A Down-to-Earth Perspective
Fidelis Engineering builds deep foundations in the community
On the surface, veteran-owned Fidelis Engineering, Inc. is a civil and geotechnical engineering firm made up of talented engineers and geologists. They’re called on by public- and private-sector owners and operators across commercial, industrial and infrastructure markets to solve some of the Philadelphia region’s most challenging subsurface conditions.
But deep at its heart, the company is much more than soil samples and site inspections. It’s the culmination of one man’s vision to build an operation that reflects his passion for all things geotechnical and the values—honor, dependability, integrity—that were drilled into him as a Marine.
Ray Crossan, President of Fidelis Engineering, didn’t start out with a love for geotechnical engineering, mostly because he comes from a long line of woodworking craftsmen. His great-grandfather, Kennedy Crossan, was a barn builder, who in 1915 bought a saw mill to support his barn building. His son and his son’s son took over the mill operation with the same passion and skill.
From a young age, Crossan planned to be a lumber mill operator as well. As he recalls, “Who wouldn’t? Big logs, big machines and every imaginable tractor, truck and backhoe. It was like having life-size Lincoln Logs in your backyard.”
He also learned carpentry from a very young age at the hands of his grandfather and father. In fact, his grandfather studied construction and architecture in school. Crossan saw his future as a mill operator, carpenter and contractor—then the mill closed when he was just 14.
Crossan adds, “It was a tough time. The big-box home improvement stores moved in and the small mills became obsolete.”
Crossan graduated from high school, then joined the United States Marine Corps in 1988 as an adventure. After his service, Crossan returned to his construction roots, taking a job as a carpenter and mason. Then he met and married Maria, the woman he believes is the foundation of his personal and professional life.
Finding New Footing
With help from Maria, Crossan established his own general contracting/carpentry business by the time he was 25, and around the same time, they also got married and had a child. His small company remodeled residential homes, but it wasn’t enough. His wife convinced him to go back to school for his engineering degree while he took care of their young son.
Four years later, Crossan earned his civil engineering degree from Widener University and got a job working for an engineering firm, where he further established his love for all things related to geotechnical, structural and foundation engineering and design. And yet, the traditional engineering environment still wasn’t a good fit. Crossan recalls, “I’d found my passion and had the education to back it up, but I’m not a corporate kind of guy. I like to live by my own set of rules. I wasn’t happy working for someone else’s company, so, with Maria’s support, I left and once again started my own business.”
From a 7-foot by 9-foot room in the basement of his home, he opened Fidelis Engineering, named for his time in the Marine Corps, in March 2010. “Fidelis, as in Semper Fidelis, ‘always faithful,’ is the core principle to a Marine, emphasizing the importance of fidelity, loyalty and integrity,” explains Crossan. “Integrity is the footing upon which we built our new company.”
“I firmly believe that when an owner makes his people important, client care naturally follows.”
Ray Crossan, President, Fidelis Engineering, Inc.
Roads and Rails
While 2010 was not a strong economic time to start a business, Crossan found ways to succeed. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) provided some help.
Crossan explains, “All of my training is in structural engineering, and I love everything about geotechnical and materials testing. So, I really focused on finding clients who needed expert support in those areas, such as transportation and infrastructure.”
CSX Railroad, for instance, had shovel-ready funds, a requirement to qualify for the federal funds. One of the projects was to lower existing track beds under the Smithfield Street Bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, so that they could double stack their construction containers. Crossan was called in as the engineering consultant to investigate subsurface conditions under the track bed. For the next two years, he grew his business with continuous work from the railroad industry.
In 2012, Crossan moved out of the basement, renting a small space a few miles from home and began to hire a team to help the growing business.
Grounded in Values
As a small company, Crossan personally chooses individuals to join his team, which now includes engineers, geologists and construction inspectors. Beyond the technical experience and expertise, he’s looking for those that share his same values.
One of the first employees was Kyle Fischer, who had been an intern at Crossan’s former company. When Fischer graduated with a degree in civil engineering, Crossan hired him as a geotechnical engineer and project manager.
A year later, Justin Hartz shows up on the office doorstep. He had earned a degree in turf management and geology from Pennsylvania State University and had been working at a nearby golf course. But, he was looking for something a little more challenging. He’s now the Fidelis staff geologist and operations manager, with responsibilities including field investigations, processing samples for laboratory testing and compiling reports.
That same year, Crossan hired Gregory Urich to be his lab manager and an environmental scientist, tasked with managing environmental site assessments, sampling and inspections, and all laboratory activities.
Crossan is quick to say that he looks for specific personalities, adding, “We’re all corporate misfits with a firm idea of where we want to work and the kind of atmosphere that suits us. I believe that if you’re going to spend 8-10 hours a day on a job, you should be able to work where it’s livable.”
That day-to-day love of the job is readily evident in the Fidelis Engineering team’s customer connections.
A Buildable Basis
Since its establishment, Fidelis Engineering has found opportunities in the commercial, infrastructure, institutional and transportation sectors. With a staff of 13, the company has completed dozens of geotechnical and environmental projects for libraries, schools, churches, water treatment plants, bridge replacements, transit and rail projects, shopping centers, restaurants and hotels for clients across eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.
Crossan also continues to expand his company services. He explains, “Over the years, I’ve seen that our clients really want complete engineering services packages that include materials testing and inspection, so we’ve added those skill sets to our services.”
Last year, Crossan invested in a full-service laboratory certified by AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials), outfitted for complete soil and concrete testing capabilities to support the company’s projects and clients, which include construction and engineering firms.
Even with the expansion of services and the wide range of clients, Crossan is quick to point out that the company’s success is not found in the projects they’ve completed, but in the people that do the work. He adds, “I firmly believe that when an owner makes his people important, client care naturally follows.”
To this point, Crossan continually provides his team with education, training and certification opportunities to deliver jobs effectively.
Crossan concludes, “As a military veteran, I know firsthand the importance of teamwork, dependability and flexibility. We as a company are digging deep to hold ourselves to higher standards and building solid foundations in the community.”