Geri Boyer only planned to live and work in Belleville for a few years, but the owner of Kaskaskia Engineering Group now says you couldn’t blast her out of town.
The transportation engineering and contracting firm saw continued growth in the last decade despite a poor economy, something Boyer says is due to the company’s commitment to diversifying the work it does and where it does that work.
Headquartered in Belleville, KEG also has offices in Peoria, Glen Carbon, Macomb and Champaign in Illinois; locations in Evansville and Indianapolis in Indiana and recently set up shop in St. Paul, Minn. Last month, the firm announced it acquired the assets of Champaign-based Central Illinois Tile.
Q. How do people know Kaskaskia Engineering Group? What’s your bread and butter?
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A. “People know us for our transportation engineering. We do roadway design, traffic engineering, we have technical engineers and environmental engineers. But all of that basically supports doing transportation work. Now that the economy’s recovered, we have a lot of development work going on. But we have expanded into the contracting market, and I expect this year we probably will be doing more work as a contractor than as an engineer.”
Q. Describe how Kaskaskia Engineering Group started, and how it’s been able to grow over the years.
A. “We started with three people doing about $250,000 of work. And over the years we’ve grown to about a 45-person firm doing about $9 million to $10 million of work. We’ve grown a lot. Even in a poor economy we’ve grown. The way we’ve grown over the years is we have acquired the assets of other companies. We also have diversified our business, doing different types of engineering services and incorporating contracting as well. We expanded into other states that had more work than Illinois had at the time. We weathered the development storm. And now that development is back, we’re doing a lot more development. It’s letting us grow a little bit more.”
Q. The firm has expanded into several Illinois cities and also operates in Missouri, Indiana and Minnesota. Why keep the headquarters in Belleville?
A. “You couldn’t blast me out of Belleville. We will always be located in Belleville as our headquarters. We love this city. We think this is a really central place to work out of. It’s nice that Lambert (Airport) is so close. I can fly to St. Paul (Minnesota), have meetings and fly back the same day and still be home at night. Even though some people think Illinois is not the best state to own a business in, it’s the place our roots are now. We’ll always stay in Belleville.”
Q. What’s the benefit of growing the company through acquiring assets, which you recently did with Central Illinois Tile?
A. “Asset acquisition help us jump into the market faster. We did an asset purchase to get into contracting at the beginning because we could get a pretty wide range of equipment quickly. With buying Central Illinois Tile, we have purchased a lot of equipment. Plus we were able to buy their five-acre site at the intersection of Interstate 57 and Interstate 74 in Champaign. Their crews are used to traveling. To make me a little more nimble, I wanted crews that could travel.”
Q. What does it mean to run a 100 percent woman-owned firm?
A. “It doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore to me because I’ve been in this industry for a long time. Where it really helps you is the federal government and the state set aside projects or parts of projects for what they consider disadvantaged businesses. Because I own the company, we’re considered a disadvantaged business. It’s really given me a lot of opportunities being 100 percent woman-owned. One of my interests in going to St. Paul is that I feel like we had a lot to do with expanding women businesses and minority businesses in Illinois. (In Minnesota,) they’re not meeting their women and minority goals, and so we’re there to try to help them do that. I hope that we can actually develop their market like we did in Illinois.”
Job: Owner, Kaskaskia Engineering Group in Belleville
Key success in tough times: Weather storms by diversifying business