Keeping America Moving

Written by Robert Hoshowsky

Owned by its valued employees, Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc. – known to many of its clients as SEH® – is a company on a mission: Building a Better World for All of Us®.
Under the leadership of Sam Claassen, who serves as the company’s chief executive officer and president, SEH provides valuable engineering, architectural and planning, and construction solutions in six markets affecting our everyday lives, namely buildings, energy, environmental, infrastructure, transportation and water. SEH helps public and private clients meet their goals on a range of projects by looking at the big picture initially and then focusing on the details to create viable solutions.

“Starting with the big picture means our people help define what a client is trying to achieve – the big picture,” says Claassen. “We help them describe what success would look like. When we start with the big picture, we then have a destination in mind, and next, we plan how to get there and build in the details. Without this important step of visualizing and describing the big picture, you could run the risk of developing an innovative design or approach that in the end does not solve the problem.”

Throughout the world, infrastructure is aging, water is scarce, transportation systems are outdated, our environment is out-of-balance, and energy is limited. Companies like SEH are developing solutions to solve these real-world imminent challenges.

SEH uses its years of finally-honed project management processes and estimators to define the scope of the project and all the necessary resources to achieve success. “We listen. We ask questions. Then, we listen again,” comments Claassen. “Our goal is to provide value, and we do this by ensuring the appropriate level resource is performing a specific task that is at that resource’s level. This approach helps to ensure we properly scope and estimate project costs.”

The company was started by P.R. Banister as a one-man business in 1927 as P.R. Banister Consulting Engineering in North St. Paul. It grew rapidly and was renamed Banister Engineering Company. Banister had an initial focus on rural electrification, bringing power to communities outside the metropolitan area and hired more people as the demand for work increased. In time, additional partners were brought aboard, and the name was changed again in 1971 to Banister, Short, Elliott Hendrickson & Associates.

Soon after, in 1973, it opened another office in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, “with the goal of delivering municipal engineering services to public clients and transportation services to cities, counties and departments of transportation,” says Claassen. In 1977, the name changed to Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH®). “Over the course the seventies, eighties, nineties, 2000s to today, we have merged with other companies and expanded into more states and more communities and diversified to provide a full menu of engineering and architecture services to clients.”

Life may sometimes seem still, but it never stops. Roads and bridges and other infrastructure need to be designed to be effective and keep traffic flowing. Dams and levees need to be solidly in place to safeguard our homes and businesses, and below ground, sanitary sewers must function without fail.

SEH endeavors to keep the nation moving as efficiently as possible. The company works with cities and municipalities to provide superior services from initial planning and funding for projects to the design stage and construction services with the goal of making ‘meaningful and lasting improvements.’ It works with land developers to most efficiently use space for commercial and residential developments. It helps food and beverage companies turn waste into energy.

In locations such as Central City, this involves significant upgrades to the well-worn infrastructure of the historic Colorado mining town, which was founded in 1859 during the time of Pike’s Peak Gold Rush and was once dubbed the ‘richest square mile on earth.’ SEH worked with residents and businesses to transform the main street into a new destination, by overseeing the upgrade of water, sewer and storm drainage. Today, Central City is home to numerous gaming and service businesses and is open and welcoming to pedestrians. This is the result of intelligent design and the elimination of curbs – and similar to the ‘woonerf’ concept seen in The Netherlands and Flanders, where pedestrians can stroll, browse and shop at a relaxed pace.

Many of the team at SEH hold multiple certifications, demonstrating their experience and expertise and enabling them to serve clients to the utmost. “We have more than 235 Professional Engineers registered in multiple states and many more who are Graduate Engineers or Engineers-in-Training (EITs),” says Claassen. “We have architects who are registered architects in several states; planning professionals who are certified from the American Institute of Community Planning; registered landscape architects; many individuals who are LEED certified and certified project managers. We also have licensed surveyors, geologists, biologists and many more.”

SEH provides specific solutions that range from designing and constructing the roads and bridges on which we drive and designing dams to protect homes and businesses against flood waters to renovating and revitalizing entire downtowns. It also conducts asset management planning to help plan for improvements to aging infrastructure, develops waterfront communities, builds transit stations, develops new or renovating existing water treatment facilities, develops air quality solutions and designs systems to create energy efficiencies and renew energy.

