Stiffler McGraw still growing

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Stiffler McGraw’s business has grown and changed during its 25 years, but in one way it has remained the same.

When Dave Stiffler and the late Steve McGraw launched the business in December 1989, its bread and butter was water and sewer systems design work.

“Today our bread and butter is still water and sewer design work,” said Tim Cooper, company president. “We get the job done from conception to final construction and keep projects within their budget. We also help our clients find funding for their projects.”

Cooper, who previously worked for The EADS Group, became the company’s first full-time hire in February 1990.

Stiffler McGraw immediately began to focus on engineering work for local municipalities and authorities.

“We now have over 100 municipal authorities and municipalities, boroughs and townships on retainer,” Cooper said. “Some of them are longtime clients such as Williamsburg, Bedford and Hollidaysburg boroughs. Allegheny Township is a long-time client.”

Williamsburg Borough was one of Stiffler McGraw’s first clients.

“Dave oversaw our first sewer upgrade in 1988, and it is still working today. Now we are building a new sewer plant,” said Edgar Patterson, chairman of the Williamsburg Municipal Authority and a member of borough council.

“The work they do is very detailed engineering work, and they are able to relate it to the laymen who are their customers,” Patterson said. “They have a great relationship with us; they are not in an ivory tower. We couldn’t function without a hands-on engineering firm like they are. If we have a problem, they have the solution.”

The BCI Municipal Authority is another longtime client.

“I have worked with them since they were in gestation. They’ve done very good work for us,” said Chairman Paul Winslow. “We’ve been very happy with them.”

Stiffler, who served as company president until 2000 and now works part time, continues to serve as engineer for three of the firm’s original clients – Hollidaysburg Borough, Hollidaysburg Water Authority and Allegheny Township Water and Sewer Authority.

The company has grown slowly but steadily, adding a surveying division in 1992. The land development part of the business started to grow in the mid-1990s. A transportation division was added in 2000, and the architecture division was added in 2008.

Today, Stiffler McGraw is two companies.

“We go under the umbrella of Stiffler McGraw. Stiffler McGraw and Associates Inc. is for engineering and surveying. Stiffler McGraw Architects LLC is our own architecture company,” Cooper explained.

“Now we are a one stop shop. We have the capability of doing just about anything you need for a project,” Cooper said.

The company does some work for the gas and oil companies but does not seek out that work.

“We are not chasing the gas company work,” Cooper said.

“I saw some firms say they would hire, say, 35 people to do work for the gas companies and then lay them off,” Cooper said. “If a gas company contacts us, we will work for them. We have so many municipal clients that butt heads with the gas companies. If we are not representing the municipality, we will do the work. We are not adding a lot of staff and then laying them off in a year or two.”

Stiffler McGraw, which moved from its original location at 310 Penn St. to 1731 N. Juniata St. in 1994, doubled the size of its building in 2007 and also purchased the neighboring former Hershberger & Myers Insurance building in 2011.

Stiffler McGraw added offices in Towanda in 2001, Bedford in 2006 and Tidioute in 2012.

“In Towanda, we were going up to do a large sewer project and needed a base in that area. We opened an office there,” Cooper said. “It is a growing area. About six years ago, the town had no storefronts filled; now all storefronts are filled.”

The company had done a lot of work in Bedford, and Norman Van Why, a local surveyor, wanted to sell his business.

“We agreed on an offer, and now he works for us on a part-time basis,” Cooper said.

The company “saw an opportunity” in Tidioute and purchased Northwest Engineering, and co-owner Harold Bloomgren, a project manager, joined Stiffler McGraw.

Today, Stiffler McGraw does work in about 40 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties as well as in West Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and Virginia.

Today, the company has 72 employees including 18 registered engineers, six licensed surveyors and two licensed architects, with the remainder being technicians, CAD people, clerical and administrative staff.

Many are longterm employees.

“We currently have 12 employees that have more than 20 years of service with the company. There is very little turnover in our company,” Cooper said. “Dave and Steve started out in December 1989 with a temporary secretary, Jill Walters. She was hired as a full-time employee in March 1990 and remains with the company today as our office manager,” Cooper said.

Roger Foor, a technician, was hired in March 1990, and he is still with the company today and serves as construction manager.

Stiffler said he is not surprised by the company’s growth.

“The time flies. It seems like yesterday that Steve and I sat in the kitchen and planned this whole thing,” Stiffler said. “Our mission was to provide quality engineering services at a reasonable cost; that is what we have done. We hired the most capable people for performing that work. In my opinion, we have the most competent staff of any firm in the region. I am proud of everything we have done.”

Having many longterm clients and treating them fairly also has been a key to success.

“We are open and honest with our clients. We have a vibrant atmosphere here. We hire people with technical ability and the ability to communicate well with clients. We are deliberate in who we hire; we hire people with the right fit,” Cooper said.

“We keep in good contact with our clients and are responsive to their needs. We keep projects in line budget wise – that is very important to be able to do,” Stiffler said.

Keeping up with technology also is important.

“We are always looking at ways to do things more efficiently. We are not shy about buying new equipment,” Cooper said. “We are continuously updating our software so we are up to date.”

In the early 1990s, Stiffler McGraw purchased an internal televising system for sewer lines, which looks for leaks and cracked lines.

In the late 1990s, Stiffler McGraw purchased flow meters to put in sanitary sewer systems to monitor flow, and in the early 2000s purchased leak detection equipment.

The company has worked on numerous projects over the years. The largest overall project was the $27.5 million Clearfield Borough Sanitary Sewer Replacement. The largest wastewater treatment plant project was a $17.6 million upgrade at the Bedford Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“We have a very solvent, modern, up-to-date system and authority. A lot of credit goes to Stiffler McGraw for that,” said Eric Zembower, chairman of the Bedford Township Municipal Authority.

Today, engineering makes up about 70 percent of Stiffler McGraw’s work with surveying and architecture work making up about 15 percent each.

The sudden death of McGraw at the age of 43 in August 2008 was a blow to the company. Cooper was named president after his death.

“It was a tremendous shock. I was vice president at the time. I never thought about being in this position, Cooper said. “Steve was younger than me. It was a struggle. We had not planned for anything like this. We now try to have more than one person involved on a project so that they can pick up the ball. It brought us all closer.”

“Steve had a great business mind. He was a great guy. Everybody loved him,” Stiffler said.

Cooper is optimistic about the future.

“I see us continuing to do more municipal work. That is our most steady work and finding new ways to help people fund projects. I see our architectural division growing and doing more environmental work as regulatory requirements continue to evolve,” Cooper said.