With about 80 employees and more than 50 years in business, why is LAN Associates joining the Meadowlands Regional Chamber now? The Midland Park full-service engineering, planning, architecture and surveying firm has strong relationships with federal, state and municipal governments, boards of education, housing authorities, large and small companies, religious facilities and private clients. They earn their business through referrals, repeat business—as well as public bids, networking and trade shows.
“We have a great reputation, and much of our business comes from a nice, direct referral,” says Kenneth Karle, AIA, PE, PP, LEED® AP, president of LAN Associates. “We provide real value to our clients and vendors; and this usually creates opportunities for us. Through trust and integrity, you build your business through referrals and repeat business.”
In addition to creating opportunities through “honest dealings and good will,” Mr. Karle advocates the value of hiring strong employees.
“Surround yourself with great people,” says Karle. “Part of building a good company relies on matching the staff to their skill set. Everybody is great at one thing. If you find that passion or thing they excel at and match it to the work, there is greater job satisfaction, which leads to a better working environment.”
Another lesson that LAN Associates offers is how the long cycle of building requires a diverse portfolio and steady range of in-process projects. Because LAN Associates is a full-service firm, it is able to address facilities upgrades, environmental and remediation issues, pre-construction and project management during downturns in the economy.
“Architecture and engineering are a good indicator of the economy,” says Karle. “They take lots of work, and what drives new construction is financing. We are looking at the demographics that are trending up and driving the next wave of projects.”
With a large percentage of clients comprised of the public sector, the architects, engineers and other specialists keep busy. For example, during the 2008 recession, LAN Associates was still building. However, two years later, they focused more on facilities improvement, energy conservation and upgrades to bring schools and commercial clients up to standards.
The nature of the work has changed too.
“Buildings are more complicated now, but it’s all for good reasons,” says Karle. “What used to be ‘upgrades’ are now requisites, which makes for state-of-the-art design schools and facilities.”
Recently, the firm rebuilt the James Monroe Elementary school, which burnt down in 2014. Construction was fast-tracked because the students were “homeless” taking classes in temporary locations.
“This was a hard win for us because twenty other firms went after the work,” says Karle. “But the strength of our resume and previous school work prevailed.”
In addition to the school itself which had to be upgraded to modern standards (no wooden roof for starters), the Edison, New Jersey school presented environmental and code upgrade challenges.
“We had fun with it and were able to fast-track a nice revitalization project from scratch,” says Karle. “We used the same footprint, but provided 67,000 square feet of space, adding a gym, better classrooms and cafeteria, air conditioning and of course state-of-the-art safety and fire detection features.”
One hitch, however, was that the insurance company wanted to replace the school at the 1964 standards, so Mr. Karle served as an expert witness to defend all the code upgrades and improvements current schools require.
Historically, the full-service firm has developed large facilities alone. However, the more complicated nature of financing and bidding have created opportunities to collaborate in recent years.
One such project is the Vista, built by the Christian Health Care Center in Wyckoff. The senior living complex straddles two municipalities (Wyckoff and Hawthorne) and required double permits, double licenses and even two sets of 911 emergency services. And because the units had to be 70 percent pre-sold, actual detailed designs had to be available at every stage of the process.
Another current, collaborative project is the SUNY Purchase Senior Learning Community. LAN Associates is the architect of record creating open, interactive, stunning spaces for seniors, while partnering with the university, social services, New York State and other entities.
The best part about LAN Associates providing everything from architecture and engineering solutions to diverse clients such as senior housing, schools and churches—to environmental, planning and facilities services, is that, “It’s never boring” says Karle.
The firm is also working on converting the Lea & Perrins factory in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, into a church, presenting remediation and aesthetic challenges. This business was a result of their work on other religious buildings, such as the Mission Church in Holmes, New York.
The long cycle of the building business provides insight into LAN Associates’ principles. Real value is developed over time. With the right people, work ethic and attitude of innovation, companies can thrive.
About LAN Associates
LAN Associates is headquartered in Midland Park, New Jersey. The firm also has offices in Goshen, New York and Trumbull, Connecticut. In addition to being involved in many of the school upgrades and renovations in Bergen and Passaic Counties, the firm was part of the ENCAP remediation efforts in the Meadowlands, as well as many Bergen County school renovations.
In addition to holding architecture, planning and engineering licenses and wearing many hats as president of LAN Associates, Mr. Karle is a forensic engineer, exploring the geological roots of the Pennsylvania lakes in the Allegheny mountain range. His hobby is an extension of his natural problem solving abilities.
Pamela Tully is a freelance writer, editor and marketing professional. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.