A Big Team at Garver, Telling Its 101-Year Story

A Big Team at Garver, Telling Its 101-Year Story
Laura Nick, Garver's corporate communications leader, heads a media team of 14. (Garver)

Garver, the North Little Rock engineering and more firm, has grown exponentially in its 101-year history, but its name has been steadily shrinking.

That’s not necessarily a coincidence, says Laura Nick, the employee-owned company’s corporate communications chief. A visionary CEO, Brock Johnson, saw that telling Garver’s story was a key to bringing in good employees and more business, and wanted members of his own team to be the storytellers. He also wanted a quick-hitting name.

Neal Garver, a structural engineering professor from Illinois, founded the company in Little Rock in 1919, becoming Arkansas’ first highway bridge engineer. His firm, called Garver & Morrow Engineers in its early years, became Garver & Garver in the 1950s when a son, Mark, formerly Little Rock’s first traffic engineer, joined the firm. Over a century, the company helped design landmarks like Little Rock Central and North Little Rock High Schools, Interstate 630 and the Bill & Hillary Clinton National Airport.

“A lot of people in Arkansas still call us Garver & Garver,” Nick said. “Then it became Garver Engineers. But in 2006, we rebranded to just Garver,” she said. It was part of the firm’s first strategic plan.

Bridges and infrastructure projects have always been the firm’s specialty, including 2017’s new Broadway Bridge at Little Rock and the Bobby Hopper Tunnel on Interstate 49 in northwest Arkansas.

Johnson, the innovative CEO who died in 2012, gets much of the credit for turning a small company into a regional engineering force with 800 employees in 35 offices in 13 states, Nick said. “He was the visionary who decided Garver needed a strategic plan, and that we needed to share it with employees, potential employees and clients. If you look at our growth charts, we were just barely keeping above inflation from the beginning until 2006,” she said. “From then on, the growth has been incredible.”

Revenue is up from about $80 million five years ago to $150 million last year, she said, noting that her communications team has grown along with the firm. She now has 14 members, a major force for a midsize privately held engineering outfit. The latest to join the team were communications specialists Emily Deer and Sarah Morgan, and video editor Mary Nail. Sasha Cerrato has been named internal communications team leader, and Guy Choate is heading the creative communications squad.

The team is stocked with trained journalists like Troy Schulte, who joined Garver from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s reporting staff, and content specialists like videographer Bryan Stafford, who was a freelance cinematographer and maverick before Nick lassoed him into the corporate corral. Another coup was hiring Anita C. Smith as PR director in 2018 and making her external communications chief this year.

“I’m really needy, and you can print that because I’ll own up to it,” said Nick, who hired on with Garver in 2011 as a recruiter and took over the communications department in 2016.

She said the company’s employee-friendly approach is a major draw, including amenities like a vast on-site company workout gym at its gleaming headquarters along the Arkansas River. “We want to get the word out to people that this is a great place to work, but we’re also constantly trying to sell to clients and potential clients. We’re not just trying to get the next water treatment plant or the next bridge or airport project, but also making sure we’re pursuing that next big hire. Because our industry is super, super competitive.”

Garver won a national Silver Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America for its campaign on the company’s centennial celebration last year. That same campaign took best in show in the 2020 Society for Marketing Professional Services Awards of Excellence competition.

A major part of the campaign was Garver’s “Chain Reaction Challenge,” a centennial-year initiative that donated funds and STEM education kits to 100 schools across the country, encouraging students to build imaginative, Rube Goldberg-style chain reaction machines. The effort reached about 14,000 students, Nick said.

Garver President and CEO Brock Hoskins said he wasn’t surprised by the prizes. “We very intentionally hire and develop the best in their field — whether it’s our engineering and technical teams or in-house IT, legal, finance, human resources, and communications teams,” he said in a statement. “This national award is a testament to the world-class caliber of the work our team produces.”