Where To Start With Your Downtown Revitalization

"Downtown is important because it’s the heart and soul of any community. If you don’t have a healthy downtown, you simply don’t have a healthy town."
- Ed McMahonChair, National Main Street Center Board of Directors

At a time when communities large and small are demanding vibrant downtowns and places to gather, it is often difficult to know where to begin the complicated process of revitalization, and there is a saying about eating elephants that applies here as well. The Wooten Company has helped communities across North Carolina navigate the process, several critical steps of which are outlined below.


GAIN PUBLIC BUY-IN

In today’s shifting demographics and tense political environment, municipalities often find themselves playing Mediator between disagreeing segments of the public. On one side of the coin, many citizens value the size and character of their hometowns and are protective of the mainstays that are the foundation of this. On the other side, many citizens see opportunities for growth and economic development in wise investments within their downtowns. As the voice of the community as a whole, it is an understatement to say that gaining consensus on issues such as these is challenging. Prior to any concerted effort in revitalizing or improving a downtown, a robust and comprehensive public engagement process must take place. This serves not only to ensure that taxpayer dollars are appropriately spent but also to prepare business owners and their customers are prepared for the disruption that a major streets project can cause. These discussions should take place across as many communication channels as possible to avoid leaving out any one group. For example, in addition to soliciting input at Town Hall meetings and pop-up public feedback booths during events, many online tools exist such as MetroQuest, PublicInput.com, and MySidewalk. These online platforms help to bring the many siloes of conversation that occur into one, virtual, public hearing. Combine these with building a good relationship with local newspapers, and the backbone for a well-received investment will be set.

SECURE THE RIGHT PARTNER

Consulting firms exist to bridge the gap that lies between an idea and a ribbon cutting. Each has areas of specialization that are invaluable during a particular project, and they should be asked for their advice in the earliest stages of any public investment. Streetscapes present one of the most diverse multi-disciplinary challenges for a consultant, as there are usually Planning/Zoning, Transportation, Stormwater, Water and Sewer, Electrical and Telecommunications Utilities, Landscape Architecture and Economic Development impacts to consider all within one project, and all within a predefined and constricted space where businesses require uninterrupted access for their customers during construction. This means that selecting a teammate to help manage the process is critical, and not to be taken lightly. Look to firms who first of all have experience in working within the conditions that your downtown presents. Is there heavy traffic or are the roads owned by DOT? Have underground utilities been rehabbed, replaced or even mapped in the past? Is there a dense commercial district that will be impacted by construction? These are all questions to ask that go beyond the visioning exercise that often marks the beginning of a downtown streetscape, and are all points of experience to request when deciding on who to partner with. A beautiful streetscape can perform wonders for a downtown district, but only the right partner can help navigate the complicated process.

IDENTIFY AND PLAN FOR FUNDING

 Projects that involve downtown areas can be likened to renovating an older home. What exists in plain view is normally only part of the story, and you don’t know for sure what you’ve gotten into until construction is well underway. Because of this, it is important to begin the process with an available pot of money that can be referred to as plans take shape. Budgeting for the worst and still leaving an aggressive contingency is the only way to endure the unforeseen issues that will arise unscathed. Many municipalities are fortunate to have a reliable tax base and carefully thought out Capital Improvements Plans to keep budgets on track, but even if a project can be fully funded, there are always opportunities to supplement these funds with low-interest or principal-forgiven loans, or even grants. The right consultant should be able to leverage your Master Plan to gather information and help submit on State sources such as Department of Commerce, Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Transportation and more. Additionally, the right consultant can help apply for Federal funding sources through Housing and Urban Development (Community Development Block Grants), Natural Resource Conservation Service, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Transportation (BUILD grants) and more.  Lastly, thinking outside of the box can net some lucrative support from non-profits that include the Main Street America program, various health-based initiatives, and environmental advocacy groups. 

Having been long-committed to offering expert design and engineering assistance, The Wooten Company partners with the region's best Landscape Architects to supply communities with all of their Main Street needs. We pursue these collaborative efforts to combine both the creative and analytic sides of the brain to design and implement urban spaces for people to gather and businesses to grow. It is our belief that a beautifully designed streetscape does more than simply connect spaces and places; a well-designed streetscape has the power to define the value and character of a city. 

