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Saramaa standing firm in civil engineering industry

Thu, May 10, 2012

One on One

Shannon Saramaa is a bit of a rarity. At the age of 37, she co-owns and operates a successful civil engineering firm she helped launch 10 years ago.

As a kid, math and building came easily to her, so it was an easy decision to study civil engineering, though it’s a field historically dominated my males.

She took some time recently to talk to the Business Journal about her industry and Colorado Springs.

How long have you lived in Colorado Springs? What brought you here?

Well, I wish I had a profound story on this one, but all in all, a guy. Back in 2000 I had a long term boyfriend whose company was relocating their headquarters from the Bay area, to COS. He didn’t have to twist my arm very much to leave my Water Resource Engineering job in Los Banos, Calif. and move to Colorado. Although I truly loved my job there, I had always wanted to move to Colorado. When I graduated from college it was one of the places “out west” I had originally targeted in my job search. So off we went.

How did you decide to become a civil engineer?

There were not too many times you wouldn’t catch me by my dad’s side helping him with his many projects. Whether it was helping him build a new barn, helping build our family homes over the years, or shingling a roof, I was always his little helper (and still am!). So I guess the building-something-bug has always been ingrained in me; it’s just how I think. But I’ve also always had a love for animals and had worked as a veterinary assistant throughout high school. College was imminent, and I was a torn between becoming a veterinarian or an engineer. Dad is stubborn, and wasn’t going to send me to college without first selecting a degree, so he put a standardized test in front of me and gave me a pencil. Apparently the math section spoke for itself, so off I went to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), where I enrolled in the Biological Systems Engineering Department, Water Resources emphasis. And it stuck.

What led you to start your own business?

When I first moved to Colorado Springs, I worked for a year or so at a small engineering firm just east of downtown. One of the principal partners, John McGinn, had made the decision to split off from the firm and start a new consultancy, focusing primarily municipal water/wastewater engineering. He asked me and Doug Schwenke to join him in the new venture. In late 2001, we formed JDS-Hydro Consultants Inc., sublet 3 office spaces, and had a handful of clients. We just celebrated our 10-year anniversary and have a well established reputation in the industry. On that note, after a competitive proposal process, JDS was recently awarded a grant from the State Health Department (CDPHE) to conduct training seminars throughout the State of Colorado (I will be one of the instructors). Our client base continually grows, with 97 percent repeat clients. We have our dedicated JDS team and fantastic clients to thank for our success.

What unique challenges and opportunities does Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region pose for the civil engineering industry?

Challenges are continually changing regulations. Water quality standards are continuously ratcheting down, to where new requirements are created every year. This applies to both the potable water standards that trickle down from Environmental Protection Agency to the State Health Department, as well as regulations on wastewater discharges to surface water or groundwater. An inherit challenge in Colorado Springs, is that it’s located in an arid area. Conservation is and will continue to be a strong focus. At the same time, the community can be an example for others to follow.

How will your industry change during the next decade?

Once again, I have to say regulations. Water and wastewater systems will continue to adjust master plans to accommodate the new criteria. Equipment that was once acceptable may be in need of replacement. At the same time, manufacturers will be constantly updating, expanding and improving efficiency of the available treatment equipment. Emphasis on reuse will expand as water conservation measures increase.

What do you like most about Colorado Springs? What would you most like to change?

Colorado Springs is plain and simple, a beautiful place to live. Our family enjoys a plethora of outdoor fun, including camping, horseback riding, skiing, motorcycling and the list goes on. This city is the perfect place to enjoy all these activities and raise a family. The City is large enough, yet small enough at the same time. It would be great to see the large corporate business opportunities/presence expand within Colorado Springs over the years.

 

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Jessica Newton, HVE Inc Says:

    Dear Shannon
    what agreat article. 97% repeat business–what a record. I trust you counted HVE among that percentage Jessica