Case Studies

Nowak & Fraus Engineers

Civil engineering and land surveying services for public and private clients

Harold Nowak and Jim Fraus founded Nowak & Fraus Engineers (NFE) in 1969 as an engineering and land surveying business (formerly known as Urban Engineering Services). For 45 years, the company has served the interests of private clients and public entities, offering diverse consultation services for a broad range of applications.

Nowak and Fraus have both since retired. Rob Lavoie, P.E., current president of NFE, has worked with the business for 23 years. Before coming to work at NFE, Lavoie held several jobs as a civil engineer in the public sector.

Lavoie is joined by five vice presidents: Jeff Huhta, P.E., P.S.; Tim Germain, P.E.; Chad Findley, P.E., P.S.; Al Bayer, P.E.; and Mike Peterson, P.E., whom serve on the firm’s management committee.

“We are civil engineers, land surveyors and land planners,” Lavoie details. “We serve as city engineers for seven different communities in southeast Michigan, where our headquarters is. Our work for the state of Michigan, cities, townships and villages comprises approximately 40 percent of the work load and the other 60 percent is primarily with developers and land owners for residential, commercial, industrial or institutional property improvements and developments.”

Lavoie explains that within the public sector, NFE is best known for arterial highway, street and utility designs. “In the private sector our work is principally site planning together with the development of construction documents typically comprised of paving and grading plans, utility plans, storm drainage management plans, landscape plans and soil erosion control plans,” he elaborates. “We have the ability to form up to 10 land surveying crews to do our land surveys required in order to design the improvements and site plans. A good portion of our business is associated with preparing land title surveys associated with land refinancing and transactions.”

A skilled team

NFE employs 65 people, including licensed engineers, licensed surveyors, licensed landscape architects and certified wetland scientists. Working together, the diverse team is able to fill the needs of a broad market.

The company’s portfolio includes banks, hospitals, hotels, senior facilities, industrial facilities, public water and sewer projects, streetscape and roadway projects funded and administered through the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget, where substantial work in state parks, recreational facilities and civic complexes round out the portfolio.

NFE is currently working for the state, providing the Department of Technology, Management and Budget designs for facilities improvements at 12 state parks throughout Michigan.

“We have been involved in several state parks that are being improved, whether it’s for designing and locating walking trails, utilities within the parks and campgrounds or providing designs for wells and water supplies to the parks,” says Huhta, who is the principal in charge of state park work. “Of particular note is the work we are doing at the state of Michigan Capital Complex. NFE is the prime consultant in completing a master plan for landscaping and site improvements, including: site survey, ADA compliance report, pedestrian circulation analysis, vehicular circulation analysis, landscape evaluation, user survey, way finding signage study, parking analysis and pavement management evaluation. It is a very comprehensive approach to solving landscaping, drainage, maintenance and public interaction concerns within the capital complex.”

“In the private sector, our work includes construction layout of all site improvements, including the building, parking areas, drainage, utilities and access roads for private site development,” Lavoie adds. “In the public sector our work includes construction layout of highway, bridges, utility and other public works projects.”

The team has done a considerable amount of work for General Motors at the corporation’s powertrain engineering headquarters in Pontiac, Mich. Recent work there has included substantial infrastructure improvements for stormwater management and utility separation.

“We have also been part of a design team with another engineering firm that is developing improvements for AMTRAK rail stations throughout the country,” Lavoie continues. “We have been performing land surveying in advance of site design work in 15 states and 80 different stations for this project.”

Over the last seven years, the land survey department and office technicians have been busy with large road bond improvement projects in the cities of Madison Heights and Huntington Woods, Mich., which will provide the engineering and design groundwork for residential and major road improvements throughout the city.

Building partnerships

NFE has established strong relationships over the years that have helped the company develop and maintain stability. Repeat business is the team’s primary gauge of success in the private and public sectors.

“We insist that our staff be responsive and timely to our client’s needs and keep them fully informed as to the project development and costs,” Lavoie explains. “If a client repeatedly engages us for their projects they must be pleased with how previous projects worked out, and that is a good sign that they recognize our commitment to the success of their projects.”

According to Lavoie, many local and state agencies choose to work with NFE again and again. “These entities have come to rely on, and expect, a high level of service, strong communication and excellent quality deliverables,” he says proudly.

While the company performs most work in-house, NFE has established lasting relationships with several strategic partners that allow the team to boost capabilities for larger and more complex projects. “In some specialty areas, which we choose to not staff, we’ll use a subconsultant,” Lavoie explains. “With electrical design or other types of specialized material testing, we want our client to have the best available and knowledgeable consultant and for that reason we will subconsult that out to a firm specializing in that service. The type of electronic surveying equipment we use is represented by certain vendors with whom we have very strong relationships with and we count on their assistance in servicing the equipment to keep it in top notch condition for reliability purposes.”

These partnerships and relationships with clients, suppliers and subconsultants have helped NFE maintain value, keeping customers throughout the recession without compromising services. “We did not have the massive layoffs experienced by many of our competitive firms in the area,” Lavoie says. “We used the downturn to improve our skill sets. Things have gotten a lot better in our industry over the last couple of years. We have seen annual growth of as much as 25 percent, compared to our numbers in 2008 through 2012.”

Looking ahead, Lavoie expects the construction industry to make a full recovery. The coming years have a projected growth rate of 20 percent for NFE. The firm has no set plans for any major expansion. Instead, NFE will continue to perform the same high-quality work that clients have come to expect. Lavoie takes great pride in his team, citing low turnover and provisions in ownership that keep the team constantly intact and improving. Nowak & Fraus Engineers remains committed to safe, high-quality work as the firm looks ahead to new opportunities throughout the recovery.

Published on: March 19, 2015

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