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Jersey’s Finest: Schoor Depalma, Engineering Quality

By P, Shankar

How do you build a company that speeds ahead while much of Corporate America is mired in a slow-motion economy? Ask Stephen DePalma, CEO of Manalapan’s Schoor DePalma, the state’s largest engineering and design consulting firm. its revenue grew from $50.5 million in 2000 to $66.4 million last year.

“All of our growth has come from our people doing a good job,” DePalma says. “And with positive word of mouth, our clients come back year after’ year. ” Indeed, 90% of Schoor DePalma’s 2001 revenues came from existing clients, with new customers accounting for the remaining 10%. “It’s a lot easier to sell a satisfied client another service than to go out and grow new clients,” says Anthony Cimino, the firm’s senior executive vice president.

Schoor DePalma has 13 offices in three states, including nine offices in New Jersey, three in Pennsylvania and one in Armonk, New York, where the company acquired engineering firm JWE Engineering last May. The company’s workforce has grown from some 400 workers in 1999 to about 600. DePalma aims to operate throughout the mid-Atlantic region and to push revenue to $115 million within several years.

Schoor DePalma has grown its order book to some $46 million worth of projects. That’s up 38% from last year. While nearly half the company’s work is for public agencies, DePalma plans to steadily increase the share of privatesector contracts.

Founded by Howard Schoor as Schoor Engineering in 1968, the company began life with $2,000 in startup capital. That was just enough to launch the firm in an era in which the economy was enjoying good growth. DePalma, a long-time company employee who was Schoor’s hand-picked successor, became CEO in 1992.

Schoor, who currently holds the title of chairman emeritus, pioneered employee stock ownership in 1984 by cutting his stake in the company to 25% and offering the rest to employees. Today, every Schoor DePalma worker owns a piece of the company through an employee stock plan that accounts for 22% of the engineering firm’s total shares. Schoor himself retains a 5% interest and the remaining 73% of the stock is in the hands of Schoor DePalma’s 60 principals.

DePalma, 52, views the company as more than simply a provider of design and engineering services. He says Schoor DePalma seeks to improve the quality of life in the communities its projects serve. That goal infuses the five-year growth plan, called “Vision 2005,” that the company launched in 2000. In it, projects located on so-called brownfield sites – former industrial locations rife with pollutants – are to becompletely cleaned up and freed from any stigma of contamination.

One such project is in Deptford in Gloucester County, where Schoor DePalma is working on a 100-acre former strip mine site called the Sharpies Pit Redevelopment Project. Plans call for a total of 16 outdoor soccer fields, an outdoor stadium and an indoor practice facility at the site, where more than 500 tons of contaminated soil have already been carted off. In Long Branch, Schoor DePalma transformed the site of a former natural gas plant to Jerry Morgan Memorial Park, which opened last March.

In Somerset County, Schoor DePalma has been working with county officials to develop plans for a former public works garage in Bound Brook that was severely damaged by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Schoor DePalma is making an environmental assessment of the site, which once housed an automotive manufacturing company.

Carl Block, the 19-year mayor of Stafford in Ocean county, has worked with Schoor DePalma throughout his tenure. The company is currently engaged in water and engineering work for the municipality. “I knock on wood, I haven’t had a problem when they do the work,” says Block. He is most impressed with the firm’s ability to meet time and cost targets and to handle unforeseen circumstances with aplomb. For a company that takes pride in upgrading the quality of life for its clients, such flexibility is essential.

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