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Close-up: Karen Nowacki

Structural engineering firm boasts diversified services, long-term clients

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In today's economy, long-term success for structural engineering businesses requires not only sophisticated design knowledge, but a leadership team and staff as durable as precast concrete.

Structural Technology Consultants Inc. (STC), headed by owner and President Karen Nowacki, offers a full range of structural engineering services for clients such as the city of San Diego, McCarthy Construction, Union Bank and the U.S. Navy, to name a few. Projects range from commercial buildings, government facilities, hotels and parking structures to education facilities.

The firm sustains close client relationships by providing cost-effective, specialized design solutions.

"We have multiple long-term clients," Nowacki said, citing T.B. Penick & Sons Inc., Evans Enterprises and San Diego State University as examples. "And we want to keep those relationships."

Currently, the firm is in a design-build contract with JR Daley Construction Inc. on a multiuse facility in Linda Vista, near the University of San Diego. The Plaza Lindo Paseo Project will involve three to four floors of housing, street-level retail and two underground floors for parking.

STC recently completed a project for the Navy at the Point Loma submarine base as part of a design-build contract with local firms T.B. Penick & Sons Inc. and I.E. Pacific Inc. Construction required taking an existing three-story parking garage and adding an additional two floors of reinforced concrete parking levels to be used by military personnel.

Signature projects include the The Lodge at Torrey Pines, Kyocera Solar Grove, SDSU Imperial Valley Auditorium and the Naval Medical Center Balboa Parking Facility.

STC's specialty signage division works with architects, developers, graphic designers and sign manufacturing companies to engineer signs for a variety of clients. The Little Italy sign on India Street, the digital Universal City sign in Los Angeles and the Golden Nugget sign in downtown Las Vegas are all products of STC ingenuity.

"It's a great little niche because most of the engineer firms in the area don't like to do it because they're smaller projects but high volume," Nowacki said.

Many of STC's signage customers have been around since 1996, she said. And repeat business is the life of the company.

STC survived a recession at its inception in the early '90s. "We had three partners, and we had an economic downturn," Nowacki said. "We were able to work through the last 20 years. We anticipate to pull through (the current economy) and grow more."

While 2008 was a record-setting year for the company, 2009 has been a challenge.

"What we've done is we've concentrated a lot on marketing," said Vice President Chris Nowacki, Karen's husband. "We're concentrating on our clients."

"If we notice that a client who did a certain amount of volume last year is below that for any reason, we'll give them a call and see what's going on," he added.

"We monitor how their health is doing," he said. "We are on a first name basis with all the owners of the company."

As a management team, Karen handles marketing, Chris takes care of operations and finance, and Duane J. Gee, P.E., senior engineer, manages the technical aspects of STC.

"We try to stay educated on the latest technologies that are available," Gee said. "For a lot of the freeway signage, the technology has typically just used pipe structures, and we recently started to introduce tapered poles, which has provided somewhat of an environmental impact in the sense that we're using less steel and lower production costs with welding, etc.

"The reduction of steel has been kind of a key desire in the industry," he explained.

Reducing the amount of steel used provides a savings in weight as well as money, and has a more aesthetically pleasing look than some of the older structures, Gee added.

Gee also said the three executives integrate their individual expertise in joint efforts.

"The combining of the three different brains seems to be a very beneficial way for us to not just get isolated in our own little roles, but really have to work together to focus all of our thought to move forward to a successful solution," he said.

In an effort to stretch the firm's reach, Gee has recently been licensed for work in Utah and Texas. STC is already licensed to provide engineering in 17 states.

STC recently hired another engineer who had previously worked for the company.

Though in the midst of a difficult economy, STC is poised to grow. "Like a lot of companies, we are seeing what the future brings. Business will pick up," Chris said.

"Our clients are in a position to grow over the next year or two, and we would be in the position to hire more engineers and get a larger space to accommodate the volume of work we have," he said.

STC also benefits from being a woman-owned small business when it comes to bidding on federal and military projects.

"A lot of them (government contracts) are set aside for small businesses or woman-owned businesses, so it just gives you a little extra edge," Karen said.

According to Chris, the company has always aggressively solicited partners and clients, and continues to do so.

Its persistence has paid off.

"We're looking forward to celebrating our 20th anniversary next year come January," Karen said.

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