Nevada City-based Holdrege & Kull sold to national firm NV5 | TheUnion.com

Nevada City-based Holdrege & Kull sold to national firm NV5

Chuck Kull and Echo take a short break outside the office of Holdrege & Kull Friday afternoon.

Geotechnical engineering firm Holdrege & Kull, which has been associated with a staggering array of major projects in Nevada County over the last 25 years, was sold to national firm NV5 last year.

But principal Chuck Kull promises that the Nevada City-based company has not seen, and will not see, many changes.

"We're always going to be H&K," he said. "We're still the same people, in the same office, with the same clients. That part hasn't changed at all."

Kull and Tom Holdrege started the business in 1993, focusing on three aspects of engineering: geotechnical, environmental, and materials testing and special inspection.

One of the company's first big projects was using its geotechnical expertise in the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Another huge project was in 2003, when Holdrege & Kull did the geotechnical engineering for two new footings for the new span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island. Closer to home, Holdrege & Kull was involved in projects as diverse as the Cascade Shores Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Sierra College expansion and the Dorsey Drive Interchange.

The business currently has 60 employees in four offices.

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In 2016, with Holdrege planning to retire, the partners made the decision to sell to NV5, a publicly traded corporation with more than 100 offices worldwide.

NV5 first approached the firm three years ago, but both parties decided the timing was not right, Kull said. Then, in October 2016, NV5 broached the possibility again.

"NV5 was very interested in H&K because of their excellent reputation for providing technical services," said NV5 Senior Vice President Guillaume Gau. "They also added geographical coverage in the area that strengthens the NV5 platform."

NV5 has been very focused on acquisitions, and was honored this year by Environmental Business Journal for growing its revenues as well as its strategic acquisitions. NV5 also made Fortune Magazine's 100 Fastest Growing Firms list at No. 13, and took the top honor on Zweig Group's 2017 Hot Firm List.

In 2017, NV5 acquired six companies, including Holdrege & Kull, adding 400 employees to its fold.

"As NV5 increases its in-house capabilities and geographic footprint, we're continually looking for well-respected, growing and technically superior firms that have a rock-solid culture," said Regional Managing Director Bradley Waldrop. "The reputation for excellence that Holdrege & Kull have established and the culture they continue to support with great people is an amazing fit and together we're simply stronger than two individual firms."

Looking to the future

Holdrege retired on Dec. 31, 2016, and Kull sold the firm to NV5 in May, knowing that he eventually would want to scale back himself, working part time and traveling more.

Kull said, however, that he will keep working full time for at least the next three and a half years, adding that he probably will never retire because "I get bored … I really like what I do."

Becoming part of a 2,500-employee corporation with offices all across the country will give him — and Holdrege & Kull — some new opportunities.

"Over the last five years we hadn't grown that much," Kull said. "We weren't stagnating, but you hit a plateau — you fall into a lull."

Now, Holdrege & Kull is becoming involved with projects that are farther afield, projects it might have passed on before.

"Now we can serve our clients anywhere," Kull said. "This morning, I got an email about partnering on a project in Washington. It pumps new life into you."

He also pointed to the ability to tap into the expertise afforded by NV5's other offices and said he has been getting to know their staff, their disciplines and strengths.

"It's a challenge," Kull said, "It's still so new."

Eventually Kull sees his role as changing into more business development and project management. While the future trajectory of Holdrege & Kull-NV5 is not totally mapped out, Kull sees growth ahead — both within the existing offices and in opening new offices.

"That's the dream we (wouldn't) have without NV5," he said. "We have such a strong backing of people who are gung-ho."

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.