What, me worry? Despite shaky economy, environmental services experts remain optimistic about need for their firms

Recessions can telegraph downturns for any industry; and it doesn’t help when, like the environmental services sector, the impetus for everything is a hefty investment.

Except, no one in the environmental services sector is outwardly stressed about it.

Jim Blaney, director of construction management at the Jersey City engineering, land use and environmental services firm Dresdner Robin, sounds downright cheery.

“(We’re) optimistic not just about the next several months, but the next year — and the next several years, really,” he said. “I’m an optimistic guy. But I’m honestly more optimistic than I was in the past, when the fear of a recession wasn’t there.”

Last month, Dresdner Robin announced it would be expanding by introducing a new streamlined construction management addition to its environmental services and land use service offerings. Having the firm hold remediation and construction contracts itself with this expansion, bringing everything in-house at all stages of a project’s lifecycle, was touted as a way of ensuring schedule, scope and costs priorities are at the forefront for clients.

While budgeting and scheduling might be a point of special emphasis during times of economic uneasiness, the 25-plus-year industry veteran selected to head the new division, Blaney, said it’s always an opportune time to tie different facets of a project together better.

The timing, from Blaney’s perspective, is this: There’s an upswing of business right now. That’s in spite of all the news of a spiraling bank crisis and economists warning of a recession this year.

“I’ve spoken quite a bit to other folks in my industry, and they’re saying the same thing,” he said. “With talk of an economic slowdown, it might sound counterintuitive, but there’s a lot of money being freed up and work being done.”

The bottom line is that regulations underpinning work done on the development of contaminated properties don’t move with the markets, Blaney explained.

So, recession or not, a business that guides others through both regulatory requirements tends to feel good about its position. And there’s always potential for new regulations, as studies reveal more about the health impact of potential contaminants found across New Jersey, to make that framework even more complicated.

“Just like with these ‘forever chemicals,’ these chemicals are always going to be there,” Blaney said. “This work has to be done, regardless of what’s going on in the economy. It may restrict some with the movement of the private markets, but, in general, I’m seeing that the next several years look very positive for us.”

Olga Abinader, a regional director of environmental review and land use planning at Florham Park-based Matrix New World Engineering, seconded the optimism.

But, she also admits to some qualifications on that for the industry at large.

“I do expect, with the economic forces at play, inflation and rising interest rates, companies providing services to the private sector — especially in housing, as well as certain industrial or commercial markets — could see more cautiousness about investment and spending,” she said. “And it’s hard to tell how many clients may experience difficulty in getting loans … so, there could be a lag.”

If it doesn’t sound like optimism, it’s because, at least for some environmental services-related work, it isn’t.

However, there are a lot of ways these firms drive business outside of those corners of the market.

“One of the ways a company of our size can face the challenges and uncertainties is to lean into the public sector as a source of clients,” she said. “Considering that funds are coming into play with the federal infrastructure bill, combined with state-specific investments and municipalities rebuilding after storms and doing other work, the consensus is that there’s a lot of environmental work to support there.”

Even outside of public-sector clientele, there’s enough of a mix of perspectives among clients for a generous pipeline of potential work.

“Some clients in the private sector are saying, ‘We’re going to wait and see what happens in the economy,’ while others are saying, ‘You know what, this is the perfect time to plan ahead, so let’s work on our permitting efforts now,'” Abinader said.

Staying positive

Olga Abinader is happy to highlight her work and the openness of her firm, the woman-owned Matrix New World Engineering.

Olga Abinader. (Matrix New World Engineering)

As for having the spotlight on herself, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who has shined in her profession … she’s still getting used to that.

It’s not unlike how she’s felt every step of the way in her career.

“In every industry, no matter what institution you work for, when you come from a background that’s not considered traditional, you’re always second-guessing and dealing with some level of imposter syndrome,” Abinader said. “I’ve experienced that quite a bit. It requires a lot of positive self-talk and picking yourself up when digs are made, surrounding yourself with mentors that look and sound like you, to feel like it’s going to be just fine.”

Abinader is quick to add that, even if there are always challenges, she expects she’s had a positive experience compared with peers at larger firms that aren’t woman-owned.

She added that, at the end of the day, she’s just glad to be working on projects she finds fascinating and helping others.

“When my parents came to the United States, their mindset was that we’re going to create a new life for our family and we’re going to give you the opportunity, support and education to launch your career,” she said. “I’m grateful for that and I’m not taking anything for granted.”