E9: COVID-19 & Land Development and Civil Engineering

COVID-19 AND CIVIL ENGINEERING AND LAND DEVELOPMENT.


A conversation with David Koratich on solutions for civil engineering and land planning during Covid-19.



Chief Operations Officer and Director of Civil Engineering

Dave guides Warehaus’ clients through the design and regulatory process for Civil/Site-related projects. Over his 21 years at Warehaus, he has diversified the Civil Group’s portfolio to include commercial and industrial business parks, residential sub-divisions (single family, detached and high density), retail projects as well as professional offices. As Director of Civil Engineering, Dave leads a team of eleven and offers professional guidance, open communication, and mentorship. He ensures that all projects are on track and empowers his team to develop expertise in diverse aspects of civil engineering as well as in different project typologies and complexity. Dave also serves as Warehaus’ Chief Operating Officer, overseeing the day-to-day administrative and operational functions of multiple business units including internal operations, information technology, building facilities, and business processes.


Contact Info

Warehaus

(717) 845-8383


Transcript

Warehaus:
My name is Matt Falvey, and I am your host for today’s episode. Today we’ll have a conversation on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted land development and civil engineering. Our guest today is David Koratich. Dave serves in a number of roles here at Warehaus, an architecture, engineering and design firm. He is both the Director of Civil Engineering and the Chief Operating Officer. As the Director of Civil Engineering, he is leading the expansion of Warehaus’ engineering services to geographical areas around and beyond the Mid- Atlantic region. He also serves as a project manager on multiple projects where he guides clients through the design and regulatory process for civil and site projects. As a chief operating officer, Dave calls on his 21 plus years of experience at Warehaus to oversee the administrative and operational functions of the firm. So Dave, welcome! And I thought we’d start off by having you tell the audience a little bit about yourself and what led you down the civil engineering path.

Dave Koratich:
Great! Thanks, Matt. Glad to be here. So, it’s interesting. I was born and raised in Southwestern Pennsylvania and went to Penn State.  Graduated from Penn State in 1999. While I was at Penn State, I was studying civil engineering, specifically bridge abutments. I wanted to design bridge abutments but one of my classes was cancelled due to lack of enrollment. And they placed me in a land development class. And I had that land development class for one semester. It included a residential subdivision layout, sewer water, utilities, and it culminated with a meeting in front of the Center County Planning Commission to present the layout and the design that I came up with, which I thought was really intriguing – the concept of water resourcing and stormwater management, soil erosion , you know, just fascinated me… and, you know, all it took was one semester! My next semester was the last for me to change my career path from sensory structural concrete design engineer to a land planning engineer.

Warehaus:
And I’ll tell you, the most Important thing that you mentioned in your background, and in your bio is the fact that you are a Penn State – the Pennsylvania State University – graduate, and I think it’s the only football program in the country, I believe. [Laughter]. So, that said, let’s jump into this:  given this COVID-19 pandemic, in what way do you see land development and civil engineering changing, perhaps going forward? And certainly, any other services as it relates to your field?

Dave Koratich:
Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting right? We’ve been out of this for… at home for eight, nine weeks now. Seems like an eternity and what we’ve experienced with municipalities  is, in that time they have gone really, to more virtual meetings or digital submissions, which have kind of seem to, you know, speed up the process. It makes a lot less paperwork on our end, you know, saving environment as they say. Things are being transmitted and worked on; county officials, other regulatory officials such as the County Conservation District, DP, even PennDOT have been more than happy to work in this virtual reality, so to speak. So, you know, where we ultimately go, once we get past this COVID-19 , is that it might be better for everyone involved, from a submission standpoint, from a review standpoint, and then ultimately from a meeting standpoint.

Warehaus:
Do you think digital submissions will become a best practice?

Dave Koratich:
I hope it does. Matt. PennDot has the EPI system, which been online for quite some time now and it works fabulously. My hope would be that, you know, townships and county conservation districts, and DP would start to move to that platform, whether it’s just pieces of it. Obviously, that takes some time, a lot of resources and money to develop the programs to handle that. But I think it would be a benefit to everyone moving forward if that platform can be realized at some point here in the future.

Warehaus:
We’ve….. certainly, you know this obviously…in your additional role in the office managing our IT department, you know, a recurrent theme – I keep bringing this up – is technology. Really, so many industries and firms from all walks of life, have really embraced technology, and I think what was once just so intimidating to use and figure out has just become so intuitive. As you know, we’ve really utilized Microsoft Teams to its fullest extent. Others are using Zoom,  others may still use Goto meeting, etc. So that’s awesome. Do you think there are any other reasons to make these changes? Can you think of any other reasons …. maybe municipalities and townships might make some of these changes, even though perhaps, COVID-19 forced it? What are your thoughts on that?

