Tested and True
Family bonds strengthen Materials Testing Consultants, Inc.
Family bonds are strengthened during times of testing, and that’s never more true than in the Elliott family.
“Testing” in this case means something else—something that directly gives the family meaning and purpose, that contributes to the family’s livelihood and makes way for future generations.
More specifically, this testing is welcomed as business coming through the front door. In fact, the Elliott family’s testing is directed outward, on behalf of others.
It serves others.
The Elliott family owns and operates Grand Rapids-based Materials Testing Consultants, Inc. (MTC). The company provides engineering, consulting and independent testing services, and specializes in construction materials testing, soil mechanics and environmental matters.
MTC customers are contractors, engineers, municipalities, state agencies, architects, developers and private clients. They call on the company for various reasons, but all involve the need to have a thorough understanding of a project site before changes are made or the impact of changes to the site. Testing can relate to environmental concerns, foundational strength, soil unknowns, worker safety and other factors.
MTC relies on science and technology to search for answers, ensuring that the site work meets or exceeds standards mandated by municipalities, state and even federal entities. Testing that precedes engineering or construction work results in significant contributions to advanced planning. Analysis after the work is completed confirms that ordinances or agreements have been met.
Following in Father’s Steps
Each time an MTC crew sets up testing operations in the field, they are repeating the focused work of company Founder Raymond “Ray” Elliott, PE, albeit with more sophisticated equipment and evolved techniques.
Ray started the company in 1968 after proving himself skilled at geotechnical engineering, test drilling and construction materials testing services for other companies. His employer at the time was set to transfer him to yet another branch office, and he hesitated to move his family again. At some point, he believed, his family’s well-being trumped the company’s.
Instead of moving, he started MTC as a majority shareholder. “From the beginning, the focus has always been on doing things right and providing solutions and results that can be trusted,” says Tori Elliott, Ray’s granddaughter and the company’s Marketing Coordinator. The company celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018, and family members recall moments in the company history as a part of family history, too.
Ray’s wife, Joyce, was the first family member to come on board, pitching in to support the growing company. In the early 1970s, Ray’s leadership skills and knowledge created the opportunity to compete with similar companies by offering MTC’s services to them, too.
In 1974, he split off the drilling operation into a separate company, MATECO Drilling Company (MATECO), based in Rockford, Michigan, to provide services for clients needing geotechnical and environmental drilling services. Joyce became MATECO’s President in 1979. By the early ’80s, the new company was awarded a federal Superfund project in Zionsville, Indiana, administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Being listed among other heavyweights in the business raised national awareness of the Elliotts’ companies.
MTC and MATECO have worked seamlessly together. MTC provides reliable information, and MATECO engages with contractors to perform a piece of the construction work.
Ray and Joyce’s sons, Dale and Steve, followed in their father’s footsteps, working summers at first to feed their budding interests in engineering. Dale took to the drilling operation, and Steve ventured into engineering and testing work. The couple’s daughter, Vicki (Elliott) VanZalen, eventually found her place in helping to run the business and its various support services as Business Manager. “Our combined abilities allow us to uniquely and productively manage projects with our in-house personnel and equipment, controlling the approach, cost, safety and technical aspects of our engagements,” Vicki says.
The company founder took further steps in the 1980s to solidify the family company’s capabilities and its legacy in the region. During this time, MTC added asbestos and air management consulting services. In the ’90s, services for testing indoor and outdoor environmental concerns were added.
“It’s just how it evolved,” Vicki says. “We saw there was another need or opportunity, and we went there.”
Ray died in 1992, but not before he had passed on his knowledge, vision and expertise to the family’s second generation. Today, Steve serves as President of MTC and Dale is President of MATECO. They are now paving the way for the up-and-coming third generation. Besides Tori, Steve’s son, Dan, manages the southeast Michigan office in Ann Arbor, and his daughter, Jessica Van Timmeren, is the company’s Human Resources Supervisor.
Today, six members of the Elliott family lead the 97-employee companies based on long-established values including interconnectedness.
“Everyone on the team values that we are a family-owned business and appreciates the culture that offers,” Vicki says. First thing Monday mornings, each department gets the chance to discuss project statuses at the projects meeting. This ensures collaboration, both in planning and handling the week’s workload.
“We find that we have the most efficiency when we collaborate by departments, not only with the project managers, but also the various department techs get to be a part of this as well,” Vicki says.
MTC prioritizes training, on-the-job safety and employee recognition and camaraderie. Twice a year, the employees enjoy a companywide social event. The company and its employees also participate in an annual Christmastime “Adopt a Family” benevolent campaign through Bethany Christian Services for area families in need.
One way MTC invests in its employees is its continued quest for cutting-edge testing capabilities. This involves investment in new technology and hiring and educating its own employees.
Senior Project Engineer Tim Lautenbach appreciates this attention to employee trust and growth. In his previous role as manager of the MTC laboratory, he oversaw participation in lab sessions with both the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the Cement and Concrete Reference Laboratory on six different occasions.
“The chance to be reviewed by a third-party agency was a chance to boost client confidence in our test results and a chance to confirm that we are meeting the quality standards that we hold ourselves to in our quality system manual,” he says.
Carrying on Ray’s vision, the Elliott family continues to land projects that prove its preparation to handle whatever comes next. MTC did its part to help the city of Grand Rapids successfully switch from a problematic dual sewer and stormwater system, in use for decades, to separate operations. Heavy rains would stress the system beyond capacity, pouring sewage and stormwater into the Grand River, which runs through downtown. After a state mandate, MTC was called on in 1989 for geotechnical engineering and construction materials testing services. The project was completed in 2015, four years early and at a price of $400 million.
The company proved its ability to assist with road construction during the five-month traffic-snarling reconstruction of Ann Arbor-Saline Road in southwest Ann Arbor. MTC provided quality assurance testing services for the Washtenaw County Road Commission. The Michigan Concrete Association recognized the project by presenting an award of excellence to the entire team.
The company has added the category of wind farms—arrangements of turbines that generate electricity by harnessing the power of wind—to its repertoire in recent years. By 2030, wind farms are expected to replace 20% of the nation’s current electricity needs, cutting carbon emissions from conventional energy sources. MTC has worked on 16 wind farms in Michigan, Texas, Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska. Its largest project to date is the 108-turbine Thunderhead Wind Energy Center, located in Wheeler and Antelope counties in Nebraska, where MTC provided analysis throughout the construction work, including the installation of access roads, foundations and crane pads.
Attention to sophisticated technology plays a huge role in conducting scientific tests today. MTC closely watches the industry, studying trends and technology that offer solid advantages for its operations. For example, MTC crews are equipped with mobile tablets that capture data from a project site that can then be studied at the office immediately.
Additionally, MTC uses ground- penetrating radar (GPR) to identify surface utilities. Its cone penetration testing equipment can assess soil samples quickly and without even drilling. These and other technologies are easily activated from a new testing station—the 20-ton Geoprobe Systems cabin crawler—added to the fleet this year.
Best for Tests
It is not a small job to keep the family of employees operating in unison with its high degree of advanced testing capabilities and decades of collective experience. Elliott family members continually draw from Ray’s legacy for inspiration and renewed commitment.
The fact that each project is different also drives MTC and its skilled crews forward. All employees, from the administrative staff to the technicians and engineers, strive for success each day. It’s a togetherness in spirit just like a real family has.
MTC proves that the family that tests together performs at its best together.