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Berger sees Sandy as a chance to redevelop Shore the right way

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Thomas Lewis says now is the time to tallk about a comprehensive plan for rebuilding the Jersey Shore, 'because now you have the money to do it.'
Thomas Lewis says now is the time to tallk about a comprehensive plan for rebuilding the Jersey Shore, 'because now you have the money to do it.' - (Aaron Houston / NJBIZ)

After paving roads from Burma to the Turnpike, global engineering firm Berger Group Holdings is focusing on clearing roads as it monitors the removal of Hurricane Sandy debris at the Jersey Shore, and urges the state's leaders to embark on a comprehensive plan for smart coastal rebuilding to weather future Sandys.

The firm has 6,000 worldwide employees, 600 of them at its Morristown headquarters, who have built schools in Afghanistan, water supply systems in India and a new subway in Qatar.

Revenue tripled over the past decade to about $1 billion a year, and is typically split 60 percent/40 percent between U.S. and foreign work, with one or the other taking the lead. Chief Executive Nicholas J. Masucci predicted revenue will double in the next seven years, and the company expects to hit its ambitious growth targets by seeking to do more work within the U.S., including New Jersey.

Thomas Lewis, U.S. operations group vice president, said the company has submitted a white paper to Marc Ferzan, who oversees the Sandy recovery for Gov. Chris Christie, urging the state to embark on comprehensive planning for the Jersey Shore.

"If you are ever going to do it, now is the time, because now you have the money to do it," Lewis said. "With proper planning you can still have the same overall population density at the Shore — but you need to move people away from harm."

As of late February, Berger had booked $4 million for Sandy debris removal monitoring, and about $1 million to provide consulting to help Ocean County and its municipalities apply for FEMA disaster cleanup money, and for funds to rebuild roads and public buildings, according to Lewis.

"After a disaster, about 30 (percent) to 40 percent of all the recovery money goes to debris removal, which is something most people don't know," Lewis said. "They think, 'FEMA is going to build bridges and put people back in their houses,' but the single biggest expenditure is debris removal."

Ocean County Administrator Carl W. Block said after Sandy, the county freeholders created a shared services agreement with nearly 20 towns, with the county taking the lead in debris removal. Berger was hired to monitor debris removal, something FEMA requires, and the firm also is helping the county and towns seek FEMA funds that Block estimates will exceed $100 million.

Block said he has been pleased with Berger's work. "They are a very knowledgeable group, they get their tasks done on time, and they have saved us money."

He said Berger's FEMA expertise has been invaluable to ensure work is done in accordance with FEMA requirements: "You don't want to run afoul of any FEMA regulations — and there's a lot of them."

Besides post-Sandy work, Masucci said there remain huge markets to tap in the United States, such as upgrading electricity transmission lines. And there will be plenty of work to do if the country makes a serious commitment to rebuilding: "The New Jersey and U.S. infrastructure is way behind the repair curve," Masucci said. "A lot of it needs to be rebuilt and repaired, whether it's transit, water systems, ports or airports."

Berger is also planning to make "a very, very strong push overseas — even more than we are today," Masucci said. Countries where he sees growth opportunities include Turkey, Colombia and India; a division in Spain designs wind farms in five countries. Rising commodity prices have spurred infrastructure spending by the global mining industry, and Berger's mining engineering practice has soared in the past decade from about $15 million a year to about $100 million a year, he said.

The company has evolved greatly from when it was founded in 1953 by Penn State engineering professor Louis Berger, and when his first international assignment, in 1959, was designing the reconstruction of 435 miles of the Burma Road from Rangoon to Mandalay.

The company was global long before that word was an economics cliché, said James Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

E-mail to: beth@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @bethfitzgerald8

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Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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