ADR & Associates LTD.
It takes one to know one, as kids on the playground often cry. But for civil engineering firm, ADR & Associates, the phrase isn’t derisive and, in fact, it describes the firm’s relationship to general contractors.
Founders, civil engineering students and business partners, Doug Mill and Russ Krock, started the firm in Newark, Ohio, in 1997 after successful careers in construction. Mill and Krock, who had previously owned a construction company, decided to start ADR after feeling dissatisfied with the way engineering firms treated them.
“As a contractor, I would run across engineering firms who said ‘don’t question our designs, we’re engineers,’” Mill says. “But in a lot of cases, the contractors know a lot more about the project than the engineer does.”
Mill says that after years of looking at designs as a contractor, he and Krock decided to start drawing them and that their experience in both worlds now helps ADR communicate with contractors in a way that respects and makes use of their expertise.
Bridges in the air, bread on the table
This approach is especially helpful when ADR partners with contractors on design-build projects for Ohio, which are almost universally low-bid and competitive.
“We know what information [contractors] need to bid on a project, but we also know what parts of the project they grasp better than we do,” explained Mill.
If a highway reconstruction project involves repaving or rehabilitating a bridge, ADR will step in to specify the size of the steel beams and their prices. But in other cases, when paving a road, for example, he says ADR won’t presume to tell a contractor how many tons of asphalt they will need on site and how much it will cost to transport it, because contractors do that all the time.
On low-bid, design-build projects, this kind of teamwork is about more than not stepping on toes; without it, neither ADR nor the contractor gets paid, so Mill says ADR is helping the contractor present designs that will win the job.
Relationships as tricky as they are important
Though it relies on partnerships, ADR’s relationships with clients can get complicated because of the variety of projects it takes on. In addition to state jobs, Mill says the firm also does work for local county and city governments, and that on these projects, ADR is hired by the municipality to draw up designs before a bid is sent.
This means ADR isn’t working directly with one contractor to help them win a bid, but is instead drawing up a kind of guideline that many contractors will look at and follow when bidding on a job.
“It’s almost a 180 degree change in how you’re dealing with the client,” he says.
During design-build projects, the process is sped up because ADR can start collaborating from the get-go. Projects with local governments, by contrast, are of the design-bid-build variety and Mill says contractors don’t see the plans until later and must spend precious time getting familiar with it.
In smaller municipalities, ADR can help by acting as the construction manager, reviewing bids and managing the construction schedule.
Mill says this versatility in both projects and partnerships showcases ADR’s client-centric consulting. It sounds obvious, but standing by clients takes excellent communication, particularly when that client may be a city government during one project and then a general contractor trying to win a job from that same city the next time around.
During road rehabilitation projects, he says ADR must look out for the best interest of the contractor that hired them, but do so in a way that doesn’t require them to butt heads with the Ohio Department of Transportation, which is one of ADR’s frequent clients.
“We don’t do something for one client that will potentially upset another client,” Mill says.
In most cases, where two parties have a difference of opinion on a project, the solution lies in good ethics, engineering and communication. The ethics part is especially important and Mill says that in rare cases ADR has pulled out of projects in which it saw a conflict of interest brewing.
New competition, same strategy
ADR is celebrating its 20th year in business and Mill says it has gone through a few transformations in that time. In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, private investment projects in the form of subdivisions and commercial developments were popular. When that work slowed down, ADR started working with small government before also adding state-funded design-build projects.
Moving forward, Mill says ADR expects design-build to stay popular, but to get more and more competitive as contractors and firms get better at teaming up and as new companies come in to disrupt the market.
However, he says the competition hasn’t hurt ADR because it has focused on building good relationships and a solid reputation. Its work flow has flourished as a result and Mill says the firm has between 20 and 30 projects going on at any given time.
Some of them can be pretty satisfying too—recently the firm worked with a local contractor on a three span bridge in ADR’s hometown of Newark.
“That was a cool project because it was all local and everyone could step outside of the office and see it getting built,” Mill says.
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