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Garver & Garver expanding into new markets.

75-Year-Old Engineering Firm Branches to Tennessee, Alabama, Mexico

FOR MANY ARKANSANS, Garver & Garver's engineering work is virtually right outside their door.

The Little Rock firm has been the engineer on various roads and bridges (the Interstate 440 bridge for one), airports and runways, water and wastewater projects, many civil engineering jobs and other industrial-type work. All this for 75 years, ever since Neal B. Garver arrived from Iowa and started the company. Today, Garver & Garver employs 106, including 35 engineers.

Now Garver's presence is extending into nearby states and countries. In recent months the firm opened offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Huntsville, Ala. It already had opened offices in Tulsa, Okla., and Louisville, Ky. And Garver & Garver is in the process of opening up a Mexico City office.

"We look for areas that have the market base that we can successfully compete in," says Ken Wilson, the firm's marketing director. "To my knowledge, there is no place that is short of engineers. There is keen competition in every market. We look for places for our local partner and us to team up."

Arkansas, too, has plenty of engineering competition, but Garver manages to land a lot of jobs. Wilson terms the in-state work "steady."

Some of the current projects include the Huckleberry Creek Reservoir in Russellville, the land-use recovery program for the ALCOA plant in Bauxite and expansion of U.S. Highway 65 from Harrison to the Missouri state line. Also, Garver is working on sections of the new U.S. Highway 71 from Alma to Fayetteville.

In fact, highways have an early history with the firm. In 1921, two years after he went into private practice, Neal Garver became a part-time employee with the state Highway Department as the first bridge engineer. Garver also engineered various buildings still in use such as Little Rock Central High School, North Little Rock High School, Immanuel Baptist Church and the Wallace Building.

His son, Mark, was a Little Rock traffic engineer. He entered into partnership with his father in 1954, thus forming Garver & Garver.

The Garvers are deceased, and Mark's surviving daughter lives in Texas and is not in engineering. So, Garvers no longer work for the company, but the firm's employees have no reason to call it anything else but Garver & Garver.

"They were fine men with great reputations, and really the values of the company today are inherited from Neal Garver," Wilson says. "If he were to come back and survey the company, it would be in line with what he had in mind when he started.

"The technology has changed, the end product in some respects has changed. Certainly the world we live in has changed several times since 1919. But the dedication to do a good job for the client and to recognize the worth of the employee -- those things have not changed."

Bill Driggers, who was president from 1986-93, remains as chairman and has been with the company for 35 years. Ted Hannah, who has 33 years at Garver, is president.

Wilson says tenure is significant throughout the firm, with several engineers and technicians having worked 20-25 years at Garver.

Hannah and Wilson point to repeat business as another key to Garver's success, and Wilson says the company may see 85-90 percent repeat business.

Hannah says, "If you can satisfy your existing clients, then your marketing effort can be toward new clients."

In its new out-of-state offices, Garver finds a local partner with whom to work, using their expertise in that region with Garver's resources in Little Rock.

"It takes not only an appropriate market, but someone who locally knows the ropes and can maneuver in that market," Wilson says. "We have not hung out a shingle and tried to start cold."
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Author:Harris, Jim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Dec 19, 1994
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