The Interview: Lori Rosenthal

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:21 am

Lori Rosenthal   

Vice president and principal

GRAEF-USA Inc.

125 S. 84th St., Suite 401, Milwaukee

Employees: 280

graef-usa.com


There’s a lot going on at GRAEF, including its recent decision to move its headquarters from the Honey Creek Corporate Center to The Avenue in downtown Milwaukee. The engineering, planning and design firm will move in to the building’s third floor by the end of this year. Lori Rosenthal, who has been with GRAEF for nearly 25 years, says the move brings the company closer to a number of its clients and projects. GRAEF has also over the past year made some acquisitions, including Waukesha-based Czarnecki Engineering Inc. and Miami-based Consulting Engineering & Science Inc. BizTimes reporter Alex Zank spoke with Rosenthal recently about these developments and more.

How will the new headquarters impact the firm and what are its overall benefits?

“We are super excited about it. This space is going to be able to do a few things for us. One is, our current space doesn’t allow our full staff in Milwaukee to be all at one level. We’re split between floors, and to have a space where we could be all on one floorplate and collaborate better, we’re very excited about. Just having new vibrant space within this gorgeous, historic building with these great high ceilings, there’s just light infusing everywhere in this space. It’s just a fantastic, raw space. And then, being able to be a part of developing the space itself, with our staff along with a consultant, it’s fun to be able to work on something that’s going to be affecting us. There’s just a lot of amenities I think our staff is really going to enjoy. We’ll have our own direct parking, workout facilities, but really, I think the main highlight is just being in the middle of the city.”

GRAEF is one of several companies that has recently chosen to move downtown. What is the lure from GRAEF’s perspective?

“It’s fun to be able to leave the office for lunch and go walk to various venues, various restaurants. A number of us are excited about doing things after work right in the area. We do have a number of other clients that are down in that area. I think there’s just a lot of energy, and you can really start to see this develop. You’ve got the entertainment block, Fiserv Forum, (Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra), that whole area is really starting to grow.”

How have recent acquisitions impacted the company and what are the benefits?

“Those are two very different kinds of acquisitions, although both of them are really important. The acquisition in Miami is a very strategic one. GRAEF is looking to grow our water practice, and this is a firm that focuses in water engineering services and coastal engineering. So, it was really important for us to be able to make an acquisition of that type. It’s also in a key area for us. We have a focus in that southeast portion of the country, so that hit on that mark as well. That’s been a really great acquisition for us. We have our Orlando office that’s working with them closely. And the Czarnecki acquisition – Czarnecki Engineering is a small electrical engineering firm in Milwaukee – was a little different. It was really focused on trying to fill a gap in hiring. Right now, especially electrical engineering, but really all sorts of engineering, that market is very tight. So, we’re looking at what are other ways to fill those hiring gaps.”

How challenging is it finding and recruiting talent? What’s the strategy for that?

“It (the engineering shortage) is real to the point where it’s very challenging to meet all the needs of projects that we have coming up. It’s really the first time in my 30-some year career where it’s been difficult to hire up for opportunities. Ways we’re trying to address that: One, acquiring a small firm to bring that talent in instead of one at a time. We’re also doing a lot more of growing our own. Hiring interns and new grads, and knowing our investment in them and helping them develop quickly has really paid off. Engineers in the five-, 10-year range are very rare to get opportunities for. Growing our own and trying to do that in ways we can do that quickly and help them grow has been a good strategy. Hiring for talent that we need to do projects that we’re managing here, going ahead and hiring them in other offices is also something that we’re looking at leveraging. We’re finding the shortage is very nationwide; however, I might have more opportunity for someone who wants to relocate in one city versus another. But frankly, The Avenue is part of that. The Avenue is a decision for what we think our future employees are going to be about and want. It’s also part of that package and experience we think is important for recruitment and retention.”

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Alex Zank
Alex Zank covers commercial and residential real estate for BizTimes. Alex previously worked for Farm Equipment magazine and also covered statewide construction news at The Daily Reporter. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he studied journalism, political science and economics. Having grown up in rural western Wisconsin, Alex loves all things outdoors, including camping, hiking, four-wheeling and hunting.