So You Want To Be A Civil Engineer?

Tassels were turned, caps were thrown, and hundreds of pictures were taken by proud family and friends the past few weekends. Whether you walked across the stage or are preparing to next year, we know that graduation season is full of celebration and questions. With this in mind, we’ve created a brief checklist to make sure you can prepare for long-term success as a civil engineer.

Spoiler alert – Becoming a Professional Engineer (PE) is critical if you want to pursue a career in consulting engineering. Only a PE may create, sign, seal, and submit engineering plans and drawings, and PEs also regularly bill at higher rates than unlicensed engineers. And of course having your PE license provides a greater level of job security should you ever need to find a new position or move jobs. So what does it take to obtain this highly respected registration?

Step One: Take the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam

Passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam is the first step towards gaining your PE license. Administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), the best time to take the FE is during your senior year before the fundamentals get lost in the excitement of graduation and your job search. Not only is it important to take the FE exam while fundamentals are fresh in your mind, but it’s easier to go ahead and get this tough exam out the way while you’re still in school mode. Make sure you check out the NCEES website and take one of the trial examinations available and download a copy of the “Fundamentals of Engineering Supplied-Reference Handbook” that will be supplied at the exam. This handbook will give you a good idea of the kind of material you can expect during the exam.

Step Two: Become an Engineer Intern

Once you have passed the FE you will be classified as an “engineer intern” or “engineer-in-training.” As an engineer intern (EI), you will then eligible to gain experience working under a PE. EIs must work under a PE for four years before they can receive a PE license of their own. In most cases, your school can help you find an engineering role in your area but don’t be afraid to follow up with any of the firms you may have interned with, or do some research into other local firms that interest you. North Carolina used to require that you work under a PE for four years before taking the PE exam, however, you can now take the PE exam anytime after taking the FE exam and graduating! 

Step Three:  Become a Registered Professional Engineer

The North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (NCBELS) certifies engineers in North Carolina. Just like the FE exam, there are myriad resources available to help you prepare for the PE exam. The Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE) has a PE Civil Engineering review course and there are manuals available through Kaplan. Additionally, you are wise to take advantage of the experience that your mentors can provide, as well as seek out and join with peer groups who are also planning to take the test soon. Once you have both four years of experience and you've passed the PE exam, you will officially be a Professional Engineer! 

Step Four: Transitioning from EI to PE and Growing Your Career

In case you were still on the fence about the value of becoming a PE, there is an understanding within most engineering firms that those who start out as an EI will have the opportunity to transition into a PE role within the same firm. Consulting engineering firms want to partner with you through those four years as an intern so that you will stay on and add value to their team of available engineers.  That doesn’t mean your career will stagnate from here though! Growing your career as a Professional Engineer can lead to opportunities as a Project or Practice Manager, Department Head, and even the Vice President or President of a firm. So how do you develop this promising career?

The best way to grow your career as a Professional Engineer is to start by expanding your technical knowledge. For example, the logic behind why a 6-inch waterline is a requirement when attached to a fire hydrant, how total dynamic head factors into pump selections, or what causes Trihalomethanes to form in water lines... Broadening your technical knowledge is essential before you take the next step in asking for more responsibility. And as those responsibilities increase, you will start developing important relationships with your clients/owners. These relationships are critical for demonstrating your ability to maintain positive client interactions while balancing workloads and even developing new business. These are the types of value-adds that can lead to a management role within your organization. Lastly, take the time to get involved with professional societies like the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) or the Professional Engineers of North Carolina (PENC). These groups are a great way to network, stay on top of current trends, earn your required Professional Development Hours (PDHs), and of course give back to the proud community that is Registered Professional Engineers for the next generation.

2017 - Year in Review

2017 at The Wooten Company was a banner year with the help of newly recruited top talent, an invigorated dedication to client-relationships, and a much-needed focus on infrastructure across the country.

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As we look back over the past 12 months, it feels like last week that our firm stormed into 2017 with more bookings and backlog than we can remember, but judging by what has been accomplished the company’s dedicated staff never batted an eye.  From gaining footholds in new geographic markets to ushering in a new era of proactive asset management and even receiving awards for outstanding design work, the year has been a blur and we’re ever-grateful to share some of its highlights.

