by Steve Wagner, Senior Consultant
I am writing this following the first week of a 30-day stay-at-home order in Kansas City, which was put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. Following a 44-year career in the consulting field – disrupted nearly 20 years ago by 9/11 and over 10 years ago by the recession – this may become an even greater test for our worldwide economy and the aviation industry. In fact, it will likely cause many companies to re-think their business models (assuming they are able to stay in business), especially if other pandemics can be expected in the future.
When I started my career with Coffman Associates in 1979, our biggest concern was survival at a time of high inflation and lack of a federal funding bill for airports. Of course, since we started the company in Steve and Jeanette Coffman’s basement, we weren’t concerned with the rent. That soon changed, with a move to a small strip mall next to a bar/restaurant where Coffman Associates continued to expand and grow.
In mid-1983, I was given the opportunity to move to Seattle and open a branch office supporting projects in Seattle, Portland, and Anchorage. This was a great opportunity for my growing family, and we enjoyed the years in the Northwest. Upon moving back to Kansas City, the company had relocated to an office complex in Kansas City to accommodate our growth. I was able to support projects in the upper Midwest and Great Lakes Region, while continuing to provide services to clients in the Northwest. The move back to Kansas City also provided me an opportunity to support some international work in Poland, where we helped in the development of an aviation system plan following the collapse of the communist regime.
By 1997, the company had relocated to Lee’s Summit, on the southeast side of the metropolitan area – far from the airport for those needing to travel on projects but close to home for many of the employees. What a great bunch of employees to work with daily! Even now, during this stay-at-home pandemic, everyone in the “Coffman Crew” is working together to make a tough period productive for the company. The company has shown great resiliency in the past when confronted with funding shortfalls, project delays, or tough economic times. As we apply new technologies to our consulting business, we have been able to maintain a very steady workforce, operating from our two office locations in the Kansas City and Phoenix areas.
After Steve and Jeanette Coffman retired in 2012, I became more involved in administrative functions as the CFO for the company but continued to be involved in projects for clients I had previously served and by assisting with executive oversight. This led to an opportunity for me to manage a Strategic Business Plan for Boeing Field – nearly 30 years after I had developed a Master Plan for the airport while based in Seattle. The project was quite different from our normal master planning efforts and afforded me an opportunity to reacquaint myself with a unique aviation facility in the Northwest.
Over the past four decades, I have always tried to respond to the client’s needs (within FAA guidelines). In fact, this is precisely the service we are hired to provide: applying our experience and expertise to the needs of our clients. This may come in the form of a master plan, environmental report, or some other type of specialized study. As our saying goes, we’re planning for YOUR success!
The most rewarding aspect of consulting is the personal interaction with the airport staffs; it’s one I hope will continue as we face an extended period with fewer, or delayed, scheduled meetings and conferences in which to interact. Though we cannot meet in person, I think FaceTime and Zoom will suffice through the near term. Whether through technology or face-to-face, Coffman’s mission remains the same: to provide the highest-quality airport consulting services to all our clients, and I’m proud to be part of that mission.