The 2013 Best Firms To Work For award recognizes A/E/P and environmental consulting firms for their superior achievements in workplace practices, employee benefits, employee retention rates and much more.

The award is given in five categories: architecture, structural engineering, civil engineering, environmental, and multidiscipline.

Since the Best Firms To Work For list began in 2001, hundreds of outstanding design firms have been recognized for this achievement and have benefited from the positive exposure. Being on the Best Firm To Work For list brings feedback, inspiration and recognition. Best Firms attract the best employees and the best clients, inspiring loyalty from both. This year’s winners were announced at the Best Firms To Work For Conference, which took place June 20 and 21 in Chicago.

Best Firms – Structural Engineering
Best firms know the easiest way to be great is to have great people. Winners of this year’s Best Structural Engineering Firms To Work For set themselves apart from their peers through superior leadership and the careful creation of an environment that allowed every individual to reach their full potential. The top firms on the Best Structural Engineering Firms To Work For ranking showed an exceptional dedication to giving their employees the tools needed for not only success, but excellence!

The participants
Eighteen firms participated in the 2013 Best Structural Engineering Firms To Work For ranking. These firms had a range of sizes and geographical locations.

The process
For a more detailed description of the application and grading process, go to

2013 Best Firm to Work For–Structural Engineering
Place Winners Employees HQ
1 Barrish Pelham & Associates, Inc. 14 Sacramento, CA
2 ARW Engineers 22 Ogden, UT
3 Huckabee 88 Fort Worth, TX
4 Douglas Wood Associates, Inc. 14 Miami, FL
5 Hinman Consulting Engineers, Inc. 26 San Francisco, CA
6 Structura, Inc. 11 Rockville, MD
7 Ehlert/Bryan, Inc. 34 McLean, VA
8 Bracken Engineering, Inc. 33 Tampa, FL
9 Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc. 453 Waltham, MA
10 Mulhern & Kulp Structural Engineering Inc. 30 Ambler, PA
11 Baldridge & Associates Structural Engineering, Inc. (BASE) 24 Honolulu, HI
12 Reaveley Engineers + Associates, Inc. 31 Salt Lake City, UT


First place: Barrish Pelham & Associates, Inc. in Sacramento, Calif., 14 employees,

Barrish Pelham & Associates has 14 full-time employees, with 2012 being a hallmark year for the firm.

Last year, BPA really started to experience the effects of economic recovery, leading to many changes and improvements in all aspects of the operation.

"The owners and managers of BPA have always kept the goal of restoring the staff’s benefits to the level they had before the downturn. I’m happy and proud to say, 2012 saw the start of the realization of that goal. We put time and resources into formalizing project management tools to ensure BPA’s upward climb. We made sure our staff knew exactly where the company was going and what their individual roles were while keeping the family, casual, and fun atmosphere that has always made BPA a great place to work," says Steve Pelham, president.

Among the top changes and improvements this past year were a formalized chief operating officer position and refined business goals. The firm also shifted some responsibility from the president to managers. The firm diversified ownership and increased profitability of work under contracts with new clients. Other technological changes led to improvements in connectivity such as the use of collaborative meeting technology (Skype, GoToMeeting, Dropbox, etc.), and selected staff members were provided with tablets and smartphones with unlimited texting and Internet capabilities to ensure greater communication and telecommuting abilities.

The renewed optimism was celebrated in other ways as well. For example, the firm brought back a successful summer intern program that has historically led to staff being promoted to principal roles.

Employees are encouraged and rewarded for speaking up regarding concerns at BPA. According to the contest entry, not only does staff bring concerns to the management, they also bring solutions.

"As managers, it is our duty to listen and act on those concerns," the entry says.

Second place: ARW Engineers, Ogden, Utah, 22 employees,

ARW Engineers specializes in the design and analysis of new structures, structural/seismic investigations, and evaluation/upgrades of existing structures, including commercial, office buildings, industrial/process facilities, educational and institutional facilities. The firm has 22 full-time employees.

At ARW Engineers the wellbeing of employees and their families is the highest priority. As the needs of the company and its employees change, ARW evolves.

"Our leaders encourage new ideas and adopt policies that promote our core values and strengthen ARW as a team," says Brent White, president.

When asked to describe ARW, most employees use terms like "close-knit" and "family-like atmosphere."

"We celebrate each other’s achievements and work together to overcome obstacles. We have a flexible work environment, which allows employees to attend to personal issues while maintaining project schedules," says White, adding that the firm’s employee-first philosophy helps maintain low employee turnover.

"We have developed an attitude that the company that plays together, stays together. Each year, our company sponsors monthly barbeques, a spring activity, the family summer get-together, and the Christmas party for employees and their spouses… ARW succeeds because of the hard work of our employees and the support of their families, and we take this opportunity to express our thanks for their dedication," White says.