A Growing Family

Competition for talent in our industry is more intense than ever, and this means that the caliber of people who joined us this year is equally impressive. Many new faces were added to our team in 2017, and even several familiar ones returned from other endeavors. We are proud to say that this diverse and highly-qualified group brings education and experience from across the nation (and even overseas) to our clients as they provide for the health and welfare of their communities. In addition to new leadership in both Lester Lowe and Ed Reams who are leading our Site Civil Practice Group and Utility Coordination Teams, respectively, we welcomed more than a dozen others to the Wooten Family.

Tackling New Challenges for New Clients

The Strategic Plan Update that began in 2014 prescribed some very aggressive goals for the company to achieve. Not the least of which was an expansion into South Carolina to offer our expertise in water and sewer infrastructure. Thanks to the commitment of Regional Manager Chad Easter and the trust of devoted community leaders, we began working on projects throughout the State and are delighted to say that 2017 was a terrific success.

On top of this excitement, each of our Regional Offices and both Departments have been equally tireless, deepening our relationships with existing customers and building trust with new ones. All told the company began work on projects for more than 20 new clients in 2017.

Keeping up with the Changes

At both the State and Federal level, 2017 was full of twists and turns in legislature, keeping our resident policy watchers hard at work. And although there are always some areas where work needs to be done, there are also plenty of opportunities to celebrate.

It has been a productive year for many local governments in regards to asset management and investing in proactive maintenance with the help of Asset Inventory and Assessment funds from NCDEQ. Our teams put in countless hours assisting with applications for these grants, and this year those teams began working on plans for over a dozen communities - many of which are now in the implementation phase of adopting Wooten Technologies’ AMOS software (as a side note, look for big news on this front early in 2018).

The momentum behind the healthy and happy cities trend also barreled forward in 2017, and with the help of new Site Civil Practice Manager Lester Lowe, the company has been helping carry this torch for many of our clients. Lester brings to the firm a career in designing the parks, trails and community amenities that support this vision and his team is working hard to promote and develop assets that our friends and neighbors can be proud to have in their backyards.

NCDOT experienced some radical changes, and under the leadership of Secretary Jim Trogdon and COO Bobby Lewis, the amount of let contracts doubled in 2017. This means that right-of-ways need to be acquired and existing water, sewer, gas and telecommunications infrastructure relocated to allow for road improvements and aging bridge replacements. Under the leadership of Utility Coordination Manager Ed Reams, we are positioned to help our clients and other engineering firms with these difficult utility relocation and coordination efforts.

Of course happy and healthy citizens also need to pay the bills, and just this week Governor Cooper announced a landmark occasion introducing the first client of the Kingsboro Megasite in Edgecombe County. Triangle Tyre, a Chinese tire manufacturer, will build their first manufacturing facility in the U.S. bringing more than 800 jobs and over $2.4 billion in economic impact to the State’s economy. As the engineering firm selected to provide water and sewer infrastructure to this new industrial park, we couldn’t be more proud of our involvement with such an impactful project.  This was not the only jobs-related announcement this year either, as Billie Hansen will attest, and because we are fortunate to live in one of the most desirable parts of the country, every department and office of the company has rolled up their sleeves in the planning and design efforts associated with economic development.

With clients aggressively investing in new growth-related infrastructure, regular repair and maintenance, and preventative planning for the future, it would be easy to assume that our teams couldn’t handle much more, but 2017 also revolved around one more challenge: cleaning up after Hurricane Matthew. Matthew may have devastated the Southeast U.S. almost a year and a half ago, but the storm targeted some of the company’s longest standing clients and our dedicated staff put in whatever time it took this year to help get them back on their feet. It is our commitment as a profession to care and look out for the public welfare and we know that clients depend on us for that. We are grateful to be in a position to help.

Giving Thanks

So during this joyous time of year, we would like to give thanks to our employees, our clients, and our partners for their shared devotion, and we wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the New Year. 

Fuquay-Varina Breaks Ground For Second High School

Willow Springs High School 

With a population that’s expected to grow by over 10,000 people within the next few years, it’s no surprise that the Town of Fuquay-Varina is excited about breaking ground on their second high school, Willow Springs High.

