Linda Edwards 2015-07-30 03:57:56
Local Entrepreneur Shapes Woman-Owned Company into an Environmental Planning Powerhouse With buzzwords like “climate change,” “environmental impact” and “protected species” making regular appearances on news networks and documentaries, it seems a young Mississippi State grad made a very wise decision when she took a leap of faith from the safety of civil engineering to a freshly cut path in environmental planning in the late 80’s. Now at the helm of her own firm as President and CEO of Edwards-Pitman Environmental, Inc., Linda Edwards takes pride in the eco-friendly empire she and her growing team continue to build. EG: WHAT FIRST INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME INVOLVED IN THE FIELD OF ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING? LE: I received a civil engineering degree from Mississippi State and started my career in the engineering field in 1985 working as a designer for civil site work and landfill projects. My employer at the time had a need for someone to specialize in environmental documentation. I accepted the challenge and found the work to be very interesting and rewarding. We blazed new trails because this was at a time when the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) first began to allow consultants to handle the environmental planning for their projects. EG: WHAT CHAIN OF EVENTS LED UP TO YOU OPENING A FIRM AND BUILDING YOUR BUSINESS WITHIN THAT INDUSTRY? LE: Twenty-one years ago, very few firms were providing environmental services for transportation projects. None were capable of providing a “cafeteria” approach, where larger firms could subcontract for select services. There was a definite opportunity for a womanowned business to create a niche in a very specific market and we took the chance. In 1994, Edwards-Pitman was formed and has since grown from three employees to over 50. EG: WHAT - IF ANY - ARE THE CHALLENGES OF BEING A WOMAN IN A MALE-DOMINATED FIELD? DO YOU SEE PERCEPTIONS CHANGING OVER TIME? LE: As a female engineering student at Mississippi State and as a woman entering the field of engineering, I was very much aware that there were not many women in my chosen field of study and work. However, that did not mean that there was not opportunity simply because I was a woman. I have found that clients want quality work done on-time and on-budget, and that if you can provide top shelf service, they do not care what your gender may be. Respect and professionalism in the workplace is more about what you do and how well you do it. Th at being said, I also have taken my role as a female business leader very seriously. The mentor relationships that helped me when I started my business still serve me well to this day. As a result, I have sought out young professionals, particularly females, to encourage and counsel as they grow in their field and have served as a mentor through the Women’s Transportation Seminar Mentor-Protégé Program. I also participate in organizations aimed at promoting women in the field of engineering and transportation, including Women’s Transportation Seminar, the GDOT DBE Supportive Services Conference and the Greater Women’s Business Council. Because of these contributions, I was awarded the Female Business Enterprise Phoenix Trailblazer Award. EG: HOW HAS THE REGULATORY ENVIRONMENT CHANGED OVER THE YEARS? HOW HAVE THOSE CHANGES IMPACTED YOUR CLIENTS/BUSINESS? LE: As much as government may speak of trying to streamline the environmental process, it seems that over the past 20 years environmental planning for transportation projects has become more complex. The list of government agencies that must be consulted during project development, and a greater emphasis on transparent decisionmaking in general, have increased the level of environmental planning required in order to receive the necessary federal approvals. A firm like ours has to place a constant emphasis on staff training to ensure they are up-to-date with current requirements and to understand the “why” behind the changes as they occur. On the positive side, there are two changes over the past 20 years that have made an incredibly beneficial impact on our practice. The first of those being the emphasis placed on prequalification training by GDOT. While this training does come at some cost to the firms doing business in the state, it provides a great opportunity to ensure our people are current in their understanding of regulations and policy. Second, there has been a greater emphasis placed on communication between GDOT and the consultant community. Through collaborations like the Georgia Partnership for Transportation Quality (GPTQ), led by ACEC Georgia, GDOT and the Georgia Highway Contractors Association, there is a free exchange of ideas and concerns between GDOT staff and the consultant community that informs and educates both sides of the industry. These practices help level the playing field by giving both smaller and larger firms availability to the same resources and information. EG: DO YOU FEEL AS THOUGH ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING IS MORE IMPORTANT NOW THAN EVER BEFORE? WHY? LE: Yes, environmental planning is about more than sound environmental policy and decisionmaking. It gives resources a voice that, apart from the departmental policy and regulation, might not be heard. It provides for greater transparency in the decision-making process and it helps the public understand why we make the hard decisions we sometimes make in the design and construction of a project. In addition, the environmental planning process provides an excellent research tool that proves a great benefit to others not directly associated with the project. A transportation project may identify an unknown archaeological resource of great value, expand the habitat of a protected species, or empower and unite a community. The environmental planning process can provide benefits that go beyond the pages of an environmental assessment. EG: WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING PROJECT TO DATE? LE: That’s like asking someone to pick their favorite child (as the mother of two daughters, I should know)! Looking back over two decades, it is hard to pick one project. Some of the more recent projects we have been involved with have provided amazing challenges. Innovative projects like the I-85 HOT Lanes and the I-75 Managed Lanes south of Atlanta gave us the chance to work with large multidisciplinary teams on high-priority projects with aggressive schedules and extensive agency coordination. The archaeological data recovery effort in Cherokee County, associated with the SR 372 bridge replacement project over the Etowah River, stretched us professionally and showed how responsive a small firm can be to the challenges of a major work effort. This mitigation project was the largest archaeological undertaking funded by GDOT to date. Finally, the replacement of the Broad Avenue Bridge over the Flint River in Albany combined an aggressive project schedule with multiple resource concerns, including federally protected mussels, historic resources and community involvement. In each instance, I think our firm provided a quality service and product to GDOT while managing budget concerns to the satisfaction of our clients. I am also very proud of the many projects that my firm has provided to the Atlanta-Hartsfield Jackson International Airport since 1999 and for which I have received several awards of recognition, including induction into the Women Flying High Program for my years of professional service. To learn more about Linda Edwards and Edwards-Pitman Environmental, Inc., visit Edwards-Pitman.com.
Published by American Council of Engineering Companies of Georgia. View All Articles.
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