ENGINEERING ‘R’ US — Joe Lowry, president of RJR Engineering, said he has big plans for the future, both locally and nationally. Photo by Lizz Schumer.
SPRINGVILLE — Joe Lowry began working at Springville’s RJR Engineering as a Springville-Griffith Institute High School student intern and, today, he is president of the company Bob Runge started, in 1996.
“Bob had always wanted to mentor someone, so I was always on a succession plan,” Lowry said. The now 29-year-old bought the company from Runge and has been working to keep RJR at the forefront of its field, ever since.
The engineering firm, which is a certified and registered service-disabled veteran-owned small business, is a full-service engineering company, operating under an ASME NQA-1 compliant quality assurance program.
Since RJR employs professional engineers from a wide range of disciplines, the firm undertakes both government and civil projects in the areas of nuclear and hazardous site decommissioning and decontamination, hosting and rigging design and support, pressure vessel design and analysis, seismic and structural analysis, technical writing and more. One of the firm’s upcoming projects is the steel shoring at the 5 East Main St. Art’s Cafe in Springville.
“We’re a multi-discipline, full-service firm, so we do a little bit of everything,” Lowry explained. “We have a lot of engineers, so we don’t really make our name [based solely on] one thing. We’re a smaller company that is always playing in the markets of the big guys.”
The name RJR Engineering came from Robert John Runge, the original owner’s initials, a name that Lowry said was more financially savvy to keep than change, even after the business changed hands.
“We played with the idea of changing it, but people know us,” he said. “We’ve made a name for ourselves, in our field. Although, we do get funny, engineering types who tell me, ‘Your R’s backwards,’ and I have to say, ‘I know. It’s supposed to be that way.’”
With 22 licensed professional engineers on his team, Lowry said that his company helps translate the difference between research and real life.
“A lot of scientists have these great ideas in research and development, but they don’t know how to translate it into action,” Lowry explained. “That’s what we do. You need someone on the professional side, to come in and turn an idea into a project.”
The company was started as a local firm and has remained that way, with half of its employees’ living within a 5 – 10-mile radius of the Mechanic Street office.
“A lot of our employees went to high school at S-GI, went off to college and found their way back. We’re one of the biggest local companies [in Springville] and yet, no one really knows we’re here,” Lowry said. He added that RJR, which already owns three buildings on Mechanic Street, is planning to expand both its physical footprint in the village and the number of local projects the firm undertakes.
“We’re trying to decide what we want to do in the community,” Lowry said. He noted that the company is considering buying some of the old, vacant buildings in the village, in its continued mission toward revitalization in the area.
“That’s one of the reason we used [the Mechanic Street building] as our base. We have a commitment to Springville,” he said. “Bob was always a big advocate for the community and he brought me up with that mission, too.”
As a young business owner, Lowry said that his age and high energy level are advantages in the field, especially as he looks to get the firm involved in new, sustainable energy options.
“We’re making a real push to design more green energy: solar, wind power,” Lowry said. “There are ways to get the community involved. I really want to get the word out that this energy is attainable. Most people think it’s too expensive, but it’s actually more affordable, if it’s what’s right for your area. And here, it is.”
Lowry said that his favorite projects are challenging prospects with quick deadlines and unusual focuses. “I like to do what’s never been done before. We like to make a difference,” he said.
The typical project timeline for RJR Engineering is six months, although Lowry said that projects can range in length from two weeks – two years. Right now, the firm’s projects are about 70 percent national and 30 percent local contracts, although Lowry said he wants to focus more locally.
“We basically throw a net out and it’s a blessing and a curse. We have a lot of talented people and people like us, but we do struggle to get local projects sometimes. A lot of those get shipped out.”
Six months ago, RJR launched an investigative forensic engineering department that does the detective work on workplace accidents that might have an engineering-related explanation.
“God forbid someone gets hurt and you want to know why. You can call in technical experts to find out why the equipment breaks and, for lack of a better word, who’s fault it is. That [technical expert] is an engineer,” Lowry said.
That field, a relatively-new facet of the engineering profession, is still taking off, according to Lowry. He said that he is excited that RJR is on the cutting edge of that aspect.
In addition to large, corporate or government uses, Lowry said that engineering can be utilized as a preventative measure for the average person’s home and office, as well.
“It’s about good practice, a lot of the time,” he said. “You want to keep snow off your roof to avoid collapse; clean the leaves out of your gutters to prevent flooding and keep your furnaces clean to avoid fires. Everyone’s an engineer in some sense: We all build things and clean things and make things more effective. We [professional engineers] just get paid for it.”
As president, Lowry said that he is working to keep morale high and relations amicable among his staff, including launching a company newsletter, a volleyball team and social activities for what he called a “very young office.” Although he said that he prefers to remain secluded and work independently, Lowry’s position has required him to step out of his office, in many cases.
“I love being an engineer. It lets me think out of the box, get an idea and run with it. I love to talk about technology and innovations, like green energy. As president, I’ve had to get pushed out to meet people, network and go to conferences. It can be a barrier because I look young, but that just keeps you on your toes. It keeps us fresh,” he said.
RJR Engineering is located at 23 Mechanic St. in Springville and can be reached at 592-3980 or found online at www.rjrpc.com.