Dave Koratich:
Yeah, I mean, it’s certainly a money saver. I mean, it very well could be a money saver. So, you know, when we have to submit to municipalities, we’re printing out, you know, a number of plans and applications, which cost money. we submit to the township, they then mail it out to the respective planning commission members, supervisors, commissioners, or city councilmen. You know, this takes time in the mail. So, yeah, I think it could certainly be a benefit for them on a financial standpoint, certainly, to us as a consulting engineer, as well as our clients who don’t have to pay for that reimbursable costs.

Warehaus:
Yes, definitely. I mean, you hit the nail on the head with time and cost savings. Certainly, challenging times. Talk a little bit about the challenges so we get …. not locked down, we get quarantined, we shut down, right? So now we have to work virtually. And of course, you are running your team of engineers. What challenges did you face right out of the gate? And how did you solve those challenges?

Dave Koratich:
Yeah, so great question. The first one, we had a little bit of time to prepare for this – we kind of knew this was coming – so we were able to get the software, equipment,  and hardware, to our employees, to my guys so that they can work remotely. The biggest issue that I saw right out of the gate, of course, is communication; learning how to communicate in a whole different way. Like I can just go right to someone’s desk to ask them to do something. And managing of time, right? With schools being shut down, and kids being home, and wives or husbands being home, you know, trying to manage your day with your family life makes it for odd times where you’re online and  when someone else will be offline. So, learning and mapping out strategies with each person, on when their availability is, so questions can be asked to those people, workload can be dedicated to those people, and they can have an opportunity to ask questions that they have to the respective engineer or project manager. I say that was probably the biggest challenge. And how we started to address that is that we implemented a meeting that’s weekly between the whole group at a set time, so anyone could ask questions, we can relay information at that meeting. Additionally, myself and the project managers have another meeting to talk workload, to make sure everyone is filled out for the week, and then they convey that to the team members in their available times that we have worked – probably during the first couple of weeks of this working remotely atmosphere – out with each of those guys. So, that is probably been the biggest challenge for us.

Warehaus:
What type of feedback have you gotten from your project managers? I mean, certainly, you have a seasoned team, but you also have some young blood in the mix. Have the project managers been pretty happy with this? And have they been able to mentor their younger or newer engineers?

Dave Koratich:
All right, it’s generally… they’ve been happy with where we’re at today at week nine. They weren’t so much in Week two. Mentoring is a tricky word. There is only so much mentoring you can do virtually. You know a lot of what we do, is kind of hands-on, to show the younger staff how to do things and whatnot. But they are coming around, they grasp the concept. They are not afraid to ask questions. And to help facilitate, you know, ongoing trainings with staff.  We do have bi-monthly discussions specific to how we operate, how we function, software we use, design tidbits, benefits to the group, etc. And it is open to any one of the team members, you know. They have got to be able to communicate with their respective project team to ask questions. They have grown into that. And, and we are doing well with that.

Warehaus:
Yeah, that’s great. Has there been anything negative?

Dave Koratich:
Oh yeah… negative I guess would probably be… if I had to say, it would be efficiency. You know, when you’re at home and you’re sidetracked with other things, some of the efficiency goes away. Not being in an office setting for eight to ten hours a day, having that group and keeping an eye on them to make sure things are getting done on task on time – the biggest thing would be efficiency. Not that the quality of the product is going down, but it is just taking, say an hour longer to do a task.

Warehaus:
Yeah, it is kind of a double-edged sword. I mean, on the one hand, you’ve got the awesomeness, you know, of the efficiency with the technology. On the other hand, you have the items that you just listed as challenges. But I’ll tell you, unlike some of our other guests – obviously, you’re part of Warehaus, I’m part of Warehaus – so I get to see some of the business coming in, etc., – you guys literally have not skipped a beat. In fact, I would submit, you’ve been as busy as you were when we were in the office. I’ve got to believe customers have responded favorably to it. Have you had to adjust anything in working with our clients? What type of feedback have you gotten from our clients in working like this, etc?

Dave Koratich:
Yeah, I mean, we haven’t missed a beat, Matt. We had a great backlog coming into 2020. You know, when the pandemic came out and we went home, one would expect that some projects go on hold for a certain period of time, or a client might cancel a project, maybe not indefinitely, but drag it out. We have not seen that in our projects. We’ve been moving forward. And really, we’ve been able to increase our backlog in this time with new projects coming in from existing clients, from new clients, and so forth. So, it’s been great from that perspective. From a client standpoint it has also been great. We haven’t missed a beat with them either. The virtual platforms that we use – GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Zoom, you know, have not put us out of touch with our clients. In fact, it is probably better for us, you know.  We get questions or we want to run something by a client,  with them being home as well it’s easy to get him/her on the phone, get him or her in a  virtual meeting, have a quick 15 minute discussion, get your answers and we move on! As opposed to you know, when they’re in the office and they’re out and about at other meetings here and there …. it might take a week to get a meeting set up. We can get it set up really in a matter of a day or two, get our answers and keep moving on moving forward with the projects. So, we haven’t missed a beat with any of it. I think the virtual meeting platforms have really worked well and, you know, has increased our commitment to the client from a communication standpoint. Email is still a big thing. Everyone likes to email but this virtual meeting platform has been great.

