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Engineering A Solution to Do Well By Doing Good

IEC's Nilson Goes recently sat down with Burns & McDonnell's Laron Evans & Andy Jarvis and KDM Engineering's Kimberly Moore for conversation with Public Utilities Fortnightly (PUF) to discuss how strategic partnerships and a commitment to diversity maximize opportunities for all in the electrical utility market.

The electrical utility market is defined by an intersection of dynamics which to some, present as a stark, if not insurmountable challenge, while to others - a great opportunity to do well while doing good.

Specifically, these dynamics include:

  • A significant forecasted increase in our dependence and use of our electrical grid as we move away from fossil fuels across various aspects of our lives from heating to transportation

  • A stressed and dated electrical grid in need of re-design and replacement to better meet the current and future needs of those it serves

  • The need to for professional design (engineering) services to meet the demands of new projects that are necessary to support our current and future grid demands.

  • High barrier of entry in the design market. Utilities demand experienced, professional, and qualified design professionals to meet the needs of their grids. This requires a significant investment of resources and challenge of needing experience to earn business vs. having business to earn experience.

  • Call for Diverse business participation in meeting the needs of a grid that serves diverse communities. There is an equity case that is hard to ignore; customers of electricity typically don't have a choice as to where they purchase their electricity from and rightfully want to see their communities represented in serving them. There is also a sound business case in the investment of diverse businesses for the strengthening of supply chains, community development, and overall improved performance through diverse perspectives.

  • Underrepresentation of Small & Diverse businesses in this market. Due to the high barrier of entry in a sophisticated market, small businesses are grossly underrepresented in this space. Diverse businesses are even more so underrepresented.

The strategic partnerships made to find and harvest opportunity in these dynamics are what set companies like IEC and Burns & McDonell aside from others. A unique partnership addresses many of these (aforementioned) dynamics in manner that provides community centric solutions that not only effectively meet the needs of clients and their customers - but do so in a manner that is true to the spirit of why we are having these conversations.

This discussion was featured in PUF's June 2022 publication in Fortnightly. Read more about it here:

Maximizing Opportunities for Diverse Subcontractors and Suppliers

Tapping Diverse Connections Andy Jarvis et al. Fortnightly Magazine - June 2022 While Burns & McDonnell has quite a history of working with diverse suppliers, it is enhancing such efforts. It just held its first Tapping Diverse Connections event, hosted by the Transmission & Distribution Group. Tapping Diverse Connections aimed to further diverse supplier networking and elevate strategic sourcing opportunities by providing networking opportunities for more than twenty diverse suppliers from across the country. The goal is to provide maximum practical opportunities for diverse businesses to participate as subcontractors and suppliers for goods and services that support Burns & McDonnell clients and projects. With alliances in place with Infinite Energy Construction and KDM Engineering, to help them grow their businesses, PUF wanted to know more about this intriguing collaboration. Herein is a conversation with a group who participated in that first Tapping Diverse Connections Event. Enjoy the discussion. PUF's Steve Mitnick: Tell us about this event recently that was called Tapping Diverse Connections. What was the point of the event and how was it?

Ron Evans: The objective was to bring together diverse-owned businesses that have supported our

T&D group, our T&D projects in the past, as well as companies that have been developing strong relationships with us recently.

Andy Jarvis: It allows us to perform additional work that maybe we couldn’t do, just because we might not have the resources available. We’re actively hiring but there’s substantial competition to hire qualified people. Leveraging our diverse businesses helps us overcome some of these challenges.We named it Tapping Diverse Connections because it was a play on an autotransformer that automatically taps different connections based on the load in a system. We are proactively striving to tap the diverse alliances we have within this space, so we can develop and/or expand our relationships.

PUF: Andy, why is something like this event and these kinds of initiatives important to Burns & McDonnell?

Andy Jarvis: It's important that we have good, open communication with all our diverse suppliers, and this event drove that. A lot of great conversation took place. We are a much better organization when we leverage our diverse partnerships. It makes us be able to meet our customers' or our clients' needs much better. It makes us better as a member of our community. It helps us to leverage the diverse partnerships and make those connections at our leadership level.

What I thought was fantastic was some of our diverse partners were also talking about ways they could work together. I got to meet Nilson and Kimberly here, and a lot of other business owners who are just as passionate about their business as we are.

