Before Dan Vermeer and Dan Speck founded their consulting engineering firm, Alta Southwest, they were happily retired. The last thing on their minds was starting a business, until they both realized that their invaluable contacts in the industry and business management expertise could be the start of something great. Creating a name and reputation for Alta Southwest didn’t come without navigating a few roadblocks along the way. Learning how to ask for help, paying attention to details and building a reliable reputation have allowed the former retirees to succeed with a customer-focused business model.
Before starting Alta Southwest in 2017, Vermeer had more than 20 years of experience at Waste Management and served as the area vice president, while Speck spent more than 40 years in the industry and a long career at Kiewit in the mining, materials and testing industries that ranged from mine site engineering to executive management. In 2017, when the duo played around with the idea of starting their own business, they recognized their combined decades of expertise positioned them to become great business partners.
“Our extensive experience in the corporate world allowed us to leverage meaningful contacts and was key in maintaining continued success these past three years,” Speck says. “Having truly established ourselves as professionals in the industry before launching our company has allowed us to provide the best service in the Valley.”
However, once the business launched, they soon realized the devil is in the details.
“When we were first starting out, I was thinking bigger picture about our company and soon realized I needed to seek help putting processes and policies in place to ensure the well-being of our employees,” Vermeer relates. “We initially struggled with routine business processes that can really make a difference — like doing market research, knowing the best branding techniques and putting benefits in place for our employees.”
Vermeer and Speck learned they couldn’t be shy about asking for help and quickly hired accountants, created an HR department and sought out resources available to small business owners that allowed the company to quickly take off. They also worked to attract the best employees in the business; they wanted the brightest technicians, engineers and surveyors in the industry, but first they had to create a compensation plan to attract and retain the best talent.
“We want our employees to feel that they have a meaningful career with our company, and when we were first starting our business, we looked back to what was important to us as employees before we became owners,” Speck says. “We offer all our employees an attractive benefits package, but what I think is unique to our company is that we were able to create a training program, which allows our employees to learn on the job while getting trained by the best professionals in the state.”
The company assists employees with obtaining necessary certifications and offers extensive training opportunities upon hiring. They also have created an internship program at both their Tempe and Tucson offices where all interns may have the opportunity to join the team full time upon graduating.
Vermeer and Speck also learned that the most important aspect of running a successful business was to train their employees to provide the most excellent customer service possible. This includes getting a project done in a timely manner, making themselves available to communicate effectively with clients and taking their time to assure quality work product.
“Reputation is everything in this industry,” Vermeer says. “That’s why one of the most important pillars of our business is to treat every client like family and execute each job to the best of our abilities, which has allowed us to become one of the fastest-growing engineering firms in the state. ”
Some of Alta Southwest’s standout projects include the City of Phoenix’s light rail expansion project, which they have been involved in for the last three years. The City of Phoenix recently extended its involvement with the project to help with Phase II of the Northwest Expansion, which will extend the light rail west on Dunlap Avenue and across the I-17.
Having the right contacts and resources to start a business and executing each job with precision, the founders have been able to persevere and grow year after year. The founders now manage more than 85 employees and look forward to hiring 15 to 20 additional employees within the year.
Did you know: According to the Cumming insight report for 2020, construction activity is on the rise for Phoenix and construction volume is expected to rise by 5.7% this year after it dropped by 1.1% in 2019.