A 50-year-old engineering firm that for the past five years has called the Richmond area home is marking its golden anniversary by joining up with a global peer.
Draper Aden Associates is now part of TRC Cos., a Connecticut-based engineering and construction management firm with 150 offices in the U.S. and in Canada, China and the United Kingdom.
The deal closed May 6 and was announced Wednesday. Terms were not released.
The acquisition expands TRC’s Mid-Atlantic presence and gives it a stronger foothold in Virginia, where Draper Aden has six offices in addition to an outpost in Cary, North Carolina.
It also will bring an end to a 50-year run for Draper Aden as an independent firm. The company was founded in Blacksburg in 1972 and moved its headquarters to Henrico in 2017. It relocated a year later from Villa Park Drive to its current home base at 1030 Wilmer Ave., where it’s four years into a 10-year lease.
Jeff Lighthiser, Draper Aden’s president and CEO, said the firm’s board of directors was exploring options for continuing the firm’s growth when it learned that TRC was looking to expand in the region. He said conversations with TRC started last June and revealed commonalities between the two companies.
“The more we learned about them, the more we discovered that Draper Aden was a mini TRC, so to speak,” Lighthiser said. “Most of our services were the same, and our tech client types were very similar. The more we learned about their culture, the more we felt comfortable that we could be a part of that.”
While Draper Aden has grown steadily over the years, from 250 employees companywide in 2018 to 350 today (250 of those based locally), Lighthiser said further growth is needed to remain competitive in the marketplace. He said the company’s annual sales had reached $50 million, up from $35 million in 2016.
“We’re not a small firm, but we’re not a large firm. In order to really win big projects and learn new skills and challenge our staff, we feel like growth is very important,” he said.
“One of the reasons we did this was to increase our bench strength. We’ll have a lot more support with offices across the country, we’ll have new areas of technical expertise, and we’ll be able to offer new services to our clients,” he said, citing TRC’s transportation engineering work in particular.
TRC CEO Christopher Vincze was traveling Wednesday and unavailable for comment.
Mary Boucher, a senior vice president with the company, said the companies also share some of the same clients, though she declined to name them. Draper Aden’s clients have ranged from higher education and municipal government to utilities, private development and energy.
Its current client roster includes Dominion Energy, and recent projects include the Ascend RVA apartment tower at Broad and Lombardy streets, and PPD’s conversion of the former Toys ‘R’ Us near Regency.
Boucher said TRC has had a small presence in Virginia but now can extend its reach across the state and further into the Richmond market. Its website lists an office in Midlothian at 1 Park West Circle.
“This expands our Virginia presence substantially. Virginia is an area of importance for us, and Draper Aden is very strong in several parts of Virginia,” Boucher said.
“They have additional services that we are able to add, and most importantly they have an excellent reputation in the marketplace,” she said.
Boucher said the addition of Draper Aden would bring TRC’s total staff count to 6,500. The company dates to 1969, when it incorporated as The Research Corp. of New England, according to its website.
Draper Aden will adopt the TRC name by the end of this year, operating as “Draper Aden, a TRC company” until then, Lighthiser said. He said its leadership team will have new roles with the company and that all of its employees would be offered jobs, though he expected some departures.
“Going from a small- to medium-sized firm to a large firm could present some challenges and concerns for some people,” he said. “As much as I’d love to see everybody stay employed, I think there will be some people who choose to move on. The job market is so crazy right now that anybody who wants to get a job, anywhere they want to get a job, can get one.”
As for Lighthiser, who’s worked at Draper Aden nearly from the start, he said he’s retiring at the end of June after 47 years with the company. He has served as president and CEO since 2010.
“Long enough,” he said with a laugh.
Of the acquisition, he added, “We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary. To me, this is a very proactive step on the part of the board of directors, to ensure the next 50 years for our presence in the Mid-Atlantic.”
Draper Aden is the latest Richmond-based engineering firm to join up with a larger company. In late 2020, Dunlap & Partners was acquired by California-based Salas O’Brien.
And last year, longtime firm Alliance Engineering sold to Colorado-based Merrick & Co.