After a boost from a government program, Stafford environmental consultants are going beyond radioactive remediation
Aug. 16, 2004,
By PURVA PATEL
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
In the midst of the war in Iraq last year, the U.S. Army called on a local company to collect equipment tainted with depleted uranium.
When weapons made with depleted uranium strike solid objects, like the side of an armored tank, they penetrate and can break into fragments or erupt into a vapor that settles as radioactive dust.
Stafford-based MKM Engineers managed the collection site that gathered and hauled off damaged tanks and equipment contaminated with depleted uranium during the war.
Such government contracts have helped the environmental consulting and remediation firm go from depending on owner and President Khodi Irani’s credit cards in 1991 to $42 million in revenue last year.
The company expects to top $48 million in revenue in fiscal year 2004 and has its eyes on being a $100 million company by 2008.
“We find ourselves excited by projects that have something unique and special about them,” Irani, 43, said.
Special indeed. MKM began with a focus on environmental engineering but ventured into multimillion-dollar jobs at sites contaminated with radiological waste or unexploded weapons, such as ammunition plants.
“When we go in, there could be explosives anywhere,” Irani said of the plants. “At the end of the day, there’s grass growing on this land.”
One contract called for the demolition and decontamination of about 100 buildings at the Cornhusker Army Ammunition Plant in Nebraska. Another had workers sifting through sands at the Udairi range in Kuwait to remove depleted uranium.
Business from Uncle Sam
Most jobs spring from government-ordered environmental restorations.
The U.S. Army has awarded the company contracts ranging in value from thousands to millions of dollars, said Bob Matthys, a former military contracting officer.
“As a small business, they were a phone call way,” he said. “I had access to them 24/7. You don’t always get that with the bigger businesses. That’s the relationship we built up.”
MKM also won contracts from the Department of Defense, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The company’s growth is also partly because of its designation as a small disadvantaged business by the Small Business Administration. The label allows the company to participate for nine years in the 8(a) business development program and bid on contracts set aside for smaller companies.
It’s also helped the company tag along on larger contracts as a subcontractor.
Now in the last year of the program, Irani’s banking on his track record to keep landing large jobs.
“We’ve worked hard on getting jobs on our own merit,” he said. “We do good work, and I like to think we’re one of a few companies that has successfully leveraged the program for our benefit.
With more sites getting restored and funding generally declining, jobs are getting scarcer. And competition has stiffened, said Gurinder Rana, who is the company’s executive vice president as well as Irani’s former employer.
That’s why the company is now looking ahead to designing and building on the land it restores.
‘Expertise is needed’
MKM is also eyeing more jobs through the Department of Homeland Security, such as installing remote camera systems for patrolling the borders and handling seized explosives.
Two years ago, the company helped identify and haul off 4.3 million pounds of illegal explosives seized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Columbus, Kan.
He’d rather not talk about it, but the 2001 terrorist attacks had some positive effects on the business, Rana said.
“It has opened up some opportunities for us because our kind of expertise is needed,” he said. “But we’ve constantly got to look ahead and see where the industry is headed so we don’t get caught left behind.”
Plus, the company’s director of federal programs, Paul Ihrke, added: “We’re doing something to make the country cleaner and safer. There’s great satisfaction in seeing the results of that.”