Shawnee Survey & Consulting Inc., a land surveying and engineering firm headquartered in Vienna, has been a part of Johnson County’s business landscape since it was founded in early 1995. Since that time, the company has gradually built a reputation that they are using now to expand services and create local jobs.
The company was established by Mitch Garrett, a licensed professional land surveyor, as a one-man firm in rural Simpson. Early success and growth was mostly fueled by passing out thousands of business cards and word-of-mouth referrals. Billy Abernathy, the company’s current vice president and a co-owner, joined the firm in 1997. Garrett realized he had uncovered a tremendous market for his company’s services by the end of the first year. “We did about 125, 130 surveys that first year, which was about twice as much as what I thought I was going to do,” Garrett said.
By 1999, the company had outgrown its 500 square foot building on Flatt Woods Road and required a more permanent location in Vienna. They purchased a house on the southeast corner of the town square, and modified the building to suit the needs of a growing company.
The next ten years, the company employed an average of 14 to 20 people, a group that Garrett calls a “dream team” of local talent. During this time there were a combination of successes and setbacks, but the company was building experience all the while, experience in their profession as well as the art of running a business. Garrett described this accumulation of experience, noting that “if we could use this experience at a college, we would probably have a doctorate in business administration.”
The company provided mapping services for architectural studies on the Keystone Pipeline for nearly two years starting in 2007. This large job allowed Garrett and Abernathy to prepare the company for the recession that started in 2008, a downturn that they faced with an excellent staff and no debt.
The company provides a wide range of services, many of which go unnoticed by the average person. “Some people think we just go out and drive stakes in the ground,” since this is often the most noticeable phase of a land survey, “but there is so much more to it than that,” Garrett explains. A quality land survey requires court house research, creative solutions, and sophisticated equipment, like the GPS devices used by crews at Shawnee Survey & Consulting, which provide millimeter level accuracy. Garrett adds that his company has “tried to stay ahead of the curve in technology since we bought our first plotter in 1995; this allows us to provide both speed and accuracy to our clients.”
In 2012, Shawnee Survey & Consulting purchased Lawrence A. Lipe & Associates in Benton, Illinois, the latest incarnation of a company with a history dating back to the 1930s. This acquisition allowed the company to begin offering full civil engineering services, with a client list of over twenty cities and villages in Southern Illinois. In addition, they purchased Jerry Trover Surveying Company in Ozark the same year upon the retirement of Mr. Trover, retaining his employees and years of local surveying experience.
Their engineering services are similar to the land surveying division in that the work they do is vital, but mostly unseen by the public. These services include water distribution systems, sewer systems, streets, and infrastructure maintenance. Local towns rely on the company’s work to bring basic services to their citizens.
The company has expanded recently into energy services, providing right-of-way acquisition and utility mapping to companies like Ameren, which Abernathy and Garrett consider a very serious growth market.
Because of the company’s expansion into energy services, they have been able to provide several new jobs. The company has three times as many employees as they had 2 ½ years ago, and plan to hire more before the end of this year. “By doing work that has been done by companies based far away and in major cities, we have been able to create jobs in Johnson County that would not normally be found here,” Garrett said, explaining how the company is able to generate so much work in a rural area. “We work all over the state of Illinois, and we are licensed in Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, and Kentucky, so we are working all over the place and bring the jobs back here – this has the potential to change our community for the better”.
Within the energy services division, the company is participating in larger projects than they have in their past; they currently have contracts for hundreds of miles of electric transmission lines and gas lines, providing a range of services. These services include easement purchases, mapping, and line marking. They are also gearing up to provide support for potential growth in the oil and gas industry.
The company has always emphasized its contributions to the local community. Garrett observes that almost all of his company’s employees are native to Southern Illinois, and, in an interview, listed several employees that are graduates of Vienna High School and Southern Illinois University (SIU). Garrett is a 1980 graduate of SIU with a bachelor’s in civil engineering, and along with his wife, Bonita (also a partner in the company), has raised his family in Johnson County. He has two sons and one daughter: Brandon, 31; Zachary, 26; and Tara, 23. His business partner, Billy Abernathy, is also an SIU graduate; he graduated in 1998, also with a degree in civil engineering. He has raised his family in Jonesboro, along with his wife Amy, and has two sons; Logan, 6; and Blake, 4. All three partners are active in the community.
In addition to the expansion in energy services, the company is working with other prominent design firms on the team for the possible Interstate 66 IDOT project, which is in its exploratory phase in Alexander, Johnson, Massac, Pulaski, and Union counties. Shawnee Survey & Consulting was well-represented at a community meeting for the project at Shawnee Community College two weeks ago.
This firm has brought on a number of new faces recently, including William Phelps, formerly in real estate at Ameren, and Milton Denny, a professor at Auburn University and a nationally recognized expert among land surveyors. These new faces are intended to position the company to create sustainable jobs in the future. “What we have, with our technology, our software, our field equipment, there’s no other firm, you would have to go to St. Louis, Chicago, Memphis or Nashville for anybody to have remotely close to what we’ve got,” Garrett said. “We’re thinking 2014, 2015 and 2020 for everything we’re doing right now.” Abernathy adds: “Talent attracts talent…we believe we can hire the best people and support that need in whatever sector grows.”
Garrett is energized about the future for his company and team of employees. He describes what is happening here as “fun” and “exciting” and is optimistic about the future for Johnson County and the general area. Looking back, Shawnee Survey has come a long way from its small office on Flatt Woods Road, but it is happy to continue calling Johnson County home.
“We live a mile north of Simpson,” Garrett said of his family that continues to join him in his adventures with Shawnee Survey. “I don’t ever see us moving.”