PUF: Kimberly, tell us about what your company does and what you did at the event.

Kimberly Moore: KDM Engineering offers electrical engineering design for distribution, telecommunications, and now, some substation, based off of our alliance. It was important to see the type of uplift in the background that Burns & McDonnell does for diverse firms that shine a light on us. A lot of the times, it may seem like we are competing. But to have times like these where we can showcase our businesses, show that we do work with each other and it's not always a competition, and to have another firm highlight us, it makes for a great event. Kimberly Moore: We believe in diversity of thought. We participate in a lot of internal R&D, internal discussion, just to be able to bring a different perspective to the table, to see how we can be on the more innovative side of the industry.

PUF: Nilson, talk about what your company does and how you participated in this.

Nilson Goes: IEC, our most recent division, is IEC engineering. We offer engineering services specifically in the substation realm for investor-owned utility clients.

We have over a twenty-year history of working with Burns & McDonnell as electrical contractors on design, design assist, and construction projects throughout the U.S., now having entered into an alliance with our engineering group, which is our most recent business development. That's a special story for our company because we get to enter a new market because of that alliance.

PUF: Ron and Andy, what do you do to get minority-owned businesses involved in projects?

Ron Evans: It's not one approach to identifying companies that support our projects. I can tell you a few of the ways we've geared or given guidelines for our T&D group to engage with diverse-owned business. Number one is looking within our database. We have a database that captures all companies we work with over the years. That's one way we're using tools and data analytics internally to identify companies and do outreach. Another way is similar to the event we held. We regularly attend events like that, hosted by utility clients or industry organizations. That's an effective avenue to identifying companies to seek out. If we're not at an event or a conference, then it's the relationships we have in the industry that have made recommendations. We'll do our diligence to contact them, vet them, and onboard them to our system.

Andy Jarvis: It's intentionality by making it a priority from leadership down to project teams that work with our diverse businesses. We also promoted Ron Evans to be our diverse business director. We're building a structure around Ron that will enable him to better support our project teams, business lines, and regional offices. We want to create the tools that allow Ron to be successful, be a key leader in diverse business engagement, and reinforce the importance of making this a priority. Ron's been proactive and intentional in his efforts and we're nowhere near the end. We're just starting to see some good traction, but it's about intentionality ultimately.

PUF: Kimberly, how's business, what are the growth opportunities, and also some of the challenges?

Kimberly Moore: Business is positive. A lot of work is happening and that is on the radars of all of these utilities right now. We're happy to be at the table to provide engineering services.

There are a lot of growth opportunities for us. Without this alliance, we would not have been able to enter the substation realm. It's a long, expensive process to garner clients to take a chance on you, when you're hiring one by one, it's unheard of. We're not only building that group, but the partnership with Burns & McDonnell is providing the work for that group to remain billable to the client, as well as develop future work. No one company can handle all of the business. So, we have alliances like these and with Nilson. We just met, but I can tell we're going to be running into each other and maybe collaborating, because it's just that much work going on right now. The partnerships are important.

PUF: Nilson, how's business? How does the future look for your company?

Nilson Goes: It's good. To say you're busy is not necessarily something that sets you apart. It's, are you busy doing the right things or are you moving in a direction you should be moving strategically? That's what excites me about this alliance with Burns & McDonnell and entrance into this market. This market has a high barrier of entry, not dissimilar to starting a car company or an airline company. Without this relationship we're building, it is difficult to enter in a financially solvent way. This isn't something that started recently, as I've been working with them for some twenty years and they have invested in bringing in Tuck School of Business professors to provide business training for their diverse contractors. They fly people in from all over the country to do that in Kansas City. What we're seeing now is an evolution in how we look at diverse businesses and at competition. I don't view Kimberly as competition. I view her as somebody I can collaborate with. By pulling us together, we've already prequalified each other. There's more work than we can possibly handle. It's a market that's forecasted to grow. Our grid is stressed. We're going to need more resources put in place, more things designed, and built.

PUF: The utilities and all ultimate customers, how do they work with you on the subject of increasing diversity of the utility spend and who's building the infrastructure of tomorrow?

Ron Evans: We support one another by asking one another to come along, to meet a certain business, vet a business or support each other's events. We make sure we're building mutual connections and identifying project opportunities to include diverse-owned businesses. By continuing to communicate and support one another with these opportunities, we also stay abreast of how companies are growing or planning to grow their businesses. With that growth, we can explore future opportunities and how we prepare for them today.

