Wood Harbinger

Specialty: Mechanical and electrical engineering, industrial systems

Management: Bob Axley, president/CEO; Jerry Williams, chairman of the board; Phil DeBels, vice president of mechanical engineering; Bruce Alward, vice president of electrical engineering; Jim Jenkins, vice president of industrial systems; Bill States, principal engineer, industrial systems

Founded: 1967

Headquarters: Bellevue

2007 revenues: $10.2 million

Projected 2008 revenues: $12.5 million

Current projects: Aeromon maintenance hangar at San Salvador International Airport; Meadowdale Middle School for Edmonds School District; Central Power Station upgrades at the University of Oregon; Science Building at Centralia College; utility system upgrades at Boeing in Everett

Photo courtesy of Wood Harbinger
Wood Harbinger provided engineering for the Aeromon maintenance hangar at San Salvador International Airport.

Bob Axley, president and CEO of Wood Harbinger, isn’t too worried about the direct effects of the economic downturn. In at least one way, he said it could even benefit his company.

“We’re very strong and our backlog is still higher than it’s ever been ... but we’re still looking for qualified people,” Axley said.

Wood Harbinger would rather not hire someone than hire the wrong person, so it’s been hard finding qualified employees in the last few years, he said. If other firms are laying those people off, he said it “could very well benefit us.”

Strong markets

Axley says the markets Wood Harbinger tends to concentrate on — schools, higher education, utility work, military, aviation and hospitals — are fairly well insulated from current economic woes. Many of the projects Wood Harbinger is working on have already been funded.


‘In this day and age, if you’re not supporting sustainable design, you’re not going to be doing very much work because more and more people are expecting that.’

Another plus, Axley said, is the company works in enough markets where its project load shifts from year to year. If one market drops off next year, another will likely fill its place. For example, in 2007, Boeing represented 25 percent of the company’s work. That has decreased some, but Axley expects more military projects will replace that work.

Wood Harbinger has worked with many of its clients, like Boeing and all branches of the military, for at least 20 years. Those clients tend to own and operate buildings for long periods of time, which Axley said gives the company more freedom to build quality systems and try new technology.

“They’re not the lowest first cost, get in and get out (clients),” he said. “They are clients that own their facilities and are looking for broader long-term solutions.”

That ideology led some of Wood Harbinger’s city and university clients to push the company towards LEED and using more efficient systems in the early 2000s. Now, sustainability has become part of what it does and, Axley said, has positioned the company better for future business. He said more clients are asking about sustainable, green and efficient systems, and even traditional clients, like Boeing, are moving in that direction.

“It’s getting bigger and bigger,” he said. “In this day and age, if you’re not supporting sustainable design, you’re not going to be doing very much work because more and more people are expecting that.”

The added interest means Wood Harbinger is focusing more on certain mechanical systems, such as natural ventilation and variable refrigerant flow systems. Axley said he is excited for the day when solar photovoltaics become cheaper and more common.

Lower fees?

Though the company is in a good place, the economic downturn will have its indirect effects. One challenge, Axley said, will be keeping costs down as clients try to get more services for less money. That might mean lowering fees.

“With the cost of everything going up, it’s a challenge to try to keep our costs under control,” he said. “We have to be far more in tune with our budgets and trying to be as efficient as possible, (while) at the same time trying to provide the service that we’re known for.”

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