Nimble with Know-How
TECHNICON Engineering Services driven to deliver solutions for clients and community
Darren Williams, PE, President and CEO of TECHNICON Engineering Services, Inc. (TECHNICON) in Fresno, has always been fascinated with how things are built. His first engineering feat was with an old lawnmower his parents gave him to “play” with when he was just eight. As they expected, Darren took it apart and easily put it back together. By the age of 10, his curiosity had turned to how cabins, roads and septic systems are built.
“My dad was a teacher, so in the summer we’d go to Sequoia National Park, where I helped him build our family cabin. When I was 10, I started to hang out with cabin builders and road builders because I was curious about what they did. One summer, I watched them surveying to build house pads. When I saw them digging up trench lines to repair a septic system, I asked how deep and wide the trench would go. The helper said that’s the engineer’s job. So, I decided to be the engineer, not the trench digger,” Darren says.
Building the Dream
In high school, he learned that civil engineers didn’t just sit at a desk. “They had to know and explain all the different parts of a project, and I liked that idea,” Darren says. “I gravitated to Fresno State (California State University, Fresno) because it was nearby and offered a civil engineering degree. My first job out of college was with a local engineering firm that did testing and inspection services. In my seven years there, I learned about running a business. When I met a couple of other ambitious engineers in March 1989, we decided to start a new firm that would be more responsive to client needs and solve problems.”
The three men were equal partners in TECHNICON, which now serves the construction, development and engineering community by providing drilling, environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, and materials testing and inspection services. It currently maintains an office and laboratory facility in Fresno, California, and satellite offices in Merced and Visalia.
In 1994, one of the original partners left. The other partner, Kent Baucher, remained Vice President and chief financial officer and helped grow the business to where it is now. He retired in February 2018 but remains active as a consultant.
From its humble beginnings, the business grew steadily. In its 10th year, the partners bought an office in Fresno. By 2007, the firm had 88 people and its largest service area. After the 2008 economic downturn, the company retooled and consolidated its service area to within a two-hour drive from the Fresno office. “We came back stronger, but a bit smaller,” Darren says. The firm now has 38 professional and 10 administrative staff. One manager has been with the firm since 1990, an accounting clerk since 1992 and the office manager for 20 years. The company also hires students from Fresno State to work full or part time during the summer.
TECHNICON celebrated 30 years in business with an early anniversary party during National Engineers Week in February 2019. It now has three new partners; they are long-term employees who purchased shares. Steve Curra, PG, REA II, Vice President, has 25 years with the company and is a professional geologist. Brian Hall has been laboratory operations manager for 14 years and is also corporate secretary and treasurer. Heather Ragsdale is chief financial officer and has been with the company for 25 years. She is also TECHNICON’s materials testing operations manager.
Engaging Community Members
Darren and his wife, Laura, who has a business degree, often talked about starting a business, but as their family grew, Laura turned to managing the homefront with their five daughters. Neither Laura nor any other family members became active in the firm.
“We agreed early on not to involve our wives, kids or grandkids in the business. We preferred to engage members of our community in the company. That helps our community and our firm,” Darren says.
The founding partners reached out to serve all types of clients with a philosophy of always finding a way to solve a problem. “We traveled up and down the Valley for clients, targeting education, medical and federal entities because one of my partners was a specialist in school and hospital work,” Darren says. “Valley Children’s Hospital in Fresno is the largest children’s hospital between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It was one of our first clients and still is. Our federal work has been in national parks and on military bases. Our biggest was Castle Air Force Base in Merced County. We were their test inspection agency until it was decommissioned in 1995. Another big client was Madera South High School. In the early 1990s, we did testing and inspection where they were building a new school.”
Expanding Services and Visibility
Schools and hospitals continued to provide good business opportunities, and the firm grew by referral from other engineers or architects. Darren used his approach of listening to clients’ needs to offer new services and grow the business. “Engineering is not always creative, and we wanted to change that. When we hear a client mention an issue or problem, we look at all types of options and reach out to try something new. We never say, ‘We can’t do that.’ Instead, we do research and find a way to get an answer for clients.”
