Article originally featured in the Environmental Business Journal (EBJ) Executive Review 2013 Issue, Volume XXVI, Number 1, 2013
Columbia Technologies, LLC (Baltimore, MD), is a global provider of high-resolution direct sensing and mapping technologies, such as the membrane interface probe (MIP), laser-induced fluorescence (LIF), and the hydraulic profiling tool (HPT), for application in contaminated site characterization. Founded in 1999, the 17-employee company has successfully completed approximately 1,000 high-resolution site characterization surveys throughout Mexico, Canada, and 45 of the 50 states, including Hawaii, serving oil companies, government agencies, commercial real estate owners, developers, and architectural and engineering firms. John Sohl is the company’s CEO.
EBJ: What kind of year was 2012 in terms of revenue growth and profitability for your firm?
John Sohl: It was a good year. We had 20% revenue growth, and roughly 30% growth on the profit line. We had a good, solid set of projects that contributed to growth and profits.
EBJ: What client sectors and regions provided the best opportunities, and what factors were driving those opportunities? Any shifts in the sectors you’re serving?
J.S.: For what we do, the clients that are engaging in more complex projects, where the site characterization and remediation challenges are significant, that’s where we get our best match in terms of value proposition. They often tend to be petrochemical clients and manufacturers.
We did see a good amount of work in the Midwest, which has offered good growth through the resurgence in the economy. General Motors, Ford, and other manufacturers are trying to resolve issues with the assets on their books. I think we’ll see more and more positive impacts when cheap natural gas affects the petrochemical and manufacturers. These clients did do well.
There were no dramatic shifts in our client base. We maintain a fairly broad base, and we’re active in both the industrial sector and the Department of Defense (DOD) market. In the commercial market, if there has been any kind of shift, it’s been by reaching out beyond our traditional borders. In 2012, we’ve done a couple of projects in Hawaii. We have a partner in Mexico, and we’ve done some work in Canada, so we’re exporting our work on a regular basis.
EBJ: Although the recession has been officially declared to be “over,” are you seeing any lingering impacts?
J.S.: I’d say we see lingering impacts in three areas. One is in real estate redevelopment—the shopping malls and commercial retail redevelopment. We don’t see the real estate investment trusts (REITs) or those kinds of clients providing a dramatic level of business. Also, state governments are under pressure and are having a difficult time keeping up with their workload. That affects our projects, because it takes time to get projects reviewed, stretching the delivery times out longer.
In addition, unless you’re deeply in bed with a federal client and can work with them on the ebb and flow of funding, we find the federal market to be a bit helter-skelter. I think, with all the contracting upheaval, one needed to be in place with those types of contracts to capture true value.
EBJ: What advances in information and site characterization technology have you recently deployed into the field? Are any of these “game-breaking” technologies in the area of site characterization, or are the more incremental advances?