PUF: Andy, you talked to utility execs across the country. What's your sense of what they're looking for and their interest in diversifying the utility spend?

Andy Jarvis: They're looking for companies like Burns & McDonnell to do what we've been doing, and that's expand and grow our small and diverse supplier and consultant pool. We're a big company. We have a lot of resources, and abilities to reach out and create programs like we've done. Nearly all our clients, and all our offices, these are things we are expected to do and conversations they're having with us. It's becoming the norm. It's the business practice now. It allows us to perform additional work that maybe we couldn't do, just because we might not have the resources available. We're actively hiring but there's substantial competition to hire qualified people. Leveraging our diverse businesses helps us overcome some of these challenges. We can leverage our partnerships and execute work that maybe otherwise we wouldn't be able to do. It's beneficial for everybody. It's proven that it works for us, and we're going to continue to do it.

PUF: Burns & McDonnell has a focus on innovation of technologies and ways of working. Talk about how this fits together with innovation and working with more companies.

Ron Evans: Our employee ownership culture is the foundation of why we focus so much on innovation. I apply it to the work I lead currently and am able to look at the traditional ways we've done things, traditional partners or execution models. I'm able to say, let's challenge our ways, and if necessary, let's break them and change.

Andy Jarvis: They go hand in hand. We look for innovative ways to bring our diverse partners into our projects. It can be a different contracting model, delivery model, or market that we're trying to pursue. We can bring a diverse partner with expertise in that market that we can leverage. That entrepreneurial culture we have is something we apply to our projects, partnerships, and suppliers.

Ron Evans: When you talk about innovation, there's a lot of opportunity and a lot we've been focusing on around our tools, and data analytics. Measuring the work we do in this space, including the work with diversely-owned businesses, there are opportunities to innovate when it comes to metrics. What are we going to measure and how will we analyze the data? What tools will we use to analyze the data in a way that measures our performance, but also helps drive future goals and success?

PUF: Kimberly and Nilson, what do your companies bring to the table in terms of innovation for this industry, the utilities, and the country?

Kimberly Moore: It's the entrepreneurial spirit. We believe in diversity of thought. We participate in a lot of internal R&D, internal discussion, just to be able to bring a different perspective to the table, to see how we can be on the more innovative side of the industry.

Nilson Goes: From our different divisions of being electrical contractors, as well as now design engineers too, we try to leverage those two competencies to create value and provide that to our IOU clients. Having that relationship with Burns & McDonnell allows us to add a type of momentum to that.

We create and provide value because we are accustomed to building things. As we design things for clients, we have the perspective of what it's going to be like for those people who are going to be putting it in place. We tell a story that it's going to be a better design in the sense of, how you maintain it, all those things from affordability, and however they define value.

Our company's mission is we take any client's mission and make it our own. That's the best way for us to understand, what makes them tick, their problems, issues, and how we can position ourselves to solve them. That's proven to be a good recipe for success.

Ron Evans: The great thing about our relationships is we partner beyond projects. I'll give you one example. I'm the President of the American Association of Blacks in Energy — AABE.

Every year I reach out to Kimberly and Nilson for their support for scholarships for inner-city school kids. I know Nilson is a part of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Kansas City and that's another area where we collaborate. Kimberly has a nonprofit.

Kimberly Moore: I started Calculated Genius in 2017. The focus is to provide summer programming for high school kids in Chicago. It's to provide scholarships to women going into an engineering field, and mentorship to anyone going into college who may be first generation. We've given out about eighty thousand dollars the past couple of years in scholarships. We've had about one hundred kids in our summer programs. We look forward to increasing those numbers and making more of an impact. Nilson Goes: I'm on the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. We've been long-time members and I've served on the board there. Reaching out to diverse businesses is not innovative. It's a business necessity. It's beyond trying to vet them and fill out some contract or qualification form. The story is in the investments. It's from doing innovative things in regard to helping educate through business protocols, business school, and the Tapping Diverse Connections event. If you can think of another design firm that's doing those types of things, let me know because I'm not aware of it, and I think I would be. That's where some examples of that innovation lie. Those things are important for our communities. Our values are congruent. It just makes the way we work together so much easier because we speak the same language.


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