Economy and Government and Economic Development and Manufacturing & Technology and Technology

Schneider Corp. has designs on big growth in Lawrence: Long-time engineering firm gets boost from state as it plans to make $4.4 million investment, add 140 workers

March 27, 2006

The voluminous building the Schneider Corp. occupies on the former Fort Benjamin Harrison property was built as a barracks for enlisted men and later converted to a dormitory.

So it's fitting that the locally based engineering firm has a vision to create a university-type setting on its nearly fouracre campus where employees can receive training without stepping foot off the property.

"We've worked on a strategic plan for the last couple of years, and Schneider University is part of that plan," company President Ed Jolliffe said. "We're a much more high-tech company than people realize."

Schneider made a splash last month when it committed to making a capital investment at its Lawrence office of more than $4.4 million and creating roughly 140 jobs with average salaries of $60,000 by 2010.

The investment includes the corporation's purchase of a nearby 5,000-squarefoot building that once served as the base bakery. The dilapidated structure will need to be refurbished, but when finished, it should house 20 to 30 employees. More than 15,000 additional square feet that is currently unused in the 60,000-square-foot company headquarters will be remodeled to accommodate more workers. To help Schneider with its mission to train employees, state government kicked in a wealth of incentives. They include: up to $245,000 in grants from the Skill Enhancement Fund up to $50,000 in grants from the Technology Enhancement Certifications for Hoosiers fund up to $2.1 million in Economic Development for a Growing Economy (EDGE) tax credits. The Marion County Metropolitan Development Commission approved tax abatements March 15 for real and personal property totaling about $180,000.

Going gangbusters

The city's second-largest engineering firm, according to IBJ 2004 revenue figures, grew earnings from $24.9 million to $31 million last year. That could be enough to catapult it to the top when IBJ's list of largest engineering firms is published in May. Further, Schneider forecasts 2010 revenue at $50 million, doubling what it earned just two years ago.

The company founded in 1962 by Vincent Schneider is a full-service engineering firm that does work for residential, commercial and public projects.

Its most notable recent project is the Metropolis Lifestyle Center in Plainfield developed by locally based Premier Properties.

David Zoba, president and chief operating officer of Premier, said the developer has enlisted Schneider for several projects.

"We have been developing for 10 or 11 years out in Plainfield, and Schneider has been by our side for that entire time," he said. "It's been a long relationship and one that we fully intend to continue."

Zoba jokingly said Premier has kept Schneider so busy that it might have played a part in the engineering firm's ability to make the investment.

In all seriousness, though, Schneider is branching out from its civil engineering roots into areas that can produce additional revenue.

One of those is geographic information systems, or GIS, in which the company now employs five programmers. The services range from land-records management to applications and Web site development. Another area is 3-D modeling, in which programmers create three-dimensional images for projects.

Last year, Schneider purchased Stikeleather & Associates, a land survey company in Charlotte, N.C., that has 20 employees and ProMap Corp. in Ames, Iowa.

ProMap provides GIS and related consulting services. Schneider is in the process of converting the location into a sales office and moving 10 to 15 production people to its local headquarters.

The firm even hired two full-time recruiters to help land employees and will have 10 civil engineers join the firm in May who were recruited from Purdue University and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

Jolliffe is confident the firm can hit the numbers it has projected, but is even more optimistic after the General Assembly approved Major Moves, the governor's initiative to lease the Indiana Toll Road to fund road improvements.

Said Jolliffe: "I don't know of any civil engineer who wouldn't support that."

No place like it

Company founder Vincent Schneider passed the torch to son John, who handed day-to-day responsibilities to Jolliffe in 1998. Jolliffe, a veteran of the steel industry who operated his own insulation and manufacturing company, provides the business acumen that has allowed Schneider to flourish.

Moreover, the corporation created a seven-member board of directors in 2003 that includes three members of the Schneider family, three local businessmen and Jolliffe.

John Schneider's brother Barry, an engineer, and Victoria Schneider Temple, the company's attorney, also sit on the board and own the company.

At the time, Schneider became one of only about 15 percent of the nation's family-owned businesses to court outside directors-a move lauded by management experts as forward-thinking.

Schneider moved from its headquarters at 38th Street and North Post Road to its current space in 2000. The company was so desperate for room that in 1998 it began leasing an additional 9,000 square feet in a nearby strip mall for its geotechnical division.

The building Schneider now calls home resembles an Ivy League campus house more than an Army barracks. The renovation provided a modern feel while keeping hints of the past intact. The safe door to a gunroom turned break room, for instance, reminds employees of the building's original intent.

Across the street, Mike Farr operates Jist Publishing Co. and owns the building housing the niche publisher of career, job search and reference books. He, too, is remodeling and is converting 17,000 square feet on the top floor to office space. When he moved Jist there in 1998, he said, people considered him brave. But he insisted he saw potential.

Now, Schneider's announcement offers further vindication, on top of the 1,400 jobs the U.S. Army Finance Center is awaiting.

"It's making it easier for people to say, 'This is a good place to be,'" Farr said. "I doubt there's any other place in the city that's like it. It feels like a college campus."

Schneider's intention exactly
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