With the project now in the construction phase, The Wooten Company provided the engineering design for plumbing, mechanical, and electrical systems, water and sewer utilities and roadway improvements that will support the 59-acre site. Our long history of working with public schools means that the students of Willow Springs High will learn in state-of-the-art classrooms, athletes will practice under brilliant field lights and on resilient turf, parents will arrive through safely designed traffic flows, and taxpayers will save with low life-cycle cost designs throughout the campus. When we do our job well, it means that few notice we were there at all – and we wouldn’t have it any other way. It is our mission to allow the students and staff of Willow Springs High School to focus on raising our next generations without technical woes or safety issues. As we celebrated their groundbreaking ceremony last week, we couldn’t be more excited to watch as Willow Springs makes its mark on the community.

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day: An Interview With Courtney Gamble, PE

Courtney Gamble, PE - The Wooten Company

Courtney Gamble, PE - The Wooten Company

How were you introduced to engineering?  I stumbled upon it in my 3rd year of college.

What was your initial impression of engineering/engineers? I thought it was some mystical science for the Stephen Hawkings of the world. “Rocket Science”.  (And I still think that about electrical engineering, I just can’t wrap my head around anything past the V over IR triangle).

What made you decide to pursue engineering after being introduced to it? I was struggling to find the right major in college and was rejected the 1st time I applied to my college’s engineering program because I honestly didn’t have a good reason to sell myself as a candidate for the program. When the professor asked me why I wanted to begin an engineering curriculum my answer was along the lines of “because I have all the pre-req’s for it?” After a warranted rejection I started to research engineering and watching shows on the discovery and history channel about engineering marvels. I learned how cool and also challenging engineering was and how it made so many things in our world possible.  I fell in love with the challenge and the problem solving.

Is there anyone in particular who really supported your pursuit of an engineering degree? Oh gosh I’ve had so many. I’d say my grandma, she’s the only one in my family who knew I was pursuing engineering until late in my 4th year  and she would take all my tearful phone calls after a differential equations test or whenI was generally convinced I couldn’t hack it. She would assure me that I belonged in that program just as much as the next person and not to give up.

What are you most proud of in your career so far? Obtaining my professional license.

Can you think of a girl you can/should “introduce to engineering? I get asked all the time by family friends to talk to their daughters about STEM majors and I’m always surprised how many girls know it exists now compared to my youth. I cannot think of a girl specifically but I never shy away from sharing stories of my profession and how it has become such a thought provoking career that rarely feels stagnant.

What has been the biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?  Leaving the regulatory arena for the private sector. It’s a steep learning curve and it was clear that I had to prove myself to keep my new private sector position. I worked hard, asked a lot of questions and tried to learn everything I could. Eventually I was profitable and had earned my employers trust.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far in your career?  Get in the field. So many change orders and lost time can be avoided by doing a thorough pre-design site visit and visiting the site throughout the project. You learn a lot by witnessing the construction first hand, chatting with foremen and operators, and helping solve problems if/when they arise.

Have you ever had anyone say anything negative/positive about being a woman in the engineering world?  I’ve heard both. It’s mostly been positive feedback from men and women I have crossed paths with. In general our profession is highly respected and I’ve been afforded that respect. I have had a few men suggest nursing or teaching as a “better career for women”, but that was all in college.

If so, how did you respond? Kill ‘em with kindness as grandma always said.

Have you ever felt like your work or voice was looked over or underappreciated because you’re a female? Only on isolated occasions working with a few clients or coworkers. I don’t let it phase me. I keep the conversation on the task at hand, maybe speak a little firmer and clearer, and make it apparent (without explicitly saying it of course) that working together respectfully is the best way to reach our goal.

Do you feel like you’ve had to work harder than your male colleagues to get to where you are today? Honestly, no. In my eyes my male colleagues who have reached my same level professionally have put in the same sweat equity that I have.

What advice would you give other women or young girls who are interested in learning more about engineering or becoming an engineer? Engineering is an exciting career with opportunities that can take you anywhere you want to go. You can achieve many goals. Mine was stability/job security. But if yours is to travel, or be able to work from home, or to be a CEO one day, all of these things are possible as an engineer.