SEH’s multidisciplinary services mean the company works with clients at every stage of a project, from concept to construction. Claassen says the business is experiencing growth in all areas, much of it the result of the aging infrastructure seen across much of the U.S. “We have a country where the infrastructure built forty, fifty or sixty years ago is in need of repair or replacement. This includes buildings, roads, bridges, utilities.” He cites other factors, such as a growing population placing additional strains on infrastructure. “As a result, an increasing number of clients are dedicating budgets to determine the lifespan of their infrastructure and mapping out a plan to repair, renovate or rebuild.”

Other areas of the business, such as the water market, are also growing to keep pace with population growth which has led to increasing demand for clean, safe water and need from the public and private sectors for the treatment and reuse of water. “Environmental work is increasing as regulations increase to keep our environment clean and safe for generations to follow, and there is a public demand to protect our environment,” comments Claassen. “The transportation market is also expanding, due to population growth in urban areas and an increase of traffic congestion. There is a need for more roads, bridges, transit and multi-modal forms of transportation.”

To add to its current thirty offices, SEH plans to open another office in Iowa and is evaluating other locations. It serves a mix of clients – eighty-five percent public and fifteen percent private – among state and federal government agencies, cities, counties, regional organizations, developers, food and beverage companies, oil and gas companies and construction firms in forty-two states.

SEH also has deliberate merger and geographical expansion strategies in place to accomplish manageable growth. The company plans to hire an additional one hundred employees in the coming year to help meet its work demands.

Its focus on delivering quality and innovative solutions has fostered a mindset that results in award-winning projects. “We don’t set out to win awards. We set out to do our best every time for every client,” says Claassen. “If that mindset results in winning awards for our clients, we want our clients to receive the recognition.”

The company works on hundreds of projects at a time and has amassed an impressive portfolio, including the Depot Square at Boulder Junction in Colorado, a new mixed-use development which includes a Bus Rapid Transit station, 400-car parking facility, affordable residences, a 136-room boutique hotel, and office and retail space; the Marquette Plan, a 46-mile lakeshore reinvestment strategy along Lake Michigan in Northwest Indiana, considered a catalyst for economic, environmental, and social rebirth; and the Target Field metropolitan transit station in Minneapolis, a project which multitasks. While thousands of people board trains each day, underneath the station an innovative system captures stormwater to heat a nearby energy recover plant. All are different from a technical perspective. With the experience and ability to develop innovative approaches, the company devises unique solutions applicable to client and project needs and requirements.

The floodwater mitigation project in the City of Austin, Minnesota is located at the confluence of three rivers and affected by rising waters and devastating floods, including overflowing rivers cresting at twenty-five feet in 2004. For this project, SEH was instrumental in a ten-year rebuild to protect the city, including a flood risk management plan, a twelve-phase flood control project, invisible flood walls and raising roads in the downtown.

Other projects, such as revitalizing the downtown and riverfront of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, saw SEH provide riverfront planning and extensive public involvement to develop a final design for the city’s downtown riverfront area, with the goal of accommodating community festivals, amenities for pedestrians, vehicles, river users, boaters and anglers. The design supported the overall downtown master plan, and work included helping the city secure funding for the project, environmental/demolition work, roadway design, waterfront planning and landscape architecture.

The focus of the company’s work is to provide valuable solutions to clients to make our world a better place. To provide these innovative solutions, Claasen indicates, “SEH is a company which puts people first, whether it is those who benefit from the solutions we provide to our clients, those who benefit from our giving programs, or our employee-owners. Our collective work is grounded in our core purpose of Building a Better World for All of Us®. We believe it is our responsibility to provide quality service and innovative solutions that will last for generations.”

Claassen was appointed president by SEH’s board of directors in 2010 and brings many years of proven executive experience to the role of CEO/President. He had earlier served as a company vice president, chief operating officer and wastewater leader — all at SEH. In 1977, he joined Rieke Carroll and Mueller (RCM) and served as CEO and president in the late 1990s, before RCM and SEH merged in 1999.

“I actually started working in engineering as part of a survey crew when I was thirteen,” says Classen. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Environmental/Civil Engineering and a Masters in Environmental/Civil Engineering, both from Iowa State University.

“I was drawn into the field of wastewater engineering with the passing of the Clean Water Act in 1972. I wanted to make a difference in creating clean, safe drinking water for generations to come. My career has allowed me to provide solutions for clients and also to mentor and lead others in making a difference in the world.”
“It’s a humbling experience to lead and be a part of a team of employees – owners of our company – who have said to me… ‘doing the work I do for our clients to make the world a better place is not just a job, or a career, it’s a calling.’”



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