The anaerobic digester at the waste water treatment plant in Grandville is an example of how municipalities and civil engineers work together on the “triple bottom line.” Courtesy Moore & Bruggink
If it weren’t for Millard Moore and Ray Bruggink, many Grand Rapids suburbs might still rely on well water.
In 1956, Moore and Bruggink were engineers with the city of Grand Rapids. When area suburbs began their search for water and sewer connections, Moore and Bruggink saw an opportunity.
The two engineers had the contacts and know-how to launch their own civil engineering firm specializing in municipal infrastructure, said Robert Bruggink, current CEO and son of the founder of the firm, Moore & Bruggink Inc., 2020 Monroe Ave. NW.
Bruggink was quick to point out Moore & Bruggink is strictly a civil engineering firm; there are no architects on staff.
“When someone asks me the difference between civil, mechanical and electrical engineers, I always say, ‘OK, mechanical and electrical, they build the weapons,’” Bruggink said. “Civil builds the targets: roads, bridges, water treatment facilities, water delivery systems and all the fun community stuff.”
Today, the firm continues to specialize in infrastructure work in the small municipalities in the Grand Rapids area with the company slogan “Creating Community,” exemplified in Moore & Bruggink’s current work with the Envision Ada downtown redevelopment project.
An early project of the firm was water and sewer infrastructure for Paris Township, now the city of Kentwood — which helps signify the growth both the area and Moore & Bruggink have gone through together, said Brian Hannon, the firm’s vice president.
“When a community has a problem, we put our heads together and come up with some solutions,” Hannon said. “We help these communities create the type of community they want to be. We help them get there.”
Small communities continue to make up the bulk of the firm’s clients, but Grand Rapids is not forgotten.
“Grand Rapids is the hub of the wheel,” Hannon said. “It’s important that it continues to be a vibrant community as well.”
As the years pile on — the leadership joked they were gaining on Owen-Ames-Kimball’s 125 years — the work hasn’t dried up. Bruggink said infrastructure work never stops wanting for updates, and Hannon said the company continues to look to new technology and ways to keep the planet healthy.
Hannon said the Grandville anaerobic digester is a perfect example of how municipalities and civil engineers are looking at the “triple bottom line” (social, environmental, financial) and figuring out how to do a job more efficiently while also making Earth a better place.
“We can help capture energy that resides within waste water, so there’s a nice payback for the community,” Hannon said. “It’s a fun thing to tout and say you’re involved with. We’re always looking to be a steward of the environment.”
How humans interact with the environment continues to become more important for civil engineers. Bruggink said the technology of their job in the past 60 years has changed immensely. Today, firms can use satellites for surveys and computers for design work, both of which help mitigate the number change orders, saving projects lots of money, he said.
The job duties haven’t changed, but instead of using an ink pen, the engineers are typing. That’s a good thing, for the most part.
“At one point, I could do everything,” Bruggink said. “Now I can’t, and I hate that.”
To ensure the company will be around for years to come, Bruggink said the firm focuses on several core values, refined over several years to make sure they fit the modern way of engineering.
The first is practiced in the form of “The Three Rights,” Hannon said. When evaluating potential work, Hannon said the project must have the right client, right team and right solution.
Along with “The Three Rights,” Moore & Bruggink’s 45 employees are reminded regularly to “be happy, have a good attitude and be laser-focused on service.”
The laser-focused employees are important to Bruggink’s mantra of “Don’t make mistakes; take the time to do it right the first time.”
Having a well-balanced work and personal life is also important, Bruggink said.
“You should be happy and have a good attitude at work,” he said. “If they don’t, I want them to talk about it and figure out how to be happy.”
Making sure employees were happy was especially important to the company during the Great Recession, when Hannon said Moore & Bruggink could have laid off plenty of engineers to help keep the bank account fat.
Instead, as revenues dropped by nearly 30 percent, they kept the staff intact, Hannon said.
“When we hire you, we hire your family,” he said. “We want to make sure those people stay gainfully employed. We didn’t cut things to the bone to stay profitable, and that ended up putting us in a good position when things came back.”
Moore & Bruggink had the employees to jump on projects as they popped up, and the firm is still looking to hire as talent comes up — which is becoming more difficult, Bruggink said.
Within the next five years, Bruggink said he’d like to see the firm double its revenue, which he concedes is a bold goal.
“The founders of the firm set us up really well when looking at the past 60 years,” he said. “We’re trying to double our revenues and know that takes some doing, but we’ve been making the right steps and set ourselves up pretty well during the slow times, and now we’ve hit the ground (running).”