2011-10-13 / News

New engineering firm opens its doors on the island

BY KEN SHANE

Nikki Schultz has made a firm commitment to Jamestown by opening her new engineering company in the town where she lives. After considering a location across the bridge in South Kingstown, Schultz decided to open her business here on Conanicut Island.

“I actually bought a commercial building in South Kingstown and right now I’m putting it up for sale because I would rather be here,” Schultz said.

Schultz, a civil engineer who hails from New Jersey originally, graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. After earning her undergraduate degree at URI – where she was also on the sailing team – she got her master’s degree in civil engineering and construction management at Northeastern University in Boston.

Schultz, who has been living in Jamestown for about six years, is licensed by the state of Rhode Island as a professional engineer, and has been involved with land development and construction for over 15 years.

Island Engineering is the name of Schultz’s new firm, and she is prepared to help Jamestown residents, and clients from as far afield as Block Island and beyond, with a menu of offerings that ranges from site due diligence to construction services, and includes everything in between. Her husband Robert, also a civil engineer, is a professional land surveyor who takes care of the firm’s surveying work.

“Right now we have quite a few projects in Jamestown,” Schultz said. “Everything from septic repair designs to septic design for new construction.” She is also currently working on projects for homeowners who are building additions on their houses and require Coastal Resource Management Council permits.

Schultz is anxious to point out that her firm bears no relation to the Island Engineering firm that operated in Jamestown some years ago. “When we were trying to figure out a name for the company, we went through several ideas, and we settled on Island Engineering,” she said. “In talking to people, no one said anything. We sent all of our paperwork to the state. As soon as everything was official, people started letting us know that there was an Island Engineering right here in Jamestown.”

Schultz said that the other engineering firm shut down “somewhere between 10 and 15 years ago. We are not the same Island Engineering. We are starting fresh, totally new, no association. We do know where the old Island Engineering records are. We know who has them. We’ve gotten a few phone calls from people looking for old plans so we know where to direct them, but we do not have them.”

These difficult economic times may not seem like the optimal moment to start a new business, but Schultz is determined to succeed despite the current fiscal environment. “People probably think we’re crazy starting a new firm in the middle of a recession, but I’ve always wanted to start my own engineering firm,” she said.

“I always wanted to work for myself. I had been in negotiations for taking over another firm and decided I’d rather start fresh,” Schultz added. “Being home-based in Jamestown, and wanting to be a part of the community, it seemed like the right fit.”

Schultz describes her decision to open her business in Jamestown as something of an epiphany. She points to the fact that while old school engineering and surveying firms have somewhat of a foothold in South County, Jamestown really doesn’t have that anymore. “It seemed like the right thing to do,” she said.

According to Schultz, it is not easy for a young woman to get started in what is, after all, a male-dominated field, especially when it comes to surveying. “There are a couple of female surveyors, there are probably more female engineers, but even just being younger can be a problem,” she said. According to Schultz, her husband had a hard time getting the opportunity to even apply to take the surveyor’s exam because he was only 24 years old at the time.

“They tried every way to stop him from taking it,” Schultz said. “It’s definitely an old boys’ club, and it’s a male-dominated field. It’s slowly changing, but that’s the truth.”

Despite advances made by women in the field, Schultz reports that people are still occasionally surprised when she shows up on a job site. She is often asked if she is representing her father’s company, or her husband’s company. “Honestly it doesn’t bother me anymore,” she said. “I just laugh. No one expects a young female engineer to show up on their site.”

Working in the island environment definitely has its advantages, according to Schultz. “It’s definitely a nice place to be doing field work when you’re surveying a site and you’re looking at the water,” she said.

Schultz reflected on her decision to live and work in Jamestown. “I grew up in a small town where everybody knew everybody,” she said. “Jamestown is sort of that feel as well. I really like that small-town feel. Everybody seems to want to help everybody out in some way.”

She said that the small-town feel carries over into the business. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people here in town, and when they learned that I was starting the business, the referrals started coming in,” Schultz said. “It does have that really good community feel. It’s part of the reason why we are here in town. We do enjoy that.”

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