He gives an example. “When we got into specialty projects or load testing of components, we actually conducted our own tests. For instance, on a project to design bleachers for Daytona International Speedway’s grandstands, the client hired a local structural engineer who gave them a design. We load tested it using strain gauges merged with computer technology to determine stress levels and load points. This opened up other projects with that client, and we started to get referrals from other engineers for proof-of-load testing. Some of it included components for metal buildings.”
TECHNICON has worked with Valley Children’s Healthcare on expansion projects and upgrades since the beginning and is also involved with fundraising for the hospital’s foundation. “We have about 24 projects going on now with them. Derek Carr, quarterback for the Oakland Raiders, has been a big contributor to the hospital. He does an annual fundraiser, and staff from our company volunteer for that each year.”
Since 1988, the hospital has partnered with local TV station, ABC30, and The Fresno Bee newspaper for Kids Day, which has raised $8.6 million over the past 30 years for the hospital. For one day each March, the newspaper donates all proceeds from its sales to the hospital. Groups of volunteers stand on street corners selling papers, which includes a team from TECHNICON, along with firemen, policemen and community leaders.
Another business and volunteer connection has been with Darren’s alma mater, Fresno State. “We like to give back to the engineering school and athletic department,” he says. “We’ve helped with stadium renovations and the Meyers Family Sports Medicine Center. We also helped build a new aquatic center. These are all clients, but we work at a reduced rate to assist the alumni foundations that primarily fund these facilities and are on a limited budget.”
The partners chose to use personal resources for marketing. “We grew by referrals,” Darren explains. “We found that by doing a good job and meeting clients’ needs, our referral base kept growing. We also added specialty services by simply tapping into the vast in-house capabilities of our staff. Our key people have a host of experience and we simply needed to use it.”
Major Service Projects
TECHNICON’s philosophy of helping the community was a major factor in the development of the Palm Bluffs Corporate Center in northwest Fresno. The spot was formerly a landfill that no one wanted to touch and was considered undesirable real estate.
“We assisted the developers in finding ways to mitigate landfill gas issues and help create what is now the most popular business and medical location, where doctors vie for space,” Darren says. “We did this when others thought it was not economically feasible. We started by designing landfill gas barrier, venting and monitoring systems that address the methane and other gases that typically come up from landfills. This area in Pinedale had been economically depressed. So, by helping to address the landfill issues and allowing this blighted area to develop, it also raised home values in the area,” Darren says. He also joined the Fresno River Park Rotary in 2003. “Because of the work we did and a lot of the service projects we continue to do, the residents’ quality of life continues to be elevated. We continue to monitor the buildings in the area for methane, mostly to maintain air quality.”
“When we hear a client mention an issue or problem, we look at all types of options and reach out to try something new. We never say, ‘We can’t do that.’ ” Darren Williams, PE, President and CEO, TECHNICON Engineering Services, Inc.
Promoting Diversity and Community
TECHNICON encourages diversity among qualified people interested in the industry. “We employ people of all races and religions. Our company volunteers or provides services at low cost to religious organizations, including temples, megachurches and a mosque in town. No job is too small or too large for us. Our common goal is to improve the overall quality of life—that’s what civil engineers do. We do it with the responsiveness of a smaller firm and the expertise of a larger one,” Darren says.
The company’s community service also includes Habitat for Humanity where TECHNICON offers discounted testing and engineering. The firm’s new partner, Heather Ragsdale, has served on the board of the Central California Builders Exchange in Fresno and on the Exchange’s Workforce Development Committee, which bridges high schools in the Valley with the State Center Community College District (SCCCD) to encourage students to enter trade careers. Other TECHNICON staff members volunteer at the Exchange’s scholarship fundraising events. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Fresno County also receives funds and volunteer time from TECHNICON.
Darren’s youthful curiosity about building things has been a driving force behind creating new engineering techniques, developing community opportunities and blending races and religions into a resourceful engine that finds new paths. This has put TECHNICON on the leading edge in engineering and community leadership.