Homestead consulting firm finds success in branching out
By Kim Leonard
Published: Monday, May 7, 2012, 7:50 p.m.
Updated: Tuesday, May 8, 2012
GAI Consultants Inc. has been on a five-year growth spurt - buying companies and opening offices to lengthen its list of engineering and environmental services, add clients and stretch into new regions.
The Homestead-based company that plans parks, streetscapes, utility lines and large developments has doubled its revenue and staff in the last decade. So far this year, GAI has acquired four smaller engineering or other specialty firms.
"We're trying to be flexible, in terms of what we can do," said Gary DeJidas, a 40-year employee who became CEO in 2003. "We want to be on the leading edge of projects and hopefully provide a full range of services to clients."
One example of GAI's acquisitions is Real Estate Research Consultants Inc. of Orlando. It analyzes the economics of potential projects, and it recently found a developer for former Navy base land in Florida.
"A lot of their work will lead to the traditional type of engineering services that we do," DeJidas said. The three other companies brought into the GAI fold have distinct niches: Bellomo-Herbert & Co. Inc. of Orlando, in landscape architecture; Metz & Associates LLC, of Orlando, in bridge engineering; and Lee Simpson Associates Inc. of DuBois, in airport design.
GAI has opened offices in key markets to triple its domestic presence in 10 years and has 26 offices in the Northeast, Southeast and Midwest.
The company's headquarters remains its biggest office. GAI has taken part in some of the region's most prominent building projects, such as PNC Park, Washington's Landing and the expanded David L. Lawrence Convention Center, along with lesser-noticed, crucial work such as sewers and roads.
Point Park University hired GAI to design a streetscape for its Downtown campus with new sidewalks, crossings, lighting and landscaping along Wood Street from Fort Pitt Boulevard to Third Street. The changes blend in with the campus's new Academic Village that includes a small park at Wood and Grant Street.
"It was a very challenging civil engineering project," said Elmer Burger, the university's architect and planner.
Historic buildings along Wood, for one thing, have basements that extend under the sidewalks. Some have metal doors that once provided delivery access. GAI evaluated which of the old underground "vaults" could be eliminated.
GAI did a fine job planning the $3.9 million, federally funded project and working with PennDOT, which administered the money, Burger said.
Another, early-stage project is overseeing environmental and infrastructure work at the historic Carrie Furnaces industrial site in Rankin, Swissvale and Braddock that is to become a steel heritage museum.
Up to 50 acres will be readied this summer for development, and ramps from the Rankin Bridge to the site will be finished next year, said Dennis Davin, Allegheny County's economic development director.
With no engineers on staff, his department relies on consultants. GAI is paid by the hour to manage work at the old blast furnace site and "has done a terrific job," Davin said. "With public money involved, the oversight of these types of projects is extremely important. We wanted to get a top-notch firm."
About 70 percent of GAI's projects involve public funding, DeJidas estimated. One prominent local site across the Monongahela River from GAI's offices is Summerset at Frick Park, which is being extended to Browns Hill Road.
Summerset is "a very successful residential development on a brownfield," said John E. Coyne, GAI's director of real estate and municipal services, and a former executive with Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority. "There are over 200 homes there now."
GAI's roots extend to a firm called E. D'Appolonia & Associates, started in 1958 in Wilkinsburg by six graduate students and their professor. The company became General Analytics Inc., but has used the GAI acronym since the 1970s.
DeJidas, a Greenfield native, took a job there when he was fresh out of Point Park College in 1972. He worked as a construction inspector, checking on contractors as they built roads and utility lines, for the company, which was then based in Monroeville.
In 1982, he moved to Orlando to open GAI's first office outside Western Pennsylvania, and in 2003, he returned home as CEO. One early dilemma: GAI had four buildings in Monroeville. "It was a logistical nightmare," he said.
Then GAI found an unfinished building that the former Dick Corp. planned to use, before its financial troubles. GAI bought the Homestead building for $6.8 million, finished it, consolidated its local offices and since has added offices next door.
About GAI Consultants Inc.
Business: Engineering and environmental consulting company founded in 1958.
Headquarters: Two buildings at The Waterfront in Homestead. In all, 26 offices in 11 states, including locations in Cecil, Cranberry and Murrysville.
Employees: More than 800; about half in Western Pennsylvania.
Owners: Employee stock ownership program group, plus direct owners.
Top executives: Gary DeJidas, CEO and president; Anthony Morocco, chief operating officer; Karl Palvisak, chief financial officer; Diane Landers, chief marketing officer.
Revenue: $82 million in 2011; close to $100 million projected this year.
Some current projects: Summerset at Frick Park expansion, Point Park University streetscape, Siloh Street streetscape in Mt. Washington, redevelopment of former LTV site in Hazelwood; natural gas, electric and nuclear industry work
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