Employee-owned firm creates blueprint for sustained success
From small updates to large-scale projects, commercial or residential, Meier Architecture – Engineering has designed a wide range of structures across the Tri-Cities and beyond.
In business since 1982, and recently celebrating its 40th year, the company has grown from a small engineering firm to a full-service host of professional engineers and registered architects licensed in 35 states and offering services in a variety of disciplines, including civil, structural, electrical and mechanical engineering.
“I call us generalists,” said Paul Giever, president of Meier, and an employee for 32 years. “We do whatever the community needs. We’ve never really specialized in any particular area. To me, that’s the fun part. Because there, you get the variety. You’re not always doing hospitals or fire stations.”
But the firm also will do plenty of hospitals and fire stations. It has a wide portfolio of nearly 9,000 projects over the last four decades, including schools, courthouses, wineries, churches, restaurants, hangars, factories, warehouses, office buildings, homes and more.
Meier is behind many of the buildings the public might use or drive by, including Pasco’s newest Burger King, the Port of Kennewick’s wine tasting building, Pasco School District’s Chiawana High School, and the Support, Advocacy and Research Center in Richland.
The company also consults on many projects much of the public may not see, covering design work for the federal government on the Hanford site, a regular income stream that helps balance economic downturns.
The firm started with Terry Meier, a former Hanford worker who opened his own shop specializing in civil and structural engineering, with the rest of the disciplines coming later.
The structural piece isn’t always offered by all engineering firms.
“It’s a little bit of a specialty,” Giever said. “Structural engineers are required on what they call ‘significant structures,’ which include projects like education or fire and police stations as well as tall structures.”
“Whether it’s pre-engineered buildings supporting some industrial function or high-end residences out on the Snake River, it all starts with clients having this dream and desire,” said Thomas Kastner, architecture group manager and a six-year Meier employee. “Our job is to take their dreams and turn them into reality. And in doing so, we make their dreams our dreams as well. We’re all magicians.”
Head magician and founder Terry Meier retired from the employee-owned company in 2010, but the firm retained his name and the reputation he’d built.
Many of the current 40 employees have been with the company for more than a decade, with some for more than 30 years. Meier is proud it didn’t lay anyone off during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We just have that philosophy of keeping people. We want to give living wage jobs, and we don’t do the staff augmentation thing,” Giever said.
“We understand our employees are our most important resource,” added Bobbi Keen, who has worked at Meier for eight years and is its controller/operations manager.
Keen said she most enjoys working the small projects that are completed in a couple months versus the ones that can take years to come to fruition. She typically handles a few plans at a time, while Meier’s project managers might juggle more than 20 long-term projects.
“Because we’re a full-service firm offering the full engineering complements, along with architecture, someone’s going to be very busy while other people can kind of go up and down,” Giever said. “We like to say we hire for the long term and not for a specific job or project.”
While many people drive by the buildings Meier designs, the company gets less drive-by traffic after it relocated from corner lots on West Gage and West Grandridge boulevards in 2016 to a historic building in downtown Kennewick purchased from the Kennewick Irrigation District.
Meier had done the design work for the building at 12 W. Kennewick Ave. in 2003 and was familiar with the property.
“Now we get to avoid mall traffic and it’s a bonus we revitalized downtown and brought a whole bunch of people down here,” Giever said. “We’re all eating downtown and working with the Historic Downtown Kennewick Partnership and getting their Avenue Square up and running and some of our employees volunteer for the group also.”
The company has a variety of staff who serve on boards for nonprofits and Meier sponsors a yearly United Way drive as part of its community contributions.
As a collaborative profession, Meier staff are mostly all based out of the downtown Kennewick location while fulfilling demands for clients typically in Washington and Oregon, but also throughout the U.S.
The company once supported international clients but is currently only working domestically. Its portfolio might ebb and flow with the economy, or if a large school bond passes, Meier may be hired to work on structural improvements to retrofit schools.
Seismic, telework, federal projects
State-funded seismic updates have brought new work, and Covid relief federal dollars were used to support virtual courtrooms.
“That project had to be done, designed and built within six months,” Keen said. “We provided the design and the construction support.” An increase in telemedicine also created more of those smaller projects within the health care industry.
“You’d think people don’t think about building in the middle of winter, but commercial and industrial folks do,” Giever said. “Since we do a mix of federal work and commercial work, in a downturn, the federal spigot doesn’t turn off nearly as fast. That helps the whole community, and it helps us as well.”
Meier recently designed an “overbuild” to encapsulate a former nuclear reactor on the Hanford site along with writing reports on the condition of historic buildings located there, including a former pump house and the old high school.
The overbuild was a notable project that included the full gamut of services: architectural, structural, electrical, civil and mechanical engineering.
“Those federal contracts are maintained or rehabbed, and so you have projects within them, but it’s basically all the same services that we are continually providing, and that’s part of that strategy. It’s not real sexy and it doesn’t necessarily bring in the big dollars, but it’s there as a foundation for what we do,” said Anthony Cockbain, a Meier employee for 22-years and its director of projects.
After four decades in business, Meier has cultivated a high amount of repeat business in diverse fields, including areas outside of the Tri-Cities, where other firms might typically compete.
“In Wenatchee, we have a couple mechanical engineering clients we’ve worked with and really like us, and they’ve brought us in on a big project with all disciplines,” Keen said.
“We keep our eyes open in a fairly broad way, looking at what’s advertised and are sensitive to what’s in the market we’re in,” added Cockbain.
The firm “feels very comfortable” with current standards for construction, known as building code, and this allows it to consult on such a wide range of projects while also supporting current trends like sustainable materials.
Meier was one of the first firms in the region to use computer-aided drafting, and early designers once taught at Columbia Basin College.
“We kind of grew up with this technology, so it’s baked into our DNA,” Cockbain said.
A few drafting tables still remain at the firm, and they’re still in use.
“Your brain is far more powerful than pretty much any computer you can think about. It doesn’t do computations quite as fast, but it can imagine; it can do all kinds of things,” Kastner said. “And it could very quickly look at problems and say, ‘No, that doesn’t work, I need to move this over here,’ and you can do that easily with a pencil and paper.
“From there, you can bring it into the electronic world, and they’ll say, ‘What about this? Let’s move that one.’ You get into a kind of a give and take, and the structural engineers get involved and say, ‘You forgot to put in a column grid.’ And the electrical people are always saying something; the mechanical people never have enough room. But it all works out. It’s a complicated dance and our people are very good at dancing.”
Meier Architecture – Engineering: 12 W. Kennewick Ave., Kennewick; 509-735-1589; meierinc.com.