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75 years and counting for engineering firm

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Michael Baker International was the design
consultant for the Eighth Street Bridge rehabilitation
project, which is underway in Allentown. (Contributed photo)
Michael Baker International was the design consultant for the Eighth Street Bridge rehabilitation project, which is underway in Allentown. (Contributed photo)

Few businesses last 75 years.

Of those, few become global entities.

One of those few is Michael Baker International.

The Pennsylvania-based engineering firm turns 75 this year by making a significant investment in the Greater Lehigh Valley – and in downtown Allentown’s renaissance, in particular.

A presence in the region since the 1990s, last August the company opened an office in Two City Center on Hamilton Street in Allentown – in the heart of what has been $1 billion in new development and investment.

A provider of engineering and consulting services around the world, Michael Baker International is looking to leverage its knowledge and experience both in the epicenter of Allentown’s explosive growth and beyond.

“Transportation is our core, but one of our growth strategies is to enter new markets in eastern Pennsylvania,” Michael Baker International vice president Eric Frary said.

The company has invested heavily in technology and plans to hire staff in the region. And it all comes as it marks its 75th anniversary on May 1 with a host of events and celebrations.

“We see growth in the Lehigh Valley as one of our biggest opportunities to add staff,” Frary said.

Aviation, transit and urban planning are just a few of the industries that have proven to be strong growth areas for the company.

The firm has worked on a number of projects in the Greater Lehigh Valley over the years, including the Route 222 Bypass in Berks County, the 15th Street Bridge that’s under construction in Allentown and the Route 33/512 interchange upgrade in Wind Gap, which includes new ramps, bridges and pavement, to be completed this year, said Ralph Eberhardt, Lehigh Valley office manager.

“A lot of our growth is tied to transportation,” Frary said.

A lot of old bridges throughout the state are starting to fall apart. He said Act 89, the state’s new transportation funding plan, will support the growth of the engineering industry.

Michael Baker International also did engineering for the Route 222 Bypass in Upper and Lower Macungie townships and finished the Interstate 176 and Route 422 project near Reading.

The company has provided construction management services to all of the state Department of Transportation District 5 projects, Eberhardt said. Furthermore, it has served as the general engineering consultant for the Pennsylvania Turnpike for 50 years, Frary said.

Another key to the company’s success, according to Frary, is that it can provide local services, but as part of a larger organization.

“We design/build something that affects everyone, something tangible that we can all be proud of,” Eberhardt said.

The company also has made strides in investing in technology.

It uses Lidar, a remote sensing technology that can be used for land mapping.

“We have aerial capability,” Eberhardt said. “We have one drone that we can hook a sensor to, so we are heavily invested in that technology.”

The company has written programs to facilitate bridge design and has done work for surveying, design, permitting and a host of other services. With the ability to draw representatives from all over the region for everything from traffic facilities to environmental planning and aviation projects, the company sees itself as one that provides services beyond a typical engineering firm.

Owner’s representative services are another key area of growth for the company, since owners can have the firm oversee a project and its budget.

In Allentown, Michael Baker International provided owner’s rep services for Lehigh Valley Health Network’s One City Center project, as well as for the Dime Bank Building and Two City Center, Eberhardt said.

The company’s wastewater, flood control and water quality services are also a large market segment, particularly for California, where water is in high demand.

In Pennsylvania, Michael Baker International has about 900 employees, with half of that number at its global headquarters in Moon Township, near Pittsburgh. (DC Capital Partners, headquartered in Alexandria, Va., acquired the firm and created Michael Baker Holding Co. a little over a year ago.)

Michael Baker International opened its Horsham office in 1997 and has been in Allentown since 2011, moving last year to Two City Center from the nearby Wells Fargo building.

“We see the Lehigh Valley as a way to tap into the labor pool to support the company on a larger scale,” Frary said. “We will use our presence in the Lehigh Valley to see what resources are available.”

Over the last decade or so, the company has seen a growing interest in people wanting to work and live in urban locations.

With its new space in downtown Allentown, the company is prepared to hire more employees and possibly enter new markets, including architecture and structural engineering.

In its Horsham office, Michael Baker International has the skill sets for land development but it’s a market that the company has not dabbled in yet, Eberhardt said.

“But we are different by our scale and our diversity,” he said. “But I like to look at us as a portal.”

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Brian Pedersen

Brian Pedersen

Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4108. Follow him on Twitter @BrianLehigh and read his blog, “Can You Dig It,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/can-you-dig-it.

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