Warehaus:
It’s awesome! I mean, it really is. Can you imagine, you know, a few years ago if something like this would have struck? It really would…I mean, it’s been bad enough and catastrophic enough to various organizations. But imagine something like this happening when this technology didn’t exist, or it was egregiously expensive or hardy, just very cumbersome to use. And I guess along those lines, have you experienced any crazy, maybe not at this magnitude, that has caused some similar challenges and service disruption?

Dave Koratich:
Yeah, I guess.  I’ve been a Warehaus, my entire career going 21 years here in June. And, you know, I was was there with 9/11. But the biggest thing for me would have been, probably, the great recession in the late 2000s. Yeah, that was, go go go on one day and the next day, man, everything died. Project stopped, halted. You know, I know it is all on the same length, but we’ll call this COVID-19 kind of recession. It is different in the sense that the work has not stopped. You know, the clients have not put anything on hold, which is the biggest difference between the Great Recession, and today’s world. The work is there, and we are able to work away from the office and continue that work. Great Recession was just an interesting time for everyone. A lot of businesses didn’t make it out of that especially when there is no work to do. Yeah, but our previous leadership at the company was very patient and mindful of the time that they had to support us in that time. You know, so that’s the biggest difference that I can think of. As far as, you know, what I’ve experienced at Warehaus between 9/11 and the Great Recession, as well as this COVID-19 recession, is that, you know, we have to work and we’re able to work, and we’re able to function in this virtual reality.

Warehaus:
Thank God. It really is. It is awesome. I’m very fortunate. So, you guys do a lot of projects. I mean, you do really big projects, I mean, industrial parks, developments and so on and so forth. I want to talk a little bit about smaller projects. I mean, like what’s the smallest project you guys will do? Or have done?

Dave Koratich:
Yeah, you’re right, Matt. We do a lot of different, diverse things. Small, large, from big million square foot warehouses, 200,000 square foot houses, 200 lot single family developments, a parking lot, you know, lock repair for soil erosion preparation, multifamily on 50 acres. We’ll look at ADA ramps. We’ll do site feasibilities. We will look at new curb returns, you know, for new access drive, little single lot, residential. One of our clients is looking to add on to their house and get a new driveway and we’re working with, of course, pennDot. It is a state road and we will work with the municipality to get a stormwater design plan as well as a little minimal use driveway put together and submitted. So, you know, the scale of the project …. I guess that we don’t have a scale …. we will work on just about anything and we treat it all the same. We are all very in tune with what the client’s goals are, and how we can achieve those goals timely and cost effectively for the client to move on again, whether it’s a little driveway, maybe ramp or a million square foot warehouse.

Warehaus:
Well, I appreciate you sharing that. I mean, because as I said some of the work that we like to showcase are really big projects. But I think that it is important for the audience to know that if you have a project requirement, some engineering or land use development, don’t be afraid to reach out. So, thank you for sharing that. Anything maybe, I didn’t ask or something maybe you’d like to cover and leave our audience with?

Dave Koratich:
Yeah, certainly. Yeah. Just for everyone who was listening to this, so Warehaus is operating and at full capability. I’ll be not in the office, I’m at home, but we’re a full-service firm who’s often running on projects, continuing to work and looking to hire and everything. That didn’t sound too much like a pitch did it, Matt?

Warehaus:
No, not at all. A little bit of job recruiting, right, but it’s perfectly fine because I’m actually going to…just like I ask all of our guests ……. Ask you to tell the audience how they can find you and get in touch with you. Your website and contact information.

Dave Koratich:
Yeah, I mean, absolutely. Again, my name is David Koratich. You can reach me via email, which will be posted along with my phone number. Any which way, I’m available. I sit here at my desk all day every day. So very available to take calls, answer questions, you know, talk to you about a potential project. Look at feasibilities and everything. It’s interesting, I just had a call before this, where I spoke with someone who was looking to do something and had some questions on floodplain. What it does mean is that in a matter of 25 minutes, I was able to have a nice discussion, give a prospective client some answers for him to take his board, and hopefully move that project forward. So yes, we’re fully operational, fully functional. And if you’ll give me a call, send me an email, and I’ll certainly get back to you and help you out in any way I can.

Warehaus:
Well, fantastic. Hey, I can’t thank you enough for taking time out of your schedule to spend time with me, share your feedback, let me ask you a couple of questions as well as provide some insight that, hopefully, is relevant and insightful for our audience, our customers, our strategic alliances.  Dave, thanks a million, again, for your time. I can’t wait until we’re all back in the office once the quarantine is over. But I certainly wish you continued success. And, you know, thanks again for your time.

Dave Koratich:
You are quite welcome, man. Thanks for having me, and I was glad to do it.

Warehaus:
All right. Take care, buddy.