm is providing support for them.

“We’re not always looking for someone to pull us up,” Powers says. “Sometimes we take the lead and that works out just as well for us.”

Powers says that while the firm is not immune to the woes of the U.S. economy, there has never been a drastic change in the way it does business or seeks out clients.

“Our clients are sharp people and they’d see through that,” she says. “We are who we are and that’s what brought us the relationships we have to begin with.”