2010 Small Business of the Year

When the Three Rivers Alliance of Chambers presented the 2010 Small Business of the Year Awards May 5, 2010, Harms Engineering emerged as the "gold" winner in this annual event. The awards "recognize small businesses that best exemplify the qualities of honesty, fairness, ethical business practices and concern for employees and customers."

Staff at Harms Engineering were honored to receive this award and are proud to work in an exceptional community together with many inspiring and progressive businesses.

Article excerpt from the Tri-City Area Journal of Businesss

Written by: Mary Hopkin Published: May, 2010

Harms Engineering honored at Mid-Columbia Small Business awards

Harms Engineering Inc., of Pasco, earned the top award at the 2010 Mid-Columbia Small Business Awards. Harms Engineering, owned by Len and Ruth Harms, is a civil engineering consulting firm that provides structural engineering, water treatment and water systems designs, civil site and subdivision design and forensic engineering. It has seven employees and has been in business for 30 years.

Len Harms said receiving the Gold award was a big surprise, but going through the nomination process was good for everyone in the business. You recognize where you excel and where you need to strengthen, he said.

Harms said he and his wife, Ruth, started the business in the family room of their home 30 years ago. It grew into the dining room and started to move into the bedroom, said Harms. “But then I went to Spokane for business and came back, and the business was gone.” His wife had moved everything to an office on outside the home.

The Silver award was given to Columbia Basin Racquet Club in Richland, which has been in business for more than 20 years and has 33 employees. The Bronze award was presented to Salon Monroe in Kennewick, which was started by Jamie and Jana Monroe more than three years ago and has 18 full-time employees and seven independent contractors. The Micro-Business of the Year, which has fewer than 10 full-time employees, was Pediatrics for You in Richland, owned by Dr. Shakti K. Matta, M.D. The business, which provides general pediatric care, has five employees and has been in business for more than two years. 

About 350 people attended the 15th annual Small Business of the Year awards ceremony at the Three Rivers Convention Center. The event, sponsored by The Three Rivers Alliance of Chambers, recognizes small businesses in Benton and Franklin Counties for exceptional customer service, outstanding commitment to employees and superior community relations. The awards are presented to locally-owned, for-profit small businesses (those that have 60 or fewer full-time employees) that best exemplify the qualities of honesty, fairness, ethical business practices and concern for employees and customers. The Micro-Business of the Year winner must meet the same criteria but have fewer than 10 full-time employees. 

Ten businesses were nominated for the awards, including, in addition to the winners, Carpenter Drilling of Benton City, Indian Eyes of Pasco, Novus Windshield Repair of Kennewick, Richland Industrial Inc., Sylvan Learning of Kennewick and Victorias Academy of Cosmetology of Kennewick. 

Brian Johnson, the judging coordinator, said the process nominees go through is rigorous. Six judges review the nomination packets that are submitted by the businesses and give each business a score based on the number of points available for each category. The top businesses receive a site visit from the judging committee, and the top four area selected based on cumulative scores from the packets and the visit. It’s a great system and allows businesses to really show off, said Johnson. 

May Hays, the event chairman, said this year’s nominees were outstanding. “The judging committee had a tough job and they made marvelous selections,” she said. 

The Three Rivers area is fortunate to have a strong, vibrant business community which includes such successful companies. 

Article excerpt from the Tri-City Area Journal of Businesss

Written by: Mary Hopkin Published: June, 2010

Harms Engineering celebrates 30 years of doing business in Pasco

Count Len and Ruth Harms among the innumerable Tri-Cities residents who arrived in the Mid-Columbia with no intention to make it a permanent residence. Now the couple is celebrating the 30th anniversary of their business, Harms Engineering in Pasco, which earned the top award at the 2010 Mid-Columbia Small Business Awards. 

Len Harms came to eastern Washington from the Midwest to attend Walla Walla University’s School of Engineering. He had met Ruth, a Maine native, in Massachusetts, where they attended school together. The couple arrived in the Mid-Columbia “on a typical spring day in March. In the middle of a dust storm,” said Ruth Harms. Len Harms obtained his engineering degree in 1970, but jobs were scarce. “Engineers were a dime a dozen, and it was very challenging to find work,” Len Harms said. 

He got an offer from the city of Pasco and later became City Engineer for the city of Kennewick. But Harms always yearned for independence, and in 1980, he started doing some engineering work out of his home. 

Harms Engineering started in the couple’s family room, moved into the dining room and started to creep into the couple’s bedroom. When Len Harms left on a business trip to Spokane for a couple of days, his wife moved it out their home and into an office not far from their home. Now the civil engineering firm has eight employees and provides structural engineering, water treatment and water systems designs, civil site and subdivision design and forensic engineering.

Ruth Harms, who had a degree in English, had been busy herself through all this time. She started out teaching college English at the Walla Walla penitentiary, and later worked at a dental office. Also an independent soul, Harms started her own business out of the home - a temp agency for dental offices. As it got busier, the Harms made the decision to sell the temp agency and Ruth went to work with her husband. 

Thirty years later, the couple still work together in harmony. “We learned early on, that we work with each other, not for each other,” said Ruth Harms. While Len Harms’ talent and interest lies within solving complicated problems as an engineer, his wife excels at writing company reports, communication and human resources. “She has a unique intuition and understanding of people,” Len Harms said.

When the couple started the business, the engineering field wasn’t as reliant on technology as it is now. Their first piece of work, which was engineering for a Kennewick subdivision, was hand-drawn, as were hundreds of jobs that followed. “Our first computer cost $1,600, and we bought it with AT&T points,” said Ruth Harms. 

Technology wasn’t the only change the business was experiencing. Len Harms started doing forensic engineering, a new branch of engineering field that investigated what happened when there was an accident, such as machinery failure. “Forensic engineering was in its infancy,” said Harms, who was immediately engrossed by the work. “I looked for books and journals to learn more, but there was only a minimal amount available. Forensic engineering offers not only a glimpse at how things can fail but also can help engineers plan better in the future,” he said. “We can come in and see how or why it failed, learn from that and use it to improve our own designs,” he said. 

Although the firm has remained small through the years, its work has been consistent, despite the ebbs and waves in the Tri-Cities economy. “Our niche really has been working with small clients,” said Len Harms. That allows the company to stay true to its core values.

“People are more important than projects,” the Harms said. They have a passion for solving problems, and to seek the truth and tell it, with accuracy and clarity. And they never stop learning and teaching each other. 

When the couple received the 2010 Mid-Columbia Small Business Awards gold award earlier this year, they said going through the nomination process helped them make the business even better by forcing them to take an honest look at their own business. “It inspired us to be even more conscious of the business and its surroundings and to think about what we can do to make it more positive,” Len Harms said. The employees at the small office are like family and the Harms said the success of the business rests as much with their employees as themselves. But they also say they couldnt have gotten where they are without their faith. “We have God as a partner and that’s been a very positive experience,” said Len Harms. Harms Engineering is at 1632 W. Sylvester St. in Pasco. The phone number is 547-2679 and the website is www.harmsengineering.com.