Giving back to the community is a vital part of the firm’s philosophy. ARW has a committee dedicated to organizing company-sponsored social and charitable events throughout the year. Last year, the firm chose to donate to the Salvation Army’s "Angel Tree" program. Staff members have also traveled to Japan and Haiti, donating nearly 250 hours of time to help teams in their post-earthquake assessments.

ARW is a corporate sponsor of "Project Lead the Way," a non-profit educational program that provides a ground-level education for middle and high school students interested in the fields of science and engineering, and also a long-time supporter of Utah State University’s "Engineering State" program.

"At ARW, we honor our past and we value our present as we prepare for the future. That is why WE are the best firm to work for," White says.

ARW made a number of improvements in 2012, including the adoption of a new employee evaluation process.

"Management and staff members came together during two separate meetings and brainstormed for new ideas on how to increase the value of these evaluations. The new procedure is our version of a 360-degree review. This enables every employee to receive feedback on their performance from a variety of employees around the office. The reviewers have the opportunity to comment on a variety of activities and job duties that might not otherwise be addressed," says Jen Salvesen, office manager.

Other improvements include the creation of an online library. This library allows technical staff access to essential documents from any location with Internet access and eliminates the wasteful practice of keeping several copies of the same manual. The firm also redesigned the company website to create an inviting feel. Staff photos were taken in a casual setting and bios were rewritten to give clients a personal introduction to staff members.

"We are highlighting projects, recognizing staff achievements, and giving helpful design tips to our clients through social media (Facebook)," Salvesen says.

Third place: Huckabee is a client-focused, team-oriented, compassionate and philanthropic, 70-person firm. The firm is committed to improvement and providing a quality environment for its employees.

"Each year the leadership team has a retreat to review the year and employee survey, plus the prior year’s corporate goals. Following this retreat, Huckabee holds a ‘State of Huckabee’ meeting for all employees. At this meeting CEO Chris Huckabee shares the strategic business goals for the year and each group’s role in contributing to the success of Huckabee for the coming year," entry materials say.

To recognize employees for excellent achievement, the firm gives out the Huckabee Achievement Award, an annual award nominated by peers and winner chosen by the CEO. The winner of this award receives $1,000.00.

According to the corporate survey portion of the entry, "Huckabee should be honored among the Best Firms To Work For because Huckabee is committed to the benefit, wellbeing and growth of its employees. Not only does the firm provide great benefits, corporate sponsored events and professional development opportunities, but it also provides unique ways to motivate and grow its employees, both professionally and personally."

Employees are given the opportunity to contribute their ideas to make the company a better place to work through a group called ACE (Achieving Company Excellence). This group is comprised of seven firm-elected employees that meet regularly to discuss the company and how they can make it a better workplace for the employees, their families, clients and their communities. This year the group started the "ACE Race," a team challenge with the employees to build the team atmosphere, increase knowledge and give back to the community.

Additionally, the company is committed to community outreach and service. Huckabee has a community outreach committee made up of employees that coordinates volunteer events for staff and has written a corporate policy that allows employees to participate in activities without having to use vacation or sick time. Huckabee also has an impressive summer internship program and a community excellence fund.

A number of improvements and changes were instituted last year, including the expansion and recognition of a wellness program. The firm added a new form of communication with a CEO fireside chat. As the company grew in 2012, these meetings were able to address questions, offer information and help the employees embrace the firm’s growth. The firm also decided to expand to a new Dallas office.

Huckabee has an internal community called Gung Ho, with the primary role of employee recruitment and retention. In 2012, Gung Ho implemented a program called "Random Acts of Gung Ho," where each month there would be a surprise gift or activity for employees.

For other improvements in 2012, the corporate survey states, "The Huckabee coaching program added some new coaches and restructured the existing program to invest in Huckabee. The basis of the new coaching program is to create a performance-focused, feedback-rich organization capable of sustaining a competitive advantage."

Best Firms – Architecture
Good firms know the easiest way to be great is to have great people. Winners of this year’s annual Best Architecture Firms To Work For were set apart from their peers through superior leadership and the careful creation of an environment that allowed every individual access to their full potential. The top firms on the Best Architecture Firms To Work For ranking showed an exceptional dedication to giving their employees the tools needed for not only success, but excellence!

The participants
Sixteen firms participated in the 2013 Best Architecture Firms To Work For ranking. These firms had a range of size and geographical locations.

The process
For a more detailed description of the application and grading process, go to

2013 Best Firm to Work For–Architecture
Place Winners Employees HQ
1 Davis Bews Design Group, Inc. 20 Oldsmar, FL
2 Huckabee 88 Fort Worth, TX
3 English + Associates Architects 16 Houston, TX
4 Randall-Paulson Architects, Inc. 23 Roswell, GA
5 M.C. Harry & Associates, Inc. 27 Miami, FL
6 FreemanWhite, Inc. 108 Charlotte, NC
7 Walcott Adams Verneuille Architects 13 Fairhope, AL
8 OPN Architects, Inc. 83 Cedar Rapids, IA
9 FRCH Design Worldwide 218 Cincinnati, OH
10 Lionakis 178 Sacramento, CA
11 Sillman Wright Architects 11 San Diego, CA
12 KSQ Architects 69 Tulsa, OK


First place: Davis Bews Design Group, Inc., Oldsmar, Fla., 20 employees

This 20-person firm embodies a spirit of teamwork, making it truly a Best Firm To Work For. The firm states they are personally committed to establishing a genuine partnership with their clients through exciting design, exceptional drawings, and service that exceeds expectations and contributes to their success.

The mission and core values of the firm include excellence, honesty, respect, communication, loyalty, trustworthiness, integrity, sincerity, commitment and teamwork.

Elaborating on these values, firm leaders state a dedication to honesty, valuing others’ thoughts and ideas, and "we will always be positive when talking about another team member."

"We will inform each other on the status of our projects. We will be open to all ideas and give our undivided attention when discussing these ideas. Loyalty: We will be loyal to our firm and try to help us grow together. Trustworthiness: We will all have confidence in one another and know that we can rely on each other. Integrity: We will all make mistakes… good or bad ones, we will know the difference and always let someone know when either has been made. Sincerity: We will always be ourselves and always be true to our own personalities. Commitment: We will do whatever it takes to get the job done on time. Teamwork: We will assist one another when needed and have a positive attitude when doing so," entry materials say.

The firm has an anonymous suggestion box, staff retreats, face-to-face meetings with executives for all staff, an open-door policy, and reviews employees’ individual development plans quarterly to incorporate their ideas into the firm.

Yearly, all employees attend a strategic planning retreat to create one-year, five-year, 10-year and beyond goals. Employees not only attend the SPR, but are encouraged to participate in setting and achieving those goals.

"We have a unique culture that is inspiring, motivating and fun for our employees. Our culture enables all employees to work as a team on the same playing field. This allows us to grow professionally and share the benefits of all that we do," says Michele Whalen, strategic assistant.

In 2012, the firm instituted a number of improvements and changes.

"We improved the definition of our goals to make them more achievable, we’ve incorporated ArchiOffice software to help us with back office systems, we’ve hired more support staff to assist with the back office systems; we are incorporating strategic coach tools to help further implement our goals; we’ve started using to help us organize our tools and goals," says John Wagner, partner.

Second place: Huckabee and Associates, Fort Worth, Texas, 70 employees, (see Best Structural Engineering Firms To Work For section).

Third place: English + Associates Architects, Houston, 16 full-time employees,

English + Associates Architects is located in a historic church converted to office space and has 16 full-time employees. The building is nearly 100 years old, with several unique features for the benefit of the employees. In addition to its location in a designated historic neighborhood in the shadows of downtown Houston, the office is also committed to sustainability on all levels. The parking lot features a 14,000-gallon rain tank that captures rain water to irrigate many native plants, including organic fruits, vegetables and herbs that are all available to employees.

English + Associates not only talks the talk, but walks the walk when it comes to sustainability.

"We compost coffee grounds and food scraps, we have a catering protocol that requests that all food brought in be locally sourced. We have a no Styrofoam policy in place. We do not utilize paper plates or disposable cups or tableware," says Jennifer Duron, office manager. Over 85 percent of the firm’s staff is LEED-accredited and the firm offers a bonus of $500 to anyone that passes the exam. Additionally, the firm pays for annual membership fees to U.S. Green Building Council for every employee and encourages participation in "green" events.

"We participate in the Houston Green Office Challenge on a yearly basis. We sponsored an Earth Day event for our employees and clients. We also held an e-cycling event for our employees and clients to recycle old electronics. We collected over 4,000 pounds this year," Duron says.

This multifaceted company prides itself as being comprised of diverse individuals who all work together well.

"Although we are a hard-working, driven company, we know how to have fun! We are continuously having after-hours Happy Hour events, social activities such as bowling and movie nights, champagne celebrations, and an occasional snow cone party!," Duron says.

The company ensures communication by continuously having open-forum weekly and monthly meetings to discuss any internal or external issues and semi-annual reviews with each employee.

Going above and beyond, the firm also held a personality assessment workshop to "color code" everyone’s personality.

"We encourage education and ethics in our employees, clients and subconsultants. Every employee is given the opportunity to advance within the firm and their success here is measured by only how far they push themselves (with a little encouragement from the firm)," Duron says.

Christina M. Zweig is a contributing editor. She can be contacted at