Over the past 25 years, BHC RHODES has built a reputation in Kansas City for its civil engineering, surveying, utilities and telecommunications work. But what most don’t realize is that its portfolio of services also represent the firm’s evolution through years as it weathered the ups and downs of the economy.
We sat down with BHC RHODES President Kevin Honomichl to learn how the firm’s leadership -- which includes partners Bill Brungardt and Matt Brungardt -- has remained responsive and adaptive in the face of a rapidly changing world.
The firm initially focused on telecommunications work, which was plentiful in the 90s dot-com era, as the rise in e-commerce drove long-haul fiber optic projects across the country. But in the late 90s, the firm’s leaders sensed the impending bust and knew their telecom work would be severely impacted.
They were right. The dot-com bust changed the economy quickly and drastically. Luckily, the firm's leaders were prepared. Feeling drawn back to its leadership’s roots in civil engineering, the firm incorporated that service into its repertoire. It would soon pay off, as the early 2000s brought a run-up in commercial real estate development across the country, and public works projects abounded.
This pivot didn’t just keep the firm alive -- it was thriving. The firm played heavily in retail, some office, and a few subdivision projects. In fact, work was so plentiful that two short years later, development services split from public works and became its own separate group.
“Those four service areas are now well-established,” Honomichl said. “What we’ve seen is that they tend to behave differently in changing economic conditions.”
Development continued to thrive until 2008, when the recession hit, severely impacting development and public works projects. But shortly thereafter, an inventive new technology would be introduced to the masses that would forever change the telecommunications game: the iPhone.
“The iPhone drove consumers’ appetite for bandwidth, both wired and wireless,” Honomichl explained. “In conjunction with the consumer demand for data and internet connectivity, along with stimulus projects focused on bringing broadband to under-served and rural areas, we were able to rejuvenate our roots and engage our telecommunications work, for which we have 15 years worth of credibility.”
Around the same time, Google announced its fiber-to-the-home community in Kansas City. The firm saw an opportunity, and soon became engaged in that work as well.
Today, it’s clear that BHC RHODES’ range of services have allowed it to thrive, no matter the economic conditions. And while the firm celebrates its 25th year in 2017, its leadership knows the importance of staying ahead of the curve, and preparing to respond to the market, pivoting when necessary.
In 2014, the firm moved its headquarters into a new Overland Park office in the Darth Vader building, where its collaborative environment reinforces its team approach to problem solving. It also serves as space for community and employee activities, professional organization meetings, project open houses, and a wide range of other events. The space provides the flexibility to expand, and recently, the firm added another 7,000 square feet on the third floor.
Another recent expansion happened in 2016 when the firm reconstructed an old Apple Market grocery store In Kansas City, Kan. into new professional office space.
“The neatest part is that this is now the second vacant building that -- because of our occupancy -- has been renovated into professional office space in downtown KCK,” Honomichl said. “We’re leaving a trail of very leasable space behind us. As current chairman of the Wyandotte County Economic Development Council, I hope to see is momentum built upon what we’re doing, paving the way for other development and business activity in downtown KCK.”
CHALLENGES + OPPORTUNITIES
The firm’s biggest challenge is finding talent.
“The labor market has gotten very tight, particularly in engineering,” Honomichl said. “Part of the problem is due to the fact that it’s a good market and people are busy. The other part is the residual effect of the recession. People who graduated from 2008 to 2010 probably didn’t land engineering jobs because companies weren’t hiring. So today, we’re looking for that 4- to 10-year experienced engineer that can come on board and be immediately productive, but that four- to ten-year gap is the recession, and that’s where the problem lies. There’s no magic way to solve that.”
However, Honomichl is optimistic for a number of reasons. He believes the real estate market still has a few good years left in the current cycle. He also sees plenty of opportunity in technology, both with fiber and wireless initiatives, especially as it relates to Smart Cities. He hopes to see more municipalities begin experimenting with smart “areas” first, deploying technology to bring greater efficiency to public roads, parking, snow removal, traffic flow, and even public safety.
“We’re excited about the interplay between public infrastructure and telecommunications activity in the smart city space,” he said. “That’s an area that’s really beginning to grow and an area people don’t have their arms around at all.”
But he’s careful to remain cautious and stay on top of the latest trends as he leads his company into the future.
Honomichl believes that a firm's leadership is a great indicator of success, and that a leader’s greatest strength is his ability to listen.
“We’ve been able to bring a lot of talented people on board, but we have to be careful as leaders to realize that they’ve got great ideas as well,” he said, reminiscing on the plethora of ideas he had 25 years ago, when he co-founded the firm. “We need to identify these ideas, capture them, support them, and encourage them.”
THE NEXT 25 YEARS
BHC RHODES operates on a few basic philosophies, Honomichl said. The first is that the firm will be growth oriented.
“It doesn't mean we’re always going to grow but we’re always going to be looking for opportunities,” he said. “We’re always going to be conscious of what’s happening around us so we can adapt and change. Rather than achieving set goals as an end game, we operate on a philosophy of continuous improvement. We’ll improve our processes and continue to enhance our talent; We’ll continue to be adaptive and responsive; We’ll continue to operate with energy and optimism.”