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Close-up: Steve Brinigar

URS Corp. achieves rapid growth in last four years

Steve Brinigar, vice president of the general engineering division at URS Corp., was once an oil man, originally from Connecticut. He is a civil and environmental engineer whose work in the oil industry brought him to California, first to Bakersfield and then to Long Beach.

He used to conduct geophysical surveys for Gearhart Industries, an oil field service firm that helped companies explore for oil. When the oil industry experienced a slowdown in the late '80s, he switched to construction and engineering.

"I joined URS in 1995, as a business development and water resources department manager," Brinigar said, explaining that back then, neither position required full-time hours, so he was able to combine both responsibilities.

Today he is responsible for the Pacific region and San Diego in particular, and has been managing the general engineering division and its 170 employees for four years. URS has two other divisions as well, in the areas of construction and technical services.

The company has been in San Diego since 1938 and was founded in 1904, with headquarters in San Francisco. Its 2007 revenues were $5.4 billion. It has a global presence, with offices in the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East.

Services provided by the general engineering division include remediation, regulatory compliance and site assessment. URS undertakes projects for the state and federal governments and private sector industries such as chemicals, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, mining, oil and gas and utilities.

"I am pretty proud of the success and growth we have had in the last four to five years. We've nearly tripled in size, up from 100 to 275 employees within the general engineering and construction divisions," Brinigar said.

He attributed this growth to several factors.

"We've done a good job of getting new clients and also more projects with existing clients," he said.

In San Diego, alternative energy permitting, oil and gas industry and government-related work all helped funnel growth.

When a power company or developer wants to build a power plant, it needs to get a certificate of environmental compatibility (CEC) permit. URS aids its clients in obtaining these permits.

"We also help identify the site for the power plant, do the preliminary design and evaluate the environmental impact of the plant," said Brinigar, explaining that Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE) and SDGE are among URS' clients.

For the oil and gas industry, URS offers services in the areas of obtaining permits, design and program management for fuel pipeline replacement projects, such as the one from Colton, Calif., to Las Vegas.

Projects for the Navy that helped propel the company's recent growth came in the form of environmental impact studies, remediation and cleanup of contaminated ground water.

"We do a lot of other work, like transportation projects for the state and local government. We do engineering designs for local roadways and highways," said Brinigar. Typically, URS works with the agency responsible for the roadway, such as CalTrans or SANDAG.

For such projects, it undertakes turnkey design, from planning to environmental studies, preliminary and final designs all the way to construction management.

"So we can do everything, from contemplating to the actual construction, sort of like a one-stop shop," he said.

Brinigar's division has more than 80 engineers as well as biologists, air quality experts, scientists and botanists.

His work entails managing the operation and working extensively with the city of San Diego, the Port of San Diego and CalTrans, the company's major clients.

"The biggest part of what I've done is with the government," he said.

URS has private sector environmental engineering consulting projects with clients such as Goodrich (NYSE: GR), which has been a customer for more than 20 years.

One reason why these clients use URS is that there is a lot of overlap and differences in the regulations and requirements between the different agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the regional Water Quality Control Board and the county of San Diego's Department of Health Services.

"We execute the projects under the guidelines of these agencies. We help negotiate between agencies, to see how far we'll go and how much remediation we'll do, what level of contaminants we will leave in the soil," Brinigar said.

Rather than resolve conflicts, URS determines which agency has precedence at a given site and negotiates the cleanup plan with that particular lead regulatory agency.

Cleanup plans include determining the extent of contamination that needs to be cleaned and the method that will be employed.

The company is very active locally in San Diego, participating in several trade associations including the American Public Works Association, the Society of American Military Engineers, the Women in Transportation seminar, the San Diego Port Tenants Association and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

With its hand in numerous government projects, the company is well positioned to ride out the recession.

Nagappan is a San Diego-based freelance business writer.

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