As we enter our 65th year in business, we want to take time to reflect back on how we got here and recognize those who collectively molded us into the successful multiple disciplined engineering company we have become today. With a consistent presence throughout Florida for an impressive 65 years, Johnson Engineering is a company with a historical backbone and longevity at its core. The company’s roots are deep, and many who were instrumental in planting the initial seeds are still here cultivating their growth. The company has only known four presidents, Carl E. Johnson (1946-1968), Archie T. Grant (1968-1979), Forrest H. Banks (1979-1997), and Steven K. Morrison (1997-Present). Each significantly contributed to the development of the company; however, much of our success can be attributed to Archie Grant who purchased the company back in 1967 from founder Carl E. Johnson. Without his vision and commitment to the success of the company, Johnson Engineering as we know it, wouldn’t exist today.
THE SHAPING OF JOHNSON ENGINEERING
Johnson Engineering has influenced the shape of Southwest Florida for the last 65 years, but it is those who performed the work, pouring their all into what they beleived, who have shaped Johnson Engineering.
The best way to understand something is to recognize its history and founding roots. Our story began in 1946, when Clewiston surveyor, Carl E. Johnson, purchased the assets of a local surveying company owned by Harry K. Davidson, a well known surveyor since the early 1900’s. Based out of a small office on Main Street in Fort Myers, Carl spent the next two decades surveying Florida lands. In the late 1960’s, Carl conceived the idea of connecting the barrier islands with a causeway from the south end of Fort Myers Beach to Bonita Beach. Johnson helped get most of the land donated from several large landowners, surveyed and designed the road, overcoming a variety of obstacles along the way. His legacy lives on through Lovers Key/Carl E. Johnson State Park that bears his name to this day.
After 21 years of surveying Florida lands, illness forced Carl to seek a successor for the company. Finding someone with the same sense of quality, integrity and business sense was what was needed for the company to survive. The man who answered the call was Archie Grant, a Forest Engineer with the U.S. Forest Service. Archie met with Carl and his son Leif Johnson and reached an agreement to buy the company. Leif agreed to stay on for a year to help facilitate a smooth transition, but later ended up staying longer as he believed in what the company had become.
As the new president, Archie was presented with a challenge as he found that Carl’s best traits, his reputation and dedication, left little time for the financial aspects of the business. Archie wanted the same principles of dedication, reputation, persistence and pride to continue to be the company’s cornerstones, while establishing company security. He initially established three primary objectives to help achieve this goal: 1) Obtain financial stability, 2) Secure a responsible vice president, and 3) Establish new and improved office facilities.
Establishing financial stability was objective number one. With Leif’s help, Archie worked hard to get things organized and quickly the company’s financial future began to look brighter.
Archie’s second strategy to secure a capable vice president brought Forrest Banks to the team. Having worked together previously at the U.S. Forest Service, Archie knew Forrest would be a valuable asset to the team as he was highly intelligent and a great public speaker.
As the company began to grow, the third objective was achieved in 1972 as the team was now ready to move to a new larger location less than a mile away to Johnson Street. Oddly enough, the name Johnson Street was a mere coincidence, but added a nice touch to the location. Wanting to stay in the heart of Fort Myers, the company bought a group of old buildings, one being an old dilapidated motel called The Town House. The site where those old buildings once stood is still home to our corporate office nearly four decades later.
Archie’s vision and the strong team supporting him provided the stability the company needed, yet he always looked for that unique niche they could fill. His adventurous mind knew that if you learn something that no one else knows, you make yourself the expert and the go-to firm. Archie decided this niche would be surface water management. Thus began Johnson Engineering’s water resources department. Archie’s dedication to recording rain events, tracking how many inches it rained, where the water flowed, making observations, taking pictures, etc. gave our company immeasurable amounts of data that no one else had. In 1978, Andy Tilton joined the team and worked closely with Archie who sent him crawling through storm drains to observe and record water flow patterns throughout Southwest Florida. With Archie as his mentor, Andy got a head start and was instrumental in pioneering the company’s water management database system which contains four decades of water resources data.
Responsible for a host of projects for the last 65 years, Johnson Engineering played a large part in helping shape Florida’s growing communities. One particular project that played a significant role in shaping Lee County was Daniels Parkway. In 1978, Daniels Road, as it was called then, was a dirt road impassable for cars during the summer wet season due to flooding and washouts where it crossed Six Mile Cypress Strand. Forrest and Archie worked closely with Bill Hammond (founder of the Six Mile Cypress purchase effort) and Ben Pratt to design water control structures and a new roadway with bridges, which would take traffic directly to I-75 and the Southwest Florida Regional Airport. One unique design feature Forrest recommended was the curved alignment through Six Mile Cypress, which alleviated what would have been a long straight five mile stretch of road from U.S. 41 to I-75. Johnson Engineering also designed the Ben C. Pratt – Six Mile Cypress Parkway which parallels the west side of the Six Mile Cypress Strand. Looking at today’s six-lane, high traffic volume Daniels Parkway, it’s hard to imagine just 30 years ago this same road was an impassable dirt road.
In 1979, Archie turned the helm over to Forrest Banks, yet remained on the Board of Directors and concentrated on water resources projects. Forrest brought the company through the 1980’s and 1990’s where in addition to surveying, water resources and transportation, the company began offering site development, planning and landscape architecture. In 1997, Steven Morrison became president, allowing Forrest to focus on major transportation projects, roadway design and construction observation and inspection services before retiring. Steve Morrison, who had joined the company in 1977, was a logical choice to take the company into its next era. Throughout his career with the company, he had worked in some form or another with each department, focusing his efforts on utilities and development.
Looking back at a photo of himself, with Forrest and Archie, Steve recalls “When this picture was taken, I didn’t even have an inkling that I would be the President of the company some day, but I found out Archie and Forrest knew”.
Not many companies have the privilege of such invaluable historical resources available to their employees. Although officially retiring in 2001, Archie still frequents his office to work on projects, enjoying them even more because he can choose the ones he wants to work on. For the company’s engineers, Archie is more than a co-worker. He is an invaluable resource who knows first-hand the water flow of any area you ask him about. He’s the one who took the pictures and helped develop the water management plans in our file libraries. With 44 years of Southwest Florida water and Johnson Engineering coursing through his veins, Archie Grant is a man who truly values hard work and leads by example. He treasures the company and is proud of the steady growth it has achieved over the past 65 years.
Forrest Banks officially retired in 2008, yet for the next year would often be found in the office working closely with and passing on invaluable historical knowledge to our existing transportation team. His commitment to Southwest Florida is evident because today, Forrest is experiencing the other end of the spectrum as a Fort Myers City Councilman for Ward 5.
As our engineers can attest having the founding fathers of the company as a resource have saved countless hours of research, as they can explain and teach us about the area, allowing us to provide clients with solid data. As they pass the torch onto our current professionals this knowledge and history will never be lost. It can do nothing but add to the wealth of knowledge the company holds.
Today nearly a quarter of our employees have been here for more than 20 years and an astonishing 13 have been here for 30+ years, which is a testimony to our continuing dedication, reputation, persistence and pride. The next generation of engineers, led by Steve Morrison, will continue the company’s traditions as together we move forward into new specialties, niches, and fields of study looking for ways to continue shaping Florida’s communities.