When Taranaki-based BTW Company (BTW) was looking to expand, Hamilton and the Waikato region ticked all the boxes.
Directors of the New Plymouth-based surveying, engineering, planning and environmental consultancy firm acquired and refurbished a building at 517 Anglesea Street to suit their needs.
The three-storey building, with its crisp white finish and timber cladding, gives them high visibility and offers plenty of capacity for further growth.
By October, 18 months after opening the office, BTW will have 10 professional staff in Hamilton. The proximity to New Plymouth was an important factor, with easy access for support staff and the ability to readily share equipment.
One who has been making the trip frequently is managing director Grant Aitken, who joined the firm as a surveyor in 2003 and took on his current role in mid-2016.
“When we came to Hamilton we were looking to find a prominent location in the CBD for brand recognition, close to clients, services and other consultants,” Grant says.
The Anglesea Street address gave them that in spades and, since arriving, they’ve seen similar firms pop up around them.
Also, on their list of wants was off-street parking and a secure garage including a workshop.
Eighteen months later, the building work is finished, the expansion is working well, and further senior positions are being advertised, including a regional manager.
One advantage they see is Hamilton’s house prices in comparison to Auckland for staff, and, while Waikato has similarities to their Taranaki base, it also offers greater opportunity for continued diversification away from their origins servicing New Zealand’s energy industry.
“We are heavily involved in land and property development, local and government projects, iwi, agriculture and the biodiversity space while still regularly working as consultants to the energy industry,” Grant says.
Growth in the Waikato region was a drawcard, including the government spend on infrastructure.
“Hamilton and Waikato are really pushing forward,” he says.
“One of the drivers to opening this office was to provide staff with the opportunity to work on a larger range and scale of projects.
“A decent land development project in Taranaki would be 20 to 40 sections. However, in Waikato there are numerous projects underway in the hundred-lot range, even some staged developments reaching four digits.”
Projects in Waikato so far include a large subdivision in Ngāruawāhia, for which they are providing planning and consenting advice along with surveying and civil engineering services, courtesy of their ability to share staff between offices.
Closer at hand they provided structural engineering services for the Londoner Hotel on Victoria Street, and have picked up a range of engineering and geotechnical projects, taking in everything from new medical and childcare centres, through to subdivisions and consent processing.
Choosing to buy an office rather than lease meant BTW was able to customise the building for its own needs, as well as future-proof expansion – ultimately it will be able to accommodate about 30 staff, in addition to the 60 currently in Taranaki.
The formerly empty ground floor has been fitted out and leased to Rosser Underwriting, and includes garaging, an equipment storage area and workshop created for
BTW occupies the middle floor while the top floor has been converted into two city apartments; one for the firm’s visiting staff, and the other tenanted.
It helped that they could do the consenting, surveying and engineering themselves, with Livingstone Building used as the prime contractor. The renovations to the building, which was constructed in the 1970s, came with their own challenges.
“Once Livingstone arrived on site we couldn’t use the top floor because it was being re-roofed and renovated from a single, large, dated apartment, into two executive apartments,” Grant says.
“Our Waikato staff showed real character during the refurbishment phase. Some days we had 10 to 20 tradespeople on site and our staff sitting in here with earplugs working away.”
BTW was established 45 years ago as a land and hydrographic surveying firm. Over time it grew its services to include engineering, planning and environmental science.
Collectively, that gives it the capacity to take on a range of tasks under one roof, as a one-stop-shop for subdivisions, engineering projects and the like.
One way BTW has kept ahead of the game is by investing in advanced technology.
That started in the early years, when they were surveying offshore for the Maui field, with its complex demands.
“The company had to be right up with the play with technology, and also had computer programmers on its team,” Grant says.
“Over the years we’ve always invested in technology.”
Even the ubiquitous theodolite is not what it was – these days it is robotic, so the operator can leave it, walk around the site and have it record the operator’s position.
BTW also utilises 3D laser scanners that can measure millimetre accuracy. They create cloud points and convert them into 3D surfaces for analysis and design purposes. With that comes the need for serious computer grunt. Ten years ago, very few clients had the computing power to consume this 3D data; these days architects, engineers and design professionals rely on this level of data and accuracy.
Investment also runs to drones that can measure features to within centimetres and, by using them, large areas can be surveyed during the day and processed overnight.
The firm’s ability to offer a range of services and respond quickly to clients’ needs sees them eyeing a bright future in Waikato.
“The opportunities here are exciting and what employees are looking for,” Grant says.
“We’re not restricted, and we have a talented team that all get involved.”