Schoor DePalma engineers record of growth

Philadelphia Business Journal – by Pati Nash Special To The Business Journal

Careful planning and careful expansion have helped engineering design and environmental services firm Schoor DePalma Inc. to grow 65 percent between 1999 and last year.

No wonder Schoor DePalma is hoping to keep it up.

The Manalapan-based firm — which has a significant presence in Voorhees — was founded in 1968 by civil engineer Howard Schoor, who now serves as a consultant. Day-to-day planning, as well as marketing, finances, mergers and acquisitions are handled by CEO Steve DePalma, who joined the firm in 1972 after a mutual acquaintance suggested they meet.

DePalma said one of the reasons he was attracted to the company was Schoor’s belief in rewarding good people. And that’s more than management paying lip service to the empowerment movement. Twenty percent of the company is owned by the employee retirement plan, with management holding the rest.

Judging the firm’s client list, there’s a good deal of wealth creation going on at Schoor.

Some of the major projects overseen by the firm in recent years includes the construction of Exit 13A of the New Jersey Turnpike into the New Jersey Garden Mall, Admiral Wilson Boulevard, the Connell Corporate Center IV in Berekely Heights, and clean-up of old manufacturing plants for utility companies.

It also serves as engineers of record for more than 60 communities in New Jersey and 15 in Pennsylvania, handling everything from writing a waterfront redevelopment plan for West Deptford Township, reviewing downtown beautification projects, drainage problems to sidewalks.

“We have a lot of large jobs,” said DePalma. “But we also do lots of smaller projects that provide a little better quality of life for people in the communities we serve.”

The firm helps developers prepare the massive environmental impact statements needed to build many projects, with internal departments specializing in environmental work and clean-up, land development, transportation and traffic engineering, water and waste water, parks and recreational planning, among others.

The staff of 600 in 13 offices in New Jersey and Pennsylvania includes geologists, biologists, geohydrologists, engineers and scientists. “An environmental impact statement is more than words on paper,” said DePalma. “A lot of analysis goes on. Regulations governing the environment have gotten very challenging.”

DePalma, naturally, believes multi-layered regulations can drive up the costs of a projects — for everyone. “I think there has been a lot of redundancy over the years, at the local, county and state level,” he said. “Ultimately, the consumer pays for that redundancy in the cost of their house or rents at a shopping center.”

He doesn’t see regulations becoming more lax anytime soon. “The pendulum may slow down,” he said. “But it really doesn’t swing back.”

To help a developer navigate through the approval process with numerous regulatory agencies on all levels of government, Schoor DePalma has brought in numerous experts.

“We have people who understand the policies, who help to make submissions to agencies,” said DePalma. “When new regulations are being written, we very often get calls from regulators asking what we think.”

Bob Kelly, county engineer for the Public Works Department in the county of Camden, likes the work he sees being done by Schoor DePalma.

“They are an innovative, growing company whose people know the lay of the land,” Kelly said. “They have developed a core of quality technical people they can call on at a moment’s notice. And that makes them better adaptable for their clients needs.”

That has been a very deliberate part of the company’s rapid growth, said DePalma, figuring which experts they need to compete for projects and bringing the people on board.

Of the firm’s employees, about 450 are technical experts in their fields.

Growth aside, DePalma said the firm tries to maintain a smaller firm atmosphere. “We operate a lot like we did when we were a small firm of 30 to 35 people, except now we have lots of departments with 30 to 35 people,” he said. “We communicate a lot and try to keep people in the know, let them know what is going on.”

He looks to continue growth at a pace of about 15 percent each year, a goal the firm has exceeded since 1994. The company, which grossed $40.5 million in 1999 and had reached $66.7 million by 2001, placed 22nd on the Business Journal’s annual list of the fastest-growing private companies